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Like a lot of people, probably, I am currently replaying 2018's God of War. Unlike a lot of those people, I'm not revisiting Santa Monica Studio's hit because I can now experience it on a PlayStation 5, but simply because I had the itch. The year's been slow for notable new AAA games so far - arguments for Resident Evil Village and Monster Hunter Rise aside - and I had a hankering for a blockbuster to pick away at, in my evenings.
I'm not that far in (again), yet, just coming up to my first encounter with the weapons-maker extraordinaire, Brok. So far, Kratos and Atreus haven't encountered all that many obstacles on their path to the mountain - draugr, revenants, one angry and very horny troll. The biggest pain in our protagonist's arse? His son, obviously.
Here's the moment I'm going to refer to, below - Atreus dawdling, dallying, sulking, only, with fair reason, after battling the Reavers. Credit: Full Playthroughs on YouTube
When I first played through God of War, in 2018, my own kids were, as you can guess, a little younger. In the game, Kratos' boy Atreus is 11 years old, and my oldest is now 10. And when I'm playing, all I can now see in his sulking is my own son, making the biggest fuss (sometimes loudly, sometimes not) over the most trivial things. A sock's on a bit wonky. His brother won't play Pokémon "properly". Dinner's on the table a minute too soon. You get the idea.
Atreus, bless him, has rather bigger issues to contend with. His mother's dead (sorry for the spoiler, but that is the event that kicks off the entire game), and all manner of Norse monsters are trying to make him their lunch. He can't get much in the way of sympathy from dad, whose early-game curtness is ultimately a mask for his own emotions; and whatever he does to help, it's rarely good enough. Did I fight well, pops, did I, huh, huh? You could do better.
But despite the hardships facing Atreus undeniably being of greater severity than, say, a LEGO model being knocked off a shelf, Santa Monica Studios did a fantastic job of depicting the young man's sulking. Playing in 2018, I was yet to witness the painful reality of a child dallying beyond compare, quite deliberately dragging their heels so as to infuriate you further. It's time for school - why is the hallway now quicksand? We're due to meet, whoever it is we're meeting, in half an hour, but sure, throw yourself on the floor and refuse to move. We can do this all day (actually no, we can't).
Atreus has a lot more on his mind than a day's primary school education or an afternoon walk with a relative not seen for several months, but how accurately his animation, and his gait, depicts that slow-motion meander to where he needs to be... It's perfect. I never really noted it before because I'd not seen it myself, every, single, day, nearly, at the time.
The specific time I'm thinking of, this deep (or, I guess, shallow) into a replay, is just after when he and his father have encountered the Reavers - human enemies that, once slain, return as ice-crusted Hel-Walkers. Atreus, having previously hesitated to finish off a deer, accidentally kills one of the Reavers, sticking him with his mother's knife. This doesn't go down brilliantly. Kratos, having already proven himself quite the bloodthirsty warrior in his dispatching of The Stranger (except, not), knows that this moment will come in their journey and doesn't quite know how to respond, except for: let's get moving.
The father and son have to separate several times in God of War, and in the immediate aftermath of the Reavers, this is exactly what happens. Kratos boosts Atreus up to a higher platform, to kick down a chain that he has to use, so that they can continue onwards. But Atreus, weighted down with the incredible reality of what just played out, and contrasting it with his own claims just an hour earlier to be "ready" for such things, simply, doesn't. He stalls. He slouches. He stops. A square-button prompt appears. Parents: we've all been here.
Granted, for us it's more a case of coercion through the thin threat of consequences or the promise of perks if they just do what you say for five minutes, please, for goodness' sake, just, once. For Kratos, here's a situation where encouragement both comes hard, and where the effect is likely to be blunt, on a child who just took a life for the first time in theirs. His words aren't all that kind; his approach is more, well, if that's your attitude, we're going home. It's the my-ball, my-rules play, a classic execution.
And it's a risky move, too, in my parenting experience - I have dragged my kids home before, because they've not improved their behaviour. Here, however, Atreus does respond. He just needs to catch his breath. Push it down, boy. There will be time for reflection, and for the truth, later. Onwards, to Brok, and beyond. But credit where it's due, to God of War's makers, for giving this pre-teen with some pretty unique daddy issues the most realistic-feeling (with good reason) sulk video gaming has ever seen. You have to respect it - even if it is a palpable reminder of everyday battles at home, played out on the most minor of stages.
Featured Image Credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment
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