Top 10 Fictional Dads

With Father’s Day tomorrow, I thought that I would do a tribute to the fictional dads that I really liked.  Whether they are the biological fathers, or father figures, they are loyal parents and often go to incredible lengths to protect their children.  Sometimes they are diligent, doting parents, other times they are aloof but prove their loyalty in other ways.  I’m not limiting this to any one genre of fiction, because my favorite fictional parents come from all sorts.  Let me know the fictional parents who you admired most in the comments.

10. Sojiro Sakura
Persona 5
When you first meet Sojiro, he’s a stern and almost cold character.  He doesn’t like you and makes no secret of the fact that he sees having to watch over you as a burden.  However, as the plot unfolds you realize that there is a caring man, who has a secret.  He has been caring for the daughter of a dear friend who passed away a long time ago.  The girl is a shut-in and he desperately has been trying to be a good dad while also respecting her very strict boundaries.  But once she is able to come out from that shell, their bond becomes just that much more apparent, since he can finally be a doting father figure to a child who has had a very hard life.  Stern, yet compassionate.  A Japanese father to a fault.

9. Peter (last name unknown)
Animorphs
The father of one of the main characters, Marco, he is one of the most interesting literary parents.  His wife died a long time ago, and he has been looking to move forward with his life ever since.  This has caused more than a little strain between him and his son.  What I like most about the character is the fact that they show him to be human.  Very much so.  He’s lonely, and wants to be able to move forward from losing his wife.  Now, granted there is more to what’s going on with his wife, which makes Marco even more unhappy about how his father is trying to move on, but Peter doesn’t know that and so his son is trying not to hold it against him.  When you finally see the two of them bonding, it feels genuine.  Not the most dynamic character, but a human one all the same.

8. Lieutenant Colonel Griswald
Recess
A military man through and through, and father to Gus Griswald, the Lieutenant is probably the most stern character on this list.  He talks to his son as if he is one of the men under his command, and does have high expectations of him.  However, there are numerous times in the episode where you see him genuinely care for him and even go out of his way to help him in whatever way he can.  The fact that his son wants to follow in his footsteps as a soldier constantly makes him proud, along with the fact that he is loyal to his friends.  Again, not the most dynamic character but having known a few Army brats growing up, this makes me think of them.  One of them had a really shitty dad, but another had one who reminded me of the Lt. Colonel.

7. Hank Hill
King of the Hill
Hank is the quintessential typical American dad.  He’s conservative as all get-out, has no understanding of his son or the world he lives in, and constantly sees the youth culture as strange and disconcerting.  But despite all that, he is still a strong family man.  Not only does he constantly try to be a good husband, but he tries to be a good father too.  There are a lot of moments where he looks after Bobby despite not understanding the first thing about him and the world he lives in.  At the end of the day, him and the family can bicker and argue, but they’ll still have a grilled steak, so long as the grill uses propane.

6. Jack Foreman
Prey
A stay-at-home father who is trying to get used to the dynamic he is living in, all while battling his sense of uselessness and his growing sense of ownership over the home and the relationship with the children as his wife is growing more and more distant.  Jack is a fantastic father.  Not only does he make sure the house runs smoothly, he goes out of his way to try and be understanding of his wife’s situation with her increasingly demanding job.  However, when he gets involved in his former employer’s situation in the desert, and things are looking their worst, the first thought he has is to protect the children that he left behind.  The book ends with him taking radical steps in order to protect them, but he’ll do whatever it takes.  So loyal that he fights against forces so radically overpowering in order to keep what he has waiting for him safe.  Naturally he’s from my favorite book.

5. Bryan Mills
Taken (the first one, not the shitty sequels)
This character is probably the most loyal father ever.  A former CIA badass who ends up retiring so he can try and reconnect with his daughter.  However, when she is kidnapped by Algerian sex-slavers, he will stop at nothing to secure her freedom.  He’ll attack cops, shoot the wife of a former ally, even torture a man by electrocuting him until the power shuts off just to make a point.  Bryan is a no-nonsense, do not fuck with me dad, and has years of “specific set of skills” to prove it.

4. Victor Sullivan
Uncharted (series)
Sully has no children of his own.  However, as you learn in Uncharted 3, one day he happened upon a little punk in Spain who he took under his wing.  That punk just happened to be Nathan Drake.  What came from that was a relationship of two career criminals who just happened to rob the artifacts of ancient empires in order to sell them and live the good life.  Sully is crass, suave, a complete man-whore with all the talent to be cool as fuck while doing it.  He also has no problem using a gun. The scene where he tells Nate that he always saw him as the son he never had was pretty touching.  No matter how he may not have been the best father figure, he is Sully, and that’s all he’ll ever need.

3. Ethan Mars
Heavy Rain
Bryan Mills would kick whoever’s ass to keep his daughter safe, but Ethan Mars is a bit on the different spectrum.  After a moment of losing track of his first son led to him being tragically killed in a car wreck, Ethan and his wife are separated and he is a little overly protective of his younger child.  So when the Origami Killer steals him, Ethan is now in a position where he will do whatever it takes in order to keep him safe.  Even if that means complying with the increasingly-twisted demands of the killer, like to cut off one of his own fingers.  It’s horrifying, but when you see him weather it in order to get his child back, it makes you want to fight even harder to make sure it happens.

2. Maes Hughes
Fullmetal Alchemist
Probably the most doting father on this list, Hughes attachment to his little girl is more than a little insane.  And he makes sure that every single person around him is forced to suffer through it at all hours.  However, underneath that there is an incredibly intelligent investigator who is not only looking to keep his family safe, but also his best friend Roy Mustang.  When he happens upon a truth so horrible that it threatens to destroy everything, he rushes out without hesitation to confirm it.  But in the end, that determination to dig up the truth is what gets the better of him.  The enemy becomes the one thing that he can’t raise a weapon to – his wife.  A good man, a loving father, and a tragic end.  He is pretty awesome like that.

And my favorite fictional dad is…

1. Joel
The Last of Us
While the relationship he had with his daughter Sara is a profoundly beautiful and tragic relationship, we don’t get much chance to know them.  It’s his relationship with his companion Ellie, who becomes his surrogate daughter, that is the one I want to talk about.  Joel is a survivor.  After Sara is tragically killed, he has 20 years for his heart to harden to ice.  But when this teenage girl comes into his life, and goes out of her way to try and bond with him and reach him on a personal level, he finds that ice melting away.  Eventually, he grows to see her as his own child, and will stop at nothing to keep her safe.  To the point that when he finds out the only way to get Ellie’s immunity into a form where it can be made a vaccine would kill her, he sells the ENTIRE human race up the river to save her life.  A cold, calculating, kind of monstrous person, Joel finds his humanity again in that little girl.  When you hear him telling her unconscious body the things he said to Sara and he ran with he, it makes the situation that much harder.

Who are all of your favorite fictional fathers?  And to all the dads out there, Happy Father’s Day

Until next time, a quote,

“Yeah, you keep telling yourself that bullshit.” – Joel

Peace out,

Maverick

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Critical Examination: The Last of Us

The Last of UsI’m about to start a new segment here on my site where I become a giant pretentious douche and critically examine things that I love.  This might work better in video form, but I don’t have a computer for that kind of work, and I don’t know how to edit for shit anyway.  So I do what I do, in the medium that I am best with – writing.  I’ve already talked a ton about things that I love, but now I am going to really dive into the things that I love.  When I look at something in a way where it may just bore you to tears, unless you love the things I love as much as I love them.  Also, feel free to bring your own ideas to the table.  For real, all of these things are about discussion.  I want feedback from my audience.  It’s hard to do on a written piece, I know.  Videos seem much more open to comments.  Unless you’re an SJW who blocks or mods comments, but whatever.  Let’s get into this.

The Last of Us is one of my favorite games of all time.  It tells a powerful and gripping narrative about two survivors on a journey across the country, to get a cure for the fungal outbreak that has destroyed humanity out of the younger one, in hopes of saving the world.  But that is just the call to adventure.  In reality, this game is about two people and their finding of humanity in each other.  It is a story about love, family and the cost of living.  Only Naughty Dog could have made this game.  They are the only ones who are capable of this level of character.  And it was also made by the amazing performances of Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson.  Only with this ensemble could this game have been done.  But what about this game is so striking?  What does this game do that other games in this genre don’t?  Let’s talk about it.

Part One – Joel

When you first meet Joel, he is an overworked single dad, coming home after a hard day.  He is on the phone with his brother, Tommy, arguing about a job that he clearly isn’t happy at.  It is not a pleasant discussion, but he hangs up when he sees his daughter Sara on the couch, and realizes that it’s time to be a dad again.  Him and Sara share a tender moment, where you learn that she was trying to stay up so she could give him a birthday present.  It’s a watch, and through the giving of this gift, and the banter the two of them have, you come to understand their relationship.  Joel works hard, and Sara’s had to learn to take care of herself in some ways.  There are little cues all over the place telling the audience that.  Joel clearly does care about her.  There’s a picture on Sara’s wall of him with his arm around her, after her soccer team wins a trophy.  Joel’s a good dad, but he is kept busy.  He tries to be in her life, but it’s understood that she’s had to take care of herself quite a bit.  Part of this game’s quality is being able to tell you lots about characters with short-hand.  Whether it be the pictures on the wall, the birthday card Sara forgot to give her dad, the banter between them, or the note on the fridge, this game conveys a lot about its characters through subtle touches.

That’s one thing that gaming can do that film could never do.  Ever.  Some of the things you learn about characters is done through stuff that you can totally avoid.  You can totally miss the little piece of dialogue between Joel and Ellie after Tess dies.  You can totally pass by when Ellie wants a high-five after the two of you work together to get past a dam.  But it’s because of these little touches that this game gives every one of its characters personality.  Even the evil ones.

The next time we see Joel, he’s getting home.  Sara’s been alone, desperately looking for him.  Something is wrong and he is scared.  This man is not the gruff person you meet later on.  He’s a typical person, who is in a situation that is way outside of his control.  When one of his neighbors tries to attack him, he is forced to kill the man.  Clearly, he’s never had to do something like that before, and he tries to hold it together for his daughter.  Then Tommy arrives and the three try to make their escape from the area.  Thus, the nightmare truly begins.  After slogging through a world going to hell, Joel ends up staring down the barrel of a soldier’s gun.  The man has been given order to kill the two of them, and Joel tries to run away.  It’s implied that he took a bullet, but only grazing.  The killing blow went into his daughter.  Our time seeing him like this initially ends when you see his daughter on the ground, crying in her father’s arms as she dies.  And then we get 20 years to see Joel’s heart harden and him become someone else.

That prologue might not sound important, but it is.  It really is.  Because it sets the stage for the relationship that grows between Joel and Ellie.  The loss of his daughter forever changed him.  It turned him into someone else.  Someone that he didn’t especially like, but was powerless to fight.  Again, through little cues here and there, it’s understood that Joel has had to do some terrible things in order to survive for the past 20 years.  Him and his brother both.  He did whatever he had to do to take care of them.  His connection to his humanity died when he lost his daughter.

When we meet Joel again, he’s a rough man.  Very rough.  Time has turned him into a very skilled and violent smuggler.  He works with a woman named Tess, who you come to find out shared a connection beyond professional with him.  She makes clear before her death that the two have shared moments that make it so that he has some level of obligation to her.  It’s an interesting dichotomy.  In the early stages of the game, you find out that both him and Tess view violence as a solution to their problems, being quick to torture and kill those who don’t cooperate.

During a mission to recover merchandise that was promised to them, we meet Marlene.  The leader of the local Fireflies movement, she is wounded and persuades the two to smuggle something out of the city.  She won’t say what, but promises them all they asked for and more.  Something to note about the introduction of Marlene is another strength that this game has.  They take the time to introduce every major character, in a way where they leave it open whether or not they are friend or foe.  This comes back a big way with one of the most dark characters in all of gaming who comes in later.  Moral ambiguity is another major factor in this game.  Who is good?  Who is bad?  Is there ever a real answer to these questions?  How they deal with this question is left open to the player, and how they do that is also brilliant.

After escorting her back to a safe-house, we finally get to meet the cargo that Marlene wants escorted out of the city – a teenage girl named Ellie.  At first, Joel is totally opposed to this, but Tess convinces him to do it.  When Ellie’s secret gets out – that she’s immune to the infection that has decimated humanity – it becomes an even bigger task.  Thus begins the game’s plot, and all the twists and turns it takes along the way.

So, what is Joel’s journey?  After all, I said at the beginning that this game was about finding humanity and the cost of living, didn’t I?  That’s true.  Joel’s journey is one of finding something to believe in again.  After years of taking care of his brother and giving in to his monster side, he has become a different man.  A cold man, who has walled off his emotions behind years of hardening himself to the world that he lives in.  Gotta survive, after all.  Right?  During his time with Ellie, though, we see this part of him change.  The heart that was walled off starts to open up.  It’s a gradual process.  We first see him start to open up when they are looking at the capital building in Boston.  There is a slightly-tender moment where you see Joel’s defenses soften, just enough to let Ellie have a chance.

The growth of their relationship is tied to the seasons.  Each season brings about a different change in their dynamic.  Summer has them as strangers, forming a slight bond by the end of the season.  Another part of the game’s ending of the seasons is with someone major dying.  Fall has the two much closer.  They are able to talk to each other like they are traveling companions.  Maybe even friends.  Joel is still walling himself off from her, but there are signs that that wall is weakening.  She is starting to rub off on the guy, and he is a little afraid of that.  Part of him remembers that life is so fleeting, and if he opens up to her and something happens, then could he deal?  Questioning the boundaries of one’s humanity is not a bad character element.  By the end of Fall, the two are bonding as real friends.  They talk casually, even having some personal conversations where Joel opens to Ellie.  He has a limit, and she has learned where it is and not to push her luck.  Just when things are going well for them, everything goes to shit.

Winter sees Joel as incapacitated.  Ellie is on her own, and that ties in to her own arc.  When he comes back into the story, it’s after she injected him with medicine.  He comes back to life, and she’s gone.  His mission is clear – find her.  He overhears some bandits talking about the girl.  After cleaning house with the lot of them, Joel decides to have a little “chat” with two that he captures.  It’s here that we get to see another side to his personality much better.  Joel has a very violent side, who has no problem whatsoever maiming and mutilating people to get what he wants.  After torturing and interrogating one, he gets what he is look for.  Without a second thought, he picks up a broken pipe and then uses it to beat the second to death.  That violence inside of him is important, because it’s tied up with who he let himself become.  And it’s a part of him that doesn’t go away with time.

Joel’s reunion with Ellie is when she is at her lowest point.  Despair had consumed her as she is hacking up the face of a man who had psychologically tortured her, beaten her, and it was implied that he wanted her sexually as well.  Joel takes her into his arms and holds her.  It is in this moment when he finally opens his heart to this little girl.  We will never know what it was that he said to her when he pulled back, but I like to think that it was just right.

Spring has Joel now being infinitely more open with her.  He is kind, outgoing, and openly more optimistic.  This contrasts well with Ellie’s open personal arc, and how her story is unfolding.  They finally reach the city where the Fireflies base is.  After trekking through it, the two reach their destination.  They reunite with Marlene and a dark fact is revealed.  It seems that the only way to extract the cure from Ellie is to kill her.  Without a moment’s hesitation, Joel fights against this.  Marlene threatens him with death of he tries to stop them, then has one of the guards escort him out.  Again, we see that, without hesitation, Joel turns to violence.  He attacks the guard, taking the man’s weapon and then blasting him the groin, over and over again until he tells him where Ellie is.  After fighting (or sneaking, however you play) past the guards, he then finds the surgeons about to open up the only person he cares about.  When I first play the game, I saw the doc coming at me, so I blasted him.  I didn’t know that I could leave the nurses alone, so I blasted the first.  It was then that I realized that I didn’t have to kill them.  It was a moment that questioned the morals of the player, and that is another great quality the game has, that we’ll get into later.

After getting Ellie out of the surgical ward, there is a touching moment where he is fleeing with her, and the guards are giving chase.  It is powerful because the words that he says to her as they are running eerily mimic what he said to Sara.  See how I said that what happened before is important?  Yeah, there’s a reason.  You get to the elevator and ride it down.  When we get to the bottom, there is another confrontation waiting for him.  Marlene is there, gun in hand.  She tells Joel that his saving her now is pointless.  Even if she survives all of this, how long before she’s ripped apart by Clickers?  Assuming that she hasn’t been raped and murdered first.  She says that it will be painless, and that Ellie will never know.  Then, she reasons that it is what she would want.  This actually gives Joel pause.  He has to think about it.  Marlene lowers her weapon and starts walking toward him, assuring him that it is for the best.  In this moment, we truly discover who Joel is.  When Marlene finally gets there, he blasts her in the belly.

Once he has put Ellie in the car and shutting the door, we see him walk back.  Marlene is on the ground, her blood everywhere.  She begs him to let her live.  To just leave.  There, we see him rationalize killing her.  To be fair, his reasoning is sound.  He says that she would come after them.  That’s probably true.  After putting a hole in her head, Joel leaves.

What have we learned about Joel?  We’ve learned that he has been a survivor.  He’s done whatever he believes was needed to keep him and his brother alive.  If he believes that it’s necessary, he’ll kill or torture without a moment’s hesitation.  These qualities sound like awful ones, but that’s why it is so important that we saw what happened with Sara.  That introduction made this game work on an emotional level, because we saw why Joel had become so blocked-off, emotionally.  It makes him finding his humanity again so much better.  But when Ellie is threatened, you see how quickly he is willing to trade on that dark part of him.  And in the end, he lies right to her face.  This character is complicated.  His darkness is uncomfortable, and that is why he is so interesting.

This post has already gone on absurdly-long enough, so I think that I’ll end it here.  In the next one, we’re going to have ourselves a look at Ellie.  The other side of this dichotomy that makes this game work so well.

Until next time, a quote,

“You don’t know what loss is!”  -Joel, The Last of Us

Peace out,

Maverick

SIONL: The Last of Us Beginning

The Last of UsThe Last of Us is going to be a game that defines this console generation.  It is a game that has raised the bar of good story-telling for the games to come.  I have gushed about how much I love the plot of this game, but I want to go back and talk about the beginning of this game, because it perfectly sets the tone for everything to come.  Just a fair warning, there will be spoilers here, so if you haven’t played, read at your own risk.

This game starts out with Joel coming home from work.  He is having some work problems and is trying to keep it together so that he and his daughter can survive.  His daughter is laying on the couch, waiting for her dad to get home.  He gets home and rags on her for being up so late, but he finds out that it was for a good cause – she wanted to give him a birthday present.  They have a pleasant conversation that sets them up as believable parent and kid with the dad ragging on her about where she got the money to get him a present.  It is nice.

But then, the game switches perspective.  You, the player, are now with the daughter.  She is woken up by a phone call.  It is from Tommy, Joel’s brother.  He is worried.  He wants to find Joel but can’t.  Something is happening.  It’s bad.  You get up from bed, going to go find your dad.  There is something oddly engaging about playing as this girl, shuffling down the hall.  The way that she moves is reminiscent of being a kid, but also waking up in the middle of the night.

The thing that makes this so great, though, is the subtle mounting tension.  It starts with a phone call.  You walk down the hall and pick up a newspaper that talks about a disease that is started to spread pretty fast.  Then, you get to your dad’s room, but he is nowhere to be found.  The tension builds as you see a news report that talks about something bad happening.  It ends with an explosion and you can see the girl is getting scared, with her father nowhere to be found.  She goes downstairs, and he still isn’t there.  His phone is on the counter, buzzing away.  You are starting to get scared.  Just then, he comes in.  He is terrified, grabbing you and keeping you close.  Just then, a neighbor who you both clearly trusted busts in.  He isn’t well and comes charging at the two of you.  Joel shoots him and that’s when the tension goes nuts.  You are still the daughter, still a witness to this.

Tommy comes over, as a good brother, to make sure that his brother and niece are safe.  You all head out, desperate to get away.  They captured what it is like to be a little girl in a car perfectly.  She’s squirrely, can’t sit still, but unable to do anything.  She’s scared, because her dad is scared.  He tries to put on a brave face, but you can see that he is terrified.  You are only able to look out the car windows as the world is starting to fall apart.  You see some of the first expressions of inhumanity, but it doesn’t stop there.  The car gets hit.

Now the perspective goes to Joel.  From child to parent.  He wakes up after the crash, and his first thought is to check on his daughter.  She’s hurt.  You’re scared.  But there’s a problem – the infected are coming.  They are everywhere and they are coming.  You can’t fight back, you don’t have a gun.  All you can do is pick your daughter up and run.  Run and more running.  Those are your options.  The tension builds, higher and higher, as Joel doesn’t know what to do, where to go.  Tommy is covering your back but the world is falling apart.  People, cars and infected are everywhere.  Chaos and insanity with you and your little girl one wrong step away from death.  The tension here is unbelievable!

As you run, faster and faster, things just get worse and worse.  You lose track of Tommy, assuring your child that he’ll be okay.  You don’t believe it, but you want her to feel good.  The tension mounts higher and higher are you keep running, but you hear the infected are closing in.  I remember feeling as if it was my job to keep these two safe, wishing that the tension would end.  Joel is getting tired, running out of options and the infected are right behind him.  Just as you think that it is about to end, they get shot.  It’s a soldier.

Oh, thank god, a soldier.  You feel so much better.  Joel had shielded her from the gunshots, then looks down at her, finally able to tell her that it will be okay.  But then, when you try and approach the soldier, he tells you to stop.  He points his gun at you.  Joel and his daughter are terrified.  Why would he do this?  Joel assures him that you aren’t sick.  You aren’t one of them.  The soldier calls into base, not wanting to follow his orders.  You then find out that he isn’t trying to help you.  He is about to kill you.  The terror in Joel and his daughter as they are about to be gunned down by someone who is supposed to help them is staggering.  Right as he shoots, he is stopped.  Tommy is back.  He puts a bullet in that piece of shit soldier’s head and then runs over.  Joel is okay, but his daughter is on the ground . He runs over and finds out something horrible – she has been shot.  Blood is pouring out of her.  He takes her in his arms, assuring her that it will be alright.  But it is clear on both his and Tommy’s face that it isn’t going to be alright.

The opening segment ends with her dying, and Joel having 20 years for his heart to harden.  It is the most perfect opening that I have EVER seen!  They got every single thing in this opening right.  They quickly establish the father and daughter’s relationship, making them both realistic and getting you to care about them by having them share a moment together.  It makes it all the more tragic when you see this little girl die in his arms.  It’s a tear-jerker, right from the start and sets the tone for what is to come.

The Last of Us is going to be a game that defines what this console cycle could have done, and sadly didn’t.  But it gives me hope for what is to come.  Naughty Dog has said that for any potential sequels for this game, they won’t be using any of the same characters or setting, which does give me hope.  Maybe taking the Fallout approach to telling this game’s story.  I can live with that.  But for real, this is an amazing game, and it currently is at the top of the race for best game of this year, as far as I am concerned.

So, what do you think?  What game beginnings caught your attention?  Let me know in the comments section.

Until next time, a quote,

“Where did you get the money for this?”  -Joel
“Drugs.  I sell hardcore drugs.”  -Sarah
“Oh good, you can start helping out with the mortgage then.”  -Joel, The Last of Us

Peace out,

Maverick