At the beginning of Santa Monica Studio’s latest take on the “God of War” franchise, a gruff, bearded Kratos commands his son, Atreus, to hunt deer.
“Which way?” Atreus asks as he throws his bow over his shoulder.
“In the direction of deer,” Kratos says impatiently.
If that’s not the most “dad” response to a child’s question, I don’t know what is. It was there I realized “God of War” would be a more relatable experience than I’d thought.
Several times throughout the game, Kratos instructs Atreus to “be better” than he, the infamous god killer from Sparta. Since settling down with a wife and having a child, Kratos has tempered his blind fury into a mere blurry-visioned rage, but he wants something more for his more compassionate son while still giving him the tools he needs to survive a harsh and unforgiving world.
Really, it all reminds me of my relationship with my own father, and it gave me a new appreciation for how he raised me.
I come from a pretty traditional household. When I was born, my young father worked while his young wife mainly stayed at home to raise me and, later, my sister. Naturally, I grew pretty close to my mom, and I remained somewhat aloof from my hardworking dad.
My father and I couldn’t have turned out more different, either. My dad is a self-employed plumber who spends his days toiling outside, collecting and fixing up classic cars, and watching sports. I’m a nerd who reads fantasy books, plays video games and writes for a living. Really, I don’t know where I get it from.
In “God of War,” Kratos and Atreus are also vastly different, and Kratos struggles to relate to a son he barely knows. Atreus, raised mainly by his mother, has a soft spot for people in need and a penchant for language—something I, a journalist, can relate to. Kratos, just about the most macho dude you could imagine, doesn’t really get it, but their journey throughout the game forces them to learn more about and appreciate each other’s differences.
There are several points in the game where Atreus argues with his dad that they should help those who request aid. Kratos won’t tolerate distractions from their goal, much to Atreus’ disappointment. While my father is a kind and generous man, he shares Kratos’ no-nonsense mentality whereas I tend to sympathize with Atreus’, well, sympathy.
However, I remember at least one moment in the game where Kratos and his son do go out of their way to help someone in need, and Atreus gloats. Whether or not Kratos is willing to admit it, his son’s empathy for others has affected his own actions.
At another point, Atreus takes a moment to try to teach his dad how to read a foreign language, something up until that point Kratos had left his son to handle alone. After spending hours learning how to be a better fighter, Atreus invites his dad into his world, something I’ve done by teaching my dad about games and music, two things he’s never understood but is willing to try.
Kratos, for his part, teaches his son even more.
At the beginning of the game, Atreus is too compassionate to kill even a deer, but by the end, his father has taught him the value of fighting for survival. Atreus constantly seeks his father’s approval after fights—something at which Kratos will always naturally excel—and Kratos is blunt and honest in assessing Atreus’ performance, which only makes him improve. I think of the times I rely on my dad to help me with simple vehicle issues, something I’ve learned more about thanks to him but will never comprehend as he does.
Kratos doesn’t just teach his son the best way to kill a draugr, though. Most important, he instills in Atreus the value of perseverance when they find out their goal is much farther away than originally anticipated. Kratos shows Atreus how to take responsibility for his actions when they kill out of necessity. He teaches his son the leadership necessary to help others, and he disciplines Atreus when he steps out of line.
All of these things I, too, learned from my dad, even if I didn’t realize it at the time. My father’s lessons, much like Kratos’, were simultaneously subtle and blunt.
Kratos’ and Atreus’ investment in each other paid off. By the end of the game, Atreus’ trust in and respect for his father was as evident as Kratos’ love for his son, even if neither of them came out and said it.
That’s exactly how I feel about my own father. I’m glad “God of War” reminded me of that.