Bad Dads in Video Games

Bad Dads in Video Games

You either have a bad dad, or you live long enough to be the bad dad. At least that is how it works in a lot of video games. However, while there are certainly good fathers in video games, the repeating motif of having father issues is a common one.

We will examine a few games that employ this trope. It will contain spoilers regarding characters and specifically their relationships with their fathers or parents in general. Spoilers for the following games include; Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2, Mass Effect 3Dragon Age InquisitionHades, and Pillars of Eternity.

The Dads’ Effect in Mass Effect

I could make an entire article about bad dads with just this series. A ludicrous number of people on the Normandy have father problems. If you are a crew member in Mass Effect, you either have dad problems, or you are the dad problem.

Miranda Lawson – Best Genes Money Could Buy

First, let’s examine one of the major bad dads. Mass Effect 2 is rich in poor examples of fathers. However, most pale in scope, writing, and influence as Miranda Lawson’s father.

In-game capture of Miranda "I fought against my father and his need to run ever aspect of my life. He wanted to control me, right down to my bloody DNA."

… my father and his need to run every aspect of my life. He wanted total control over me, right down to my bloody DNA”

Miranda is the highly capable second in command to the returning protagonist of the series, Commander Shepard. She is influential, charismatic, strong, and a powerful biotic. However, relatively early on in the game, you learn the unfortunate truth of where all the gifts came from. Miranda is the product of her father’s goal to make the perfect child. Her genes are in fact mostly his, accompanied by various other “mothers”. Her father gave her the best education and training money could buy, for the sole purpose of taking his place. To him, Miranda and her younger sister, Orianna, are nothing more than his legacy. However, Miranda escaped her father’s gravity, and later freed her sister from the same fate. Thus she finds herself working for the human-centric shadow organization, Cerberus. She uses her genetically produced skills to further her own goals and ambitions.

Worried about my qualifications? I can crush a mech with my biotics or shoot its head off at a hundred yards. Take your pick.

Mass Effect 2

Much of Miranda’s story and character development is based on her relationship with her father. 

Degrees of Bad Dads

Miranda mirrors Jacob Taylor. The two are similar in many regards. They are the first companions you meet in Mass Effect 2, they both work for Cerberus, both wear very tight uniforms, and they both have dad issues. However, it becomes clear that Miranda’s story is more integral to the overall narrative.

They both have personal missions regarding their fathers, Jacob’s quest feels poorly written, and is not even referenced later in the series. In essence, Jacob is an example of a poorly written story that felt half-thought out, taking easy tropes over something that’s more in-depth. Jacob was personally one of my favourite characters, but his story and character development felt robbed of its potential and thus hollow.

By contrast, Miranda’s story and character development was much more focused. You had significantly more dialogue with her, and as such see her development more dramatically than other characters. 

Then, in Mass Effect 3, you see the fruition of Miranda’s relationship with her father. Ultimately, you watch her grow as a person and move on (or accept) who she is despite her traumas from her father.

Tali’Zorah vas Normandy – Even Aliens Have Bad Dads

Tali’Zorah vas Normandy – Credit: Imogen Beckhelling

Tali’Zorah vas Normandy is another recurring character from the Mass Effect Trilogy. Tali’Zorah vas Normandy (also seen as Tali’Zorah nar Rayya and Tali’Zorah vas Neema) is one of the few companions that stay on as party members in all three games. Tali is a shotgun-wielding engineer from a fleet of nomadic ships, called the Migrant Fleet. You meet her early on in Mass Effect. However, it isn’t until you encounter her in Mass Effect 2, that her complicated and messy relationship with her father comes into the forefront.

Tali’s father is Rael’Zorah, a highly influential Admiral amongst Tali’s people. When asked about her relationship with her father in Mass Effect, Tali’Zorah explains that “I respect my father, sometimes that’s better than love.”

We see more of this relationship when we revisit Tali in Mass Effect 2. The storyline finds you defending your companion’s place among her people, upon the threat of her exile.

Here, we discover that Rael’Zorah’s ship had been overrun with Geth, the robotic enemies of Tali’s people. Tali’Zorah is put on trial, and is abruptly told that her father may be dead.

Thus, you and your squad of misfits and vagabonds must get into Rael’Zorah’s ship full of hostile and sentient robots, find Tali’s missing father, and ensure that the Migrant Fleet is not further endangered. Another day on the Normandy.

Ultimately, you discover the truth that Admiral Rael’Zorah was conducting forbidden experiments on Geth, using Tali to collect inert parts without her full knowledge. However, you discover the truth by Rael himself, as he left a final farewell to his daughter on his dead body…

Unfortunately, Rael’Zorah’s death does not end the consequences of his actions, nor his effects on his daughter. Once again, we revisit Tali’s bad dad issues in the final installment of the trilogy, Mass Effect 3.

A Trilogy of Bad Dads

In the third installment in the series, we find and recruit Tali’Zorah towards the end of the game. Much has happened since we last saw our engineer companion. What state we find her in depends on previous actions and choices, as is the hallmark of many Bioware games. Regardless, as long as Tali is alive and well, we find her dealing yet again with the ramifications of her late dad’s actions.

One specific scene is the most memorable and evocative of Tali’s struggles. You find her in the ship’s bar, clearly intoxicated and ruminating on the bad dads of past and present. This conversation takes place after the resolution of Miranda’s personal mission in Mass Effect 3

I spent my life trying to live up to him, then making up for his mistakes, doing what he would’ve wanted… When do we get to stop reacting to our parents and start living for ourselves?

A fitting end.

Dorian Pavus – Dragon Age: Inquisition

Bioware earned a reputation for its two largest and most successful franchises; the aforementioned Mass Effect Trilogy, and the Dragon Age series. One of the famous aspects of these series are the well-written and compelling supporting characters. During the game, you will develop a deeper understanding of your companions through pursuing their personal quests. The type of quests vary greatly from companion to companion. Some will have you track down a mentor who betrayed them, find a lost and invaluable artefact, or find and reunite them with wayward friends or allies.

However, no companion has as much of a problematic relationship with their bad dad as Dorian Pavus in Dragon Age: Inquisition. You recruit Dorian early in the campaign. He is a powerful and charming mage and scion to a noble family from the Tevinter Imperium.

In the world of Dragon Age, the Tevinter Imperium is a realm that prizes magic bloodlines above all else. Additionally, they are notorious for their use of Blood Magic, a kind of magic that is incredibly powerful, and usually forbidden. With it, a mage can boil blood, use sacrifices to fuel powerful spells, and is most notably capable of controlling minds. This combination presents the background for Dorian’s personal quest.

Bad Dads Somehow Made Sacrificial Blood Magic Worse?

Dorian is one of two exclusively gay romanceable characters, along with Sera from the same game. Additionally, they are the first companions that are gay in Bioware’s history (come on Bioware).

Despite Dorian’s orientation, his family desires a magically potent generation. Over the course of Dragon Age: Inquisition, you learn more about your companion and his complicated relationship with his homeland. Traditionally, the Tevinter Imperium (sometimes referred to in shorthand as “Tevinter”) has been depicted as the imperial archenemy of the various nations of the rest of the world. Dorian is in fact the first person with whom you can discuss the details with more thoroughly.

Progressing through Dorian’s storyline reveals why the young mage fled his homeland, and the main reason was his bad dad.

At the finale of Dorian’s personal quest, you encounter his father in a tavern in Red Cliff. It is revealed here that Dorian’s father attempted to use powerful blood magic to control his son’s mind with the goal of turning Dorian straight. He desired a legacy over his own child.

Dorian’s father apparently realized his mistake, and constructed a series of events that led to the meeting. The purpose was to apologize. You can then convince Dorian to forgive his abusive father, or walk away.

Zagreus – Hades

In Hades, developed and published by SuperGiant Games, you play as Zagreus, the child of Greek gods Hades and Persephone, (technically, Persephone is not a “god” – it’s complicated).

According to myth, Zagreus is associated with Spring and rebirth. In the game Hades, he is a rebellious, bisexual, fishing-enthusiast himbo whose goal is to flee his father’s domain. Again and again.

Now, calling the god of the Underworld a bad father might be a bit on the nose. The relationship between Zagreus and Hades is complex and incredibly well-written. You get a strong sense of character from both, despite Hades being the main antagonist of the game. Hades himself is more complicated than just a bad dad who is unnecessarily cruel or clearly evil.

Hot Take: Killing Your Child Again and Again is a Bad Dad Technique

However, the interactions between the protagonist and the Lord of the Underworld are clearly hostile. For one, Hades keeps many important secrets from his son. Secondly, nearly all of your interactions with the Lord of the Underworld entail some level of insult or clear hostility. Lastly, and most importantly, Hades is quite literally and unrelentingly trying to kill his own son. In his defence, Zagreus doesn’t die for real, simply returning to the House of Hades after each death. Despite Zagreus’ immortality it still feels like a bad parenting technique.

Hades is also not above bloodying his own hands either. After fighting through the three layers of the Underworld, and defeating the many foes he puts between Zagreus and the exit, Hades will face the prince himself. Hades is easily one of the hardest fights, summoning exploding ghosts, turning invisible before striking deadly blows, and even recovering full health for a multi-staged fight.

Aloth –  Pillars of Eternity and Toxic Masculinity

 

Pillars of Eternity is an isometric roleplaying game by Obsidian Entertainment. In this game of high fantasy with elves, dwarves, and magic, it still finds itself falling into the pitfalls of toxic masculinity. Specifically, in the form of one of the main companions, Aloth Corfiser, and his difficult relationship with his bad dad.

Aloth is an elven wizard from the northern Aedyr Empire. He is one of the first companions you meet in the story of Pillars of Eternity. His family works for the Aedyran nobility. Thus, Aloth had grown up with wealth and prosperity. However, despite the blessing of position, his formative years were far from healthy.

The bad dad in question served as a steward to an earl of the Empire, a noble that owned land and prestige. However, it was Aloth’s mother who was the primary source of income for the family. She served as a haemneg to another man. A haemneg is an institution based on the human-elf concubinage, and usually serves political means. Essentially, her job meant she was gone most of the time, and therefore spent little time with her family.

However, Aloth’s father was greatly upset that his wife was the primary money-maker. Additionally, he assumed she was having an affair during her long business ventures. His jealousy and fragile insecurities made the man highly aggressive and abusive. He would spend most of his time drinking and violently yelling and demeaning his wife whenever she was around. And when she was gone, his cruelty turned to Aloth.

Aloth finally left his parents when he came of age. Which, for the long-living elves, was around 60 years. You learn, as you progress through his personal story, that his traumatic and long childhood led him to many poor choices he came to regret.

Why So Many Bad Dads?

Many character driven games rely on father issues. We see this occur in many different genres: be it fantasy, horror, or even slice of life. It is a trope that is seen across mediums as well. We see it repeated in films, books, plays, and more. We could generalize it as poor parenting examples, but expanding the scope would fail to recognize the consistencies between these tropes. Despite the existence of generally bad parents, regardless of gender, why do writers fall back on specifically bad dads? Is it a striking commentary and examination of societal failures and toxic masculinity? Is it something a lot of people can relate to, specifically the writers? And what does that mean for the societies that see this repeated in real life? Or is it simply a quick and easy way to evoke empathy and sympathy for the characters who have unresolved trauma?

 

All of this and more should be considered and discussed, as we keep seeing it repeated. In video games, bad dads are an exceedingly common plot element. Occasionally, we’ll see it be a small yet potent part of a character’s background. Something that is meant to explain their distrust or shyness. In these cases, it is not deeply written and is rarely meant to be examined closely.

 

On the other hand, the writer wishes to express something meaningful or comment on societal flaws. Namely, societal expectations for men in regards to their harmful and fragile sense of masculinity and their sexuality. These cases go into depth with the traumas caused by these bad dads, and are used as a cornerstone for the character’s personal growth.

Thank you for joining us at Gamer’s Waypoint. What are some other examples of bad parenting in video games we missed? Let us know in the comments below! While you’re here, why not check out our Twitter page and latest YouTube video?

If you’d like to see other lists, check out Soham’s Selects: The Best Games to Fit in During Exams!

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