One of the most amazing things about games has always been their capacity to put us in shoes other than our own, transforming what would ordinarily be empathy or emotional gymnastics into something more. As the one taking the actions, we control the narrative flow, at least within the constraints of that laid out by the game developer.
As it is Father’s Day tomorrow in Australia, we chose to take a look at some of the notable dads of gaming. Our only regret in putting this list together is that it seems unlikely to be paired with an equally long list come next Mother’s Day.
There are a few fathers in games, and this is by no means an exhaustive list. Some we know about their status as a parent, but often the fatherly aspect doesn’t inform their behaviour or the gameplay surrounding them. A character like Max Payne may have had children, King Graham of Daventry does have his share of royal offspring and who knows what litter of blue bastards Sonic has left across the Green Hill Zone, but our focus here is on the parenting aspect.
As such, some of the names on this list may not be the biological parents of the children that they’re present in the lives of, or not as the case may be.
John Marston (Red Dead Redemption)
What draws us to the inimitable Mr Marston are his scars and his demeanour, carrying the aura of a rough customer who has engaged in the unsavoury, yet is cordial and well-read. He strives toward his state-sponsored spree to get back to his family, and provide a better life and a better example than the one he had. It’s with Jack that he shows fear, not for what might come to him, but about the roads left open to his son.
He sees the way of the world against the one that was, and knows Jack’s future has to lie somewhere else, and hope that the ones we leave behind when the end comes are spared from the mistakes we made ourselves.
James (Fallout 3)
One of the shames of Fallout 3 is that as the Vault Dweller, we never get to spend enough time with our dad, who we apparently look a lot like. Voiced by Liam Neeson, James’ voice provides a sense of security and a belief that anyone who wants to harm us would be taken out, yet the shame of his character is that from the player’s point of view, he is almost completely absent from their life.
We only see that aspect after he leaves the vault, but until that moment, he’s very much there. He leaves us as a walking, jumping one-year-old for a little, but after that, he’s with us.
He gives us a dangerous gift we probably shouldn’t have, and calls us on our bluff when we try to feign illness to avoid a general aptitude test. Even in his leaving, he does it to protect us, though that intention doesn’t translate as well when 101’s Overseer has a penchant for irrationality.
All he does in his moments of absence are for the greater good, including us, and even in his final moments of life, it’s clear it’s done for us- but all we really wanted was a moment more together.
Lee (Walking Dead)
Telltale’s Walking Dead game was the first that broke and then reset the mould for the developer, and threw players into a zombie-infested hellhole, all while wearing the shoes of the main character Lee. Though not a parent himself, as a stand-in guardian for Clementine, his role provides the essence of fatherhood to a girl that had lost both parents when the world lost its way.
More than just looking out for her and making sure she is safe, as Lee we talk to her about the world, the way it is and the way it was. We impart our ideals and do our best to prepare her for the times we aren’t around.
It doesn’t matter that they’re not joined by blood or that the end of their time together comes too soon. What matters is we do our best for them, especially when it stops being easy, because those are the moments they’ll remember.
As a regular human father with a taste for the tidal, what Octodad best represents is the minutiae of being a hands-on father. All the stuff that may not seem particularly glamorous and that is somehow harder than it seems, but which is all part of the unsung accomplishments that round out the role after sleeping through tears, making bad jokes and embarrassing our children.
Pouring a glass of milk, finding everything on the grocery list, and keeping track of the kids as they terrorise a public place can all be a lot harder than they sound.
While everything in life is relative, there’s no thing that’s grand or unusual about this particular dad, but Octodad shows that you don’t need to save the world to be a hero to your kids. Sometimes all you have to do is talk funny.
Geralt (Witcher 3)
Geralt of Rivia might seem an unlikely choice for a father figure, although it wouldn’t be surprising if he had left scores of offspring across the land. The genetic mutations that a witcher undergoes do seem to remove the sensitivities of a personality that would ideally make them suited for parenthood, yet when the alternate is Emhyr van Emreis, it’s no wonder than the bond between Ciri and Geralt takes on a fatherly tone.
It leaves the confines of a simple mentor aspect due to their long history and trust for one another, and most of all the familial love they share. Their ripostes often poke at each other, always in jest, but more often than not they’re the father and daughter off on a lark, enjoying each moment of cheek because they do it together.
Andrew Ryan (Bioshock)
We want our children to make good choices in life, and Andrew Ryan represents that aspect of fatherhood. Sometimes we need to guide our children to difficult situations, and let them sink or swim. As much as we want to help them make the right choice, we also recognise that one of the ways that they learn is by being able to make mistakes.
Mr Ryan could easily come out and tell us what’s what, or at least do it once he’s aware of it himself, but instead he presents the pieces of information over time, and lets us form our own conclusions. We want our children to make that leap themselves, but more than that, to watch them become their own person, and step away from our shadow.
Booker DeWitt (Bioshock Infinite)
Our last entrant is another from the Bioshock franchise, and would not win a father of the year contest anytime soon, but serves as a notable father figure for many reasons. He’s the one that makes mistakes, that does the unthinkable in a moment of critical weakness. His grief propels him further, hoping that he can still make amends, and the hope that it’s never to late to be the father they deserve.
More than that, he represents how trying to control all aspects of our children’s lives could do more to harm them – and that so often in life and especially as a father, our worst enemy to overcome is usually ourselves. It’s just usually more metaphorical.
And that’s the lot. Thanks for reading, and hope that all the father figures in your life have some appreciation tomorrow, whether they be your father, mother, or whatever else it is that puts them into that role for you. If we’ve missed any notable dads of gaming, let us know in the comments!