U of A master’s student examines the ‘daddening’ of video games

October 25, 2021
U of A master's student examines the 'daddening' of video games
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A master’s student from the University of Alberta looked into why many newer video games have a father as the protagonist of the storyline.

Gone are the days of the lone protagonist in video games, fighting his way toward glory or to save the love of his life.

Now, several video games centre around a rugged father figure whose sole mission in life is to protect his offspring. 

This new storyline is evident in video games like Red Dead Redemption, The Walking Dead and The Last of Us. The live-action series of The Last of Us is currently being filmed in Edmonton and Calgary.

Kaitlyn Ensley, a digital humanities student at the U of A, had this new storyline as a subject of interest for her master’s thesis.

Ensley said she believes what video-game journalist Stephen Totilo called the “daddening” of video games stems from developers’ own personal experiences. 

“A lot of game developers are of an age where they’re now also dads,” Ensley told CBC’s Edmonton AM.

“And I think that that was influencing a lot of them … and I think that it’s just kind of a compelling narrative for audiences as well.” 

Edmonton AM5:31The trend of leading father figures in video games

Video games with leading characters are using father figures as protagonists. We speak to a U of A student who just completed her master’s thesis on the “daddening” of video games. 5:31

Ensley said many developers have confessed in interviews how being a dad played a role in their inspiration for characters.

In several interviews, the creator of The Last of Us, Neil Druckmann, has mentioned how becoming a father influenced the stories he told in his video games.

Apocalyptic HBO TV series films in downtown Edmonton

The Last of Us is a popular video game-turned-TV series, filming in Edmonton. It will feature Pedro Pascal (The Mandalorian) and Bella Ramsay (Game of Thrones). Explore Edmonton’s Dan St. Pierre reflects on the show’s impact on his city. 1:13

Ensley said the role of the father is really baked into the story of the game.

“It’s not just kind of an incidental thing where they are the protagonist and they also kind of happen to be a dad on the side,” she said.

“It’s really important to their character development. It’s really important to the story and it’s actually baked into the gameplay itself.”

Kaitlyn Ensley, a digital humanities student at the University of Alberta, with her step-dad, John Hayes. (Submitted by Kaitlyn Ensley)

The fathers in all these video games share common features; straight, white, brawny men — a consequence, Ensley said, of game developer leads being straight, white men.

The dads often have traumatic pasts that stem from their careers in the army, police or other militia.

They seek redemption while putting their lives on the line for their only child in a dangerous post-apocalyptic or dystopian — or some sociopolitical-disaster — world. 

There is also a redemption arc where the dad figure is trying to redeem a past mistake, sometimes to do with his kids, Ensley said.

In The Last of Us, the protagonist takes on responsibility for a young girl after his own daughter dies. 

Mothers are almost always absent.

They are either dead or antagonistic or both — in the form of ghosts, Ensley said.

Meanwhile, the fathers are portrayed in a very narrow way from which the storylines do not deviate. 

“It tends to be associated with a lot of violence, which is obviously not kind of the most common narrative for fathers.”



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