This contains spoilers for God of War (2018), God of War (2005), Gears of War 4, Uncharted 4, BioShock: Infinite, BioShock, The Last of Us, Overwatch, Heavy Rain, Tekken, Dishonored and Dishonored 2 (but seriously there are definitely some big ones for Uncharted 4, BioShock: Infinite and Gears of War 4).
A couple of years ago I saw a screencap floating around (which, CSI-style, I was able to trace back to this post on Tumblr) which read, ‘One of the few trends in modern gaming I totally approve of is that Jacked Space Marines seem to have lost most of their footing as the default male protagonists to the aggressive new challenger: Sad Murder Dads.’ The Sad Murder Dads have been on my mind ever since, and as we come closer to the release of God of War 2018: Too Dad To God, the SMDs’ gruff, emotional roaring has reached an unignorable volume, and I spent some time examining the phenomenon in more detail.
There has been an observable increase in Sad Murder Dad characters over the last decade – not that there hadn’t been any before then, but the rate of SMD occurrence has definitely gone up. This tracks roughly with the changing life states of AAA developers, who are now themselves having children and growing beards and whatnot. No longer the can-smashing broskis of their outrageous youth, these devs may be finding their priorities have altered to include complex feelings and more compelling adventures (especially when finding they have to justify the content of their work to innocent, questioning eyes that resemble their own). And what greater adventure is there than parenthood? As such there are not only brand new characters created as SMDs, but characters we once knew as rip-roaring carefree bad lads, like Gears of War’s Marcus Fenix, have moved into the Sad Murder Dad sphere in the later entries in their respective series’. This April Kratos embraces fatherhood and responsibility, too.
Consequently I went through several iterations of diagrams to represent the Axis of Sad Murder Dads. Ideally we would plot them across three planes (say, Y for sadness, Z for dadness and X for murder… ness) but I had some difficulty plotting the dads in question over a 3D graph with any clarity. After brainstorming with other people in the office we produced a representation of the A of SMD that looks something like this:
I am aware that this is a venn diagram but saying Axis of Sad Murder Dads is more fun. Note that we added an entirely separate set for Dream Daddy Dating Simulator entitled Sex Dad, because that appears to be a distinct but potentially huge future trend.
Let us examine some of this, and the key dads, in further detail.
We’re working with three different sets (these being Sad, Murder and Dad) representing the key nature of the dad in question. Note that all of the dads include some measure of sadness, dadness and murderness, but are placed within the set or intersection that represents the more prominent or overriding sets that make up their character. As with all good and serious science, there is an element of creativity and intuition here: Heihachi Mishima, for example, spends a lot of time trying to kill his own progeny which loses him dad points. Similarly Booker DeWitt and/or Comstock is a terrible father in many, many realities, and since both are more angry and murdery than sad or dad they fit in the pure murder set more appropriately.
Soldier 76 may be a controversial entry, since he’s technically not actually a dad in any legal sense, or even in an ‘anyone can be a father but it takes someone special to be a dad’ heartwarming stepfather sense. 76 is only a dad in a meme sense, in the same way that you might describe one of your friends as being the dad of the group because they do things like go home first, wear a lot of chunky knit and make sure you’ve all had some chicken nuggets before anyone tries necking half a bottle of rum. The Overwatch fandom took Jack Morrison – former Overwatch commander, farm boy and all-American hero – and reclaimed him as Dad 76: an overly-protective paternal grouchball. Because 76 is more of a vigilante for justice and tries, where possible, to leave non-fatal injuries, he edges out of the murder set and is placed here in the intersection of sadness and dadness – though his sadness can vary based on how much the individual member of fandom believes he was shagging Reaper before the said former comrade-in-arms betrayed Overwatch (usually they believe there was a lot of shagging).
Initially the Big Daddy of BioShock was placed firmly in the murder set, but a fierce debate in the office resulted in him being placed in the Dad/Murder crossover because, as was pointed out, a Big Daddy’s dadness often overrides his murderous impulses; he will only attack if you threaten his Little Sister. Similarly Corvo Attano, SMD protagonist of Dishonored and possible protagonist for Dishonored 2, has a murder rating that depends on the player controlling him, and most people accept that the canonical Corvo is the low chaos, low stabby, high stealth version who commits the least amount of murder possible.
Joel from The Last of Us was also difficult to place, since he’s one of the most well-known Sad Murder Dads and arguably one of the first to really bring the role to greater public awareness. Joel, however, spends time trying to suppress and run away from his dadness and doesn’t really go what we may term as full dad until several hours into the game (arguably not until the climactic ending), and much of his character is defined by his sadness for how his dadness was cruelly wrenched away, which is why he isn’t an apex SMD. Conversely the easiest to place was Ethan Mars from Heavy Rain, because the death of one son and the kidnap of another means he spends the majority of his time being upset. This is in many ways the most realistic portrayal of the SMD based on how most real life people would respond to Ethan’s circumstances, but it also makes him the least enjoyable to have to pretend to be. Like, come on Ethan, you can just make another son! Amiright?
Now we reach the Ultimate Sad Murder Dad: Kratos, God of Dad. Kratos’ origin story includes him un-dadding himself by unknowingly murdering his family, so it’s nice that he’s now come almost full circle and is poised to take his rightful place at the intersection of all three sets. He’s less established as a Sad Murder Dad, but definitely counts as a plucky newcomer to the field: if the Sad Murder Dads all frequented the same saloon, nursing a glass of whiskey and a healthy respect for one another, you may now imagine Kratos pushing his way through the swinging doors, causing everyone to fall silent while the piano player in the corner switches from major to minor.
Previously in the series Kratos’ defining traits were being angry about stuff and murdering people because of it, but with a more mature outlook and a child in tow for the new entry, Kratos looks to be transitioning to being sad about stuff… and also murdering people because of it. Whilst, as just pointed out, having a child. Goodbye QTEs that it would be embarrassing to play in front of literally anyone, hello killing magical deer with your ‘lil man. Kratos now embodies the three peak vectors of being a Sad Murder Dad.
Thank you for your consideration.