Changes: Fatherhood

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[For his Monthly Musing, manasteel88 tells us how being a father not only changed his day to day life, but also how he responds and engages with games, particularly games that have children and familial relationships. Want to write your own Musing on this month’s topic? Click here and start writing! — JRo]

A little over a year ago I became a father. It is one of the crowning achievements in my life. It’s also the moment my entire life changed.

I would consider myself a smart and savvy guy when it comes to parenting. I think I’ve adapted fairly well to raising a child. The destruction, the diapers and the overall disgusting things that my child is capable of is just not an issue when her face brightens up in to a smile. That’s just the normal stuff that anybody who becomes a parent gets used to. I’m not saying it’s easy, just that I’ve settled in to it.

Still, fatherhood is a change in my life. And that change has seriously affected my gaming. The most drastic change, as anyone would tell you, is the affect on my gaming time. I don’t have time to play games the way I used to. At least not without a great deal of planning so I can get that time in. Thank god for the DS, as my wife doesn’t seem to mind the glow of the two screens when she’s sleeping.

But, that’s not what this post is about. When I found out I was going to become a father, I started looking at the games I play in a different light. Throughout my life, the father figure was the guy to give you a sword right before he dies at the beginning of the game. Otherwise he was a nobody in the characters life. I never really pondered much about Link’s dad to be honest. Link really did just leave him down in that basement.

But as a father I’ve questioned what games really portrayed fathers well. Maybe I could emulate something from them. Barrett from Final Fantasy VII is a good dad, I guess.

Though being a terrorist isn’t the best job a father can have. He is trying to save the world from tyranny, pollution and just all around evil. All to give his daughter a wonderful place to grow up in. Though he does it while cussing like a sailor and abandoning her for nearly the entire game. Which isn’t really the father type I would like to follow. Though when Marlene struck daddy’s victory pose, I dawwwwwwed.

Bah this is hard. Not helping is all the other crappy father’s like Hojo and President Shinra that are in the game. Ok, let’s try this again.

James McCloud. James is the leader of a hot shot military team fighting against the evil despot Andross, while also moonlighting as a race car driver in one of the deadliest races around. When he’s not racing, he helps his son escape certain death and really has very few character flaws. He’s also dead. Long dead. In fact, he didn’t really save his son, at all. It was Fox’s longing to see his father that lead him out of that maze. Not James.

I really don’t want to emulate a guy that’s dead so maybe we should just change directions and focus on the living dad’s again.

Mike Haggar is a respectable man with a respectable job (take note Barrett). Haggar gets big points not only for his mustache, but for dropping everything he’s doing to go and kick ass rescuing his daughter. What a good role model!

Though he does let her hang out with convicts. He also punches trannies and other people’s cars, which speaks of some rage issues. Really, just looking at the picture above and this video, he seems a bit too close to his daughter.

I’m really just grasping at straws now. I mean Bass Armstrong? Well, let’s see what’s so good about this guy.

He’s protective of his daughter. He’ll kick the ass of anybody that looks twice at her. He’s proud of her accomplishments even if he doesn’t really like the roles she’s taking. He accepts her relationship with her partner Christie. Hell he even throws his fight against her. He wants her to follow her in the family business. He’s always looking out for her and he can suplex a motorcycle. All fairly good points.

Plus he looks like one of the only wrestlers that isn’t on roids. That’s it, the best dad to emulate is Bass Armstrong from Dead or Alive. Wait, what?

Looking up to father figures didn’t really work out well. It really should be all about how I can look at games to analyze who I am as a father. Not who I should look up to. I’m going to have to go deeper into what it means to be a father.

I guess the moment I realized what my being a parent means in regards to gaming was in the middle of Lost Odyssey. For those uninitiated, Lost Odyssey is a bit of an emotion jerker. As soon as the first visual novel pops up, you can see that they are going to start messing with you at some point. Don’t let Jansen fool you, Sakiguchi will try and make you sad when playing this. I saw that coming from a mile away. What I didn’t see coming was the moment I met up with my daughter.

Chad Concelmo went over this in great detail in a Memory Card for those who haven’t played it. Now I’ve been around the block of sob stories and games of that ilk, so this scene didn’t really have an immediate impact on me. The distraction for me was three fold. Mack and Cooke are really recognizable voice actors to me. Cooke is played by Kath Soucie. You might know her as Phil and Lil from Rugrats or Jetta from Clifford. As a father, I know these voices. Mack is a bit harder to place for most of you, but anybody who’s listened to Handy Manny will recognize the tape measure and pliers.

On top of the hindrance of reliving the voice acting is the over the top way the acting in this scene is portrayed. The quality of the voice acting is mediocre, but the biggest hindrance is just the way in which all the characters except for Lirum respond in the scene. You have your flashbacks, your screaming at the ceiling and everything else that equates to a stereotypical final farewell scene. The darker parts of me kinda wanted to giggle. Finally the way that the characters are dressed distracts me. It’s a little gripe, but one look at the funeral director and you can see what I’m talking about. That just isn’t something I would associate myself with if I had to think of a funeral.

Despite all that, as soon as the funeral scene was over I turned off my Xbox. I was done. I guarantee that if you put Lost Odyssey in to my Xbox right now, the file would load up right after the funeral. As soon as that scene finished, I went and hugged my daughter. She was a bit upset that I woke her up, but I really needed that hug.

You could generally place an event like that on the death scene, but it’s a lot more than that. Just analyzing the events, its just one heart break after another. Let’s walk through this.

A young Lirum, through an act of mind control, threw herself off a cliff and plummeted into the ocean in front of her parents. I see what you’re doing Sakiguchi, I’m now a bit sad.

Lirum miraculously survived to live a full life as an orphan while her parents didn’t know she was alive. I’m really sad now.

Her father (AKA me) lost his memory, so that he didn’t even remember her existence. I’m searching for tissues now.

He finally reunites with her and just as his memories return to him, she finally passes with a smile. The tissue box is now empty and I’m using paper towels to wipe up the water pouring down my face uncontrollably.

It finally ends with you gathering up the key pieces to her funeral to send her off. The paper towels are gone and my clothes are soaked with tears.

I was talking about the over acting before. It’s all calmed down in time for the funeral. Everybody approaches it in a somber affair and it really makes you forget how awkward the scene before it really was.

The funeral and the scene before it played a lot with things from my past. My father died while I was a kid so I can relate to Mack stepping up awkwardly and trying to figure out what to do at a funeral. My grandmother had Alzheimer’s, so I know what it’s like for someone to forget your face. These are things that I don’t want my child to experience.

As a father though, what’s really poignant is my doubts about what I will be to my daughter. This right here is a scene that showcases some of the biggest fears any man can have. Will I be a bad father and forget about my child? Will she have to survive this world without me to take care of her when she’s sick? Will I have the misfortune of living past her? Questions that I can’t possibly answer, but I’ll try my hardest to make sure the answers won’t be found.

That’s an overly depressing scene that hits on many elements that go way beyond just being a father. It just hit me mostly as a father. How about we try a different example.

If you’ve played the game you know where I’m going with this. Heavy Rain is about separate people trying to catch the Origami Killer. It’s what the first trailer revealed and subsequently it was revealed that his son may be the next victim. That’s all I knew of Heavy Rain and for all extents and purposes I could have cared less about the game. My issue was that nobody seems to speak natural English. The only way to make an interactive visual novel any good is to start off with good voice acting. So, I kinda blew the game off.

I saw this clip originally and just turned it off when the kid started talking about getting a balloon from a really creepy clown. Bad voice acting meets a really badly designed French clown and I was done. It wasn’t until I saw the link again on Penny Arcade that I had to check it out in full. The day I decided I couldn’t play Heavy Rain was the second time I saw this clip.

Creepy clown and terrible voice acting aside, this scene is horrifying. To actually play through a scene where you have lost your child is a bit freaky. The way they disorientate you with constant camera changes really portrays that sense of being lost. Then you find your son across the street and you call to him and then he decides to come to you in the middle of traffic.

It’s a sense of chaos that I just can’t subject myself to. Pyramid Head isn’t scary compared to this. Jim Sterling is probably right about Heavy Rain, but he’s wrong that I didn’t get some emotion. To be honest though, I’ve been in malls where people have lost their children. This was before I was a father mind you and I didn’t elicit any real response other than “man, that sucks” and “I hope they find their kid.” A bit unhuman maybe, but I just didn’t have perspective. I do now. I know that no amount of playing that game will bring a bigger response than how I feel about that one scene. Same thing with Lost Odyssey.

I guess that’s what I’m trying to get across. That video games affect me in ways I would have never known as a father. I didn’t care about Barrett’s parenting skills ten years ago. I notice them now. I wouldn’t have had that response with Heavy Rain and Lost Odyssey, but I do now. Maybe it’s also that the industry has grown as a means of pushing story across. I don’t know.

The only thing I really know in all this is that the King of All Cosmos definitively achieves the worst father EVER award in gaming.

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