We’re pairing 8-bit music thematically, rather than based entirely on series. You can find this track and more Tater-Tot Tunes on YouTube! Stop by and jam to some great tunes.
Normal Happenings is proud to present The Characters That Define Us, a year long collaboration of 52+ incredible bloggers!
We’re joined today by a fantastic, underrated member of the blogging community! From Epic Drop, formerly Home Button, comes Daniel Flatt! If you’re not following, his work is well worth enjoying. While Daniel has been supportive of Normal Happenings for a while, this is his first collab contribution.
Thank you, Daniel, for this excellent and thought-provoking contribution!
You might be wondering why I would choose Kratos as a character that I love who defines me, one I feel a close kinship to in a lot of ways. After all, I’m not a towering muscle bound demigod turned actual god who slaughters his way through whole pantheons. I don’t sling about powerful blades of death that are fused onto my arms, and I don’t wear the ashes of my dead family on my skin to remind me of my sins. So why then would I find any part of myself in Kratos? Some of that might start with the latest game on the PS4, but it isn’t the only reason that I feel that Kratos and I share some real things in common–and unfortunately it isn’t the towering muscle bound part.
I’ve always loved the God of War series, all the way back to the franchise’s original outing on the PlayStation 2. I’d never seen combat quite like what was presented in this first title, and of course as a burgeoning man in my early 20s I thought the blood soaked violence felt like the kind of thing a “mature” gamer would like. It wasn’t just ripping the eyeball from a giant that was appealing to me though, it was the focus on Greek mythology, which had always been of particular interest to me in school. Unlike the many fantasy novels I adored most growing up these stories were filled with horribly flawed individuals, and even the protagonists of the story sometimes stretched the idea of what a hero was to the breaking point. Zeus was a terrible leader of the Gods, one who ruined mortals lives as frequently as he stepped out on his wife, and even the wise Athena once morphed one of her followers into a hideous monster and helped a hero to kill her just because she was unable to ward off the romantic advances of Poseidon–you know, the god who ruled over the entire ocean.
This was one of the reasons I was always so frustrated when people began to harp on the fact that Kratos was a one-note hero and that the story of the God of War series as it continued into sequels or spin-offs was a poor one because of it. That argument had always confused and irritated me because at its heart Kratos’ story was the perfect Greek story in a lot of ways. You have a character who has a tragic backstory, tricked by the gods into a quest, betrayed by those same gods, and then swears vengeance on all of them. In his thirst for vengeance and the rage that consumes the warrior he approaches every trial with a violence so complete that all obstacles fail before it.
The problem of course is that the rage and vengeance consume him and he doesn’t notice, or care, the damage he is causing the world of men. In destroying their deities he sends the land into chaos and it is only then he realizes the horror he has become. So basically what we have is the perfect Greek parable about the cost of rage and vengeance, a mostly one sided character who is about as far from a hero as we could get, a person who chases his goal without any thought of how it affects the world around him. The only reason we ever cheer him on at all is that he is slightly less of a jerk then the ones who he swears vengeances on.
Maybe it is defending Kratos that drew me closer to him, maybe it is the anger we both had trouble controlling, or maybe it was the fact that both of us are bald. Whether hair styling choices or issues with rage, the fact remained that I identified with him in some way, but never really felt impacted by his plight.
That is, until the series was turned on its head in the latest God of War on PlayStation 4.
There is little doubt that the Kratos of the early 2000s wouldn’t work in a modern game, or at least not in a way that would allow the franchise to grow or dominate the charts once again in the way it originally had. Most companies would have scrapped the mostly hated character and start over, but instead the lead designer doubled down on Kratos and decided to continue his story. But how do you create such complete change in an individual that you could ever believe Kratos as a hero again in the year of 2018? You give him a son.
In the same year that the original God of War came out, 2005, I accomplished one of my greatest goals in life–I became a father of one healthy baby boy. It was one of the happiest, stressful, and most tumultuous times in my life as I stumbled my way through learning what being a father really meant, making constant mistakes along the way.
In the newest God of War we see a Kratos that is afraid to engage with his son, but that is forced into an epic quest with him after the passing of his mother. To take the woman they both loved to her final resting place they must journey across dangerous lands, defeat strong foes, but ultimately must also learn about one another and grow as individuals together.. It may sound like a bad cartoon plot from the early 80s–the father teaches the son even as he too learns from the child–but it is done in such an earnest way that it is anything but cliche.
I was not the person I am today in my late teenage years and into my early twenties. Instead I was somebody I’m no longer proud of–a mean spirited bully who took pleasure in making fun of others, and one who was a powder keg of unchecked anger and rage who often sought to solve problems with my fists. Where this all came from I don’t know, some of it was the people I was hanging out with at the time, but I couldn’t blame them alone. While I never did anything too heinous–my childhood was mostly bland and boring–I still was a person I greatly disliked. So when my son was born I told myself I would be better, and I would try harder to be a better man–a stalwart example for him to follow. Still, I always felt like that other person was always just under the surface, waiting for the right circumstances to bring him out.
After all, nobody really changes right?
Kratos distances himself from his son growing up because he worries that the boy will take after him, and in doing so keeps from his son–from Atreus–the very guidance he needs to deal with the burgeoning powers that come from being the son of the God of War. As the story progresses Kratos watches his worst fears come to realization as his son takes after him in some very familiar ways, and a deep sense of shame fills him as he feels his fears are confirmed, that he will ruin the child just by being around him, by making mistakes. He watches his son change in ways he cannot help with, while also being horribly aware that it is his job alone to do so.
Such is the struggle that we all face as parents. As a father I watch my son growing up and hitting his teenage years in a world I cannot control, facing some of the same challenges I faced, and sometimes failing in the same ways I have. We are more alike than he realizes or knows at times, and this scares me. Parents don’t want our children to suffer through the growing pains we went through, the very same things that forged us into who we are, so we seek to spare them that pain, but that pain is unavoidable. All we can hope to be is a beacon, a guiding light, a stalwart and strong shouldered back that our child can stare at as they walk behind us in our footsteps, showing them what strength looks like–whether that is in triumph or defeat.
Kratos’ redemption story is really the story of a father and son and the extremely complex nature of that relationship. It is heart-warming while also being scary, unnerving and difficult–a journey that somehow you can’t imagine ever going right. You are human, so you fail, and in failing yourself you worry that you have also failed your child, the one being on this planet whom you would save from all pain. In the way Kratos has changed, in the way he eventually learns to accept his past, forgive himself, and be there for his child, it is mirrored so much in my own experiences that I almost expect at times if I hold out my hand and concentrate hard enough, that I’ll feel the Leviathan axe smack into it. In playing God of War I experienced with Kratos the most rewarding, and most challenging, journey any of us can really ever face–parenthood.
Like Kratos all we can hope for is to do our best, to guide our child by teaching them of our mistakes–and allowing them to make their own–to be there when they fall from those mistakes in order to help them back up again.
I am a gamer, a geek, a consumer of pop culture, a martial artist, and I like to fancy myself a writer, but all of these pale in comparison to what I consider myself above all else–a father. How then could I not see the same struggles of life, of parenthood, reflected in Kratos and not feel kinship with him–even if our biceps aren’t quite the same level of chiseled.
Adventure Map! *FINISHING UP!*