During lockdown I, like many, have abandoned all summatives and turned my focus to pure procrastination, treating myself in the Spring Sales far too much and replaying some beloved golden oldies. It was starting ‘God of War (2018)’ from the beginning for the umpteenth time that made me realise the lack of motherhood (for better or worse) present in games. A quick google confirmed that the best most sites could come up with is the protagonist of ‘Cooking Mama’, or the Mum from ‘Animal Crossing’, lovingly sending letters and gifts but never visiting her child in their new town. Where are the realistic, fleshed out mother NPCs? Or – heaven forbid – an AAA game with a mother for a protagonist? After racking my brain, the closest I could come up with is Kara’s story in ‘Detroit: Become Human’, in which you (as an android) take charge of a young child after you escape her abusive father. Whilst this serves as an interesting exploration of androids loving humans platonically, it goes fairly awry by the end of the game thanks to plot twists and just a bit too much stereotyping.
A lot of this void of mothers can be traced to the male-centric focus of gaming in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century; with most game makers being male, they wrote games about stuff they understood or had experienced themselves. More recently, this has led to a fantastic renaissance of ‘dadification’ in games as writers became parents themselves or had a better comprehension of what the relationship would look like (think ‘Walking Dead’, ‘Bioshock Infinite’, the aforementioned ‘God of War’ to name only a few). The best most mothers can hope for in gaming seems to be a cursory reference to their death when the protagonist was born (see ‘The Last of Us’) or a dramatic demise in an early cut-scene (see ‘Dishonored’). We’re not even going to begin down the slippery slope of corrupted motherhood as manifested in games like ‘Bloodbourne’ or that Goddess in ‘Dante’s Inferno’ who spawns demonic children from her nipples (still gives me nightmares!).
Sure, there’s games such as ‘Fallout 4’ where depending on your gender choice, you play as either the mother or father of Shaun, with an overarching narrative to find out who kidnapped him. Whilst this is a popular AAA game that can be included as an example of mothers in games, there can’t really be any nuance to the characterisation of the female ‘Sole-Survivor’ given she could just as easily be male with pretty much the same dialogue.
Returning to the newest ‘God of War’, although deceased, Fae is actually a fairly present character who (no spoilers) you soon begin to realise has shaped her husband and son’s journey far more than originally perceived. Rather than just a plot device, you get to learn a lot about her as the game progresses, making her one of my favourite-albeit-absent mothers in gaming. The hope is that as gaming becomes a more diverse and inclusive industry, we will see a rise in all kinds of different stories told, including those of mothers. A favourite of mine that shows we are moving in the right direction is ‘What Remains of Edith Finch’, a walking simulator of a young mother-to-be exploring her family home and telling her unborn child the story of their ancestors. The whole game manages to be about motherhood and yet not only that, explores many complex ideas we can all resonate with. Here’s hoping that post-‘dadification’, we let the mothers take the lead for a bit.