I enjoy the sub-genre of meme about Sad Murder Dads as much as the next gal. Heck, I enjoy those lads themselves. From Kratos in God Of War, to Joel in The Last Of Us, and even less story-focused murder dads like Soldier 76, dudes rock. Successfully rehabilitated and reimagined as father figures struggling to inhabit that role and accept their emotions, in some very good games to boot. Developers who were hot young guns in the 00s are now tired middle-aged dads themselves, and as a result the art they consume and, more to the point, the art they want to make looks radically different. I’m not having a go at that; that’s just life, is what that is.
But what I’m asking is, what’s the mum equivalent? Because I really want to see someone give a mum story the same big budget, fun epic treatment that Kratos got in God Of War. At the same time, I also dread this coming to pass.
Mams in games or Disney films are often characterised by their absence (see Horizon Zero Dawn, which is also very good, or even the aforementioned God Of War). They might send you supportive texts, or, more than likely, just be dead. Or, if there are robots, there will be a metaphorical mother AI. When mums are present, a lot of the time they’re, you know, fucked up. Take, for example, The Binding Of Isaac, or any number of evil brood-mother monstrosities that turn up as boss fights in yer Dragon Ages or Dark Soulses.
The mother archetype is soft and kind and endlessly caring, so doing a grim mirror version of that is enough to make any writer rub their hands together in glee, muttering words like “subversive” under their breath. And I’m not saying this isn’t effective either, because there are some great mum subversions out there. Horror films in particularly have a great line in mums struggling to be mums with stuff like Prevenge, The Hole In The Ground, or even The Babadook (and do not even talk to me about Mother!). The Lost Daughter just came out, too, and that isn’t even really a horror film (Ed – but it absolutely is).
My point is that there’s a middle ground in there, which accounts for what I believe is most of real life. Of course, many people do have terrible mothers, while others have wonderful mothers, but there’s a wide gulf between abuse and perfection. It’s a topic covered more in other kinds of media, but I think games, especially in the mainstream, struggle to grapple with the concept of a ‘mother’. Being a bit rubbish at being a parent isn’t just for dads who try not to cry and have humourous struggles with nappy tabs, just as being inherently good at being a parent isn’t only for women who, typically, die before the opening credits and appear in a beatific cutscene at the top of the second act.
A good mum story, but not a sad murder mum story.
There’s a lot of very rich and (if you’ll excuse the metaphor) very fertile ground to till here, in terms of a mum who has to learn to mum in the same way Kratos has to learn to dad. I want multiple authored experiences from that point of view, where the struggle to connect with your child is presented as a relatable thing for a mum to go through, and I want it to be in massive, high budget games with stunning vistas and adventures – I want it to be played by loads of nerds, to give them a new thing to empathise with. I want mums to be cool, too. You can even use Lara Croft, if you insist on it being an existing franchise. And Uncharted. Make the next Uncharted a mother/daughter joint.
But the reason I’m also afraid of this happening is that I have a feeling the kind of developers who a) think they could totally do that really well and b) have the pull to do it with a massive budget are c) the sort of lads who definitely shouldn’t try and do a story about mums. Like Kojima, or David Cage. I’m not saying they can’t make good games in their own right (at least, I am not saying that about one of them). Nor am I say that a man can’t write a mam story. I’m just struggling to think of a studio that’d get millions in funding for it, but also wouldn’t boot it. Who’d be good for it, d’you reckon? Alice0 pointed out that a The Last Of Us 3 will inevitably be about motherhood, actually, and she’s probably right about that. That might be good. But I want more than one. The dads got more than one, and mums deserve better.