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How to make players "good fathers" in game?

For these "fathers" as the main character, how can they make players who have no relevant life experience to become a qualified "good father" in-game? In this article, I will try to explain this from three aspects: character image, gameplay and narrative.

Yongcheng Liu, Blogger

June 24, 2022

6 Min Read

Players are often designed to play a role in game that may be far removed from their real life, such as an unsmiling "old daddy". Those classic father characters on the screen seem to ask us: why can we still be able to play the role of "father" in the game, even if we have no relevant life experience?

1. How to become a "good father" in-game?

However, this view became less and less convincing after some players gradually experienced more and more games with "father" as the main character. In fact, whether Kratos in God of War, or Joel in The Last of Us, I can feel the game character brought me a strong sense of immersion - I hope that Atreus does not take the same path as "me", becoming an avenging ghost; I do not want Ellie to be taken away for research and to be sacrificed to save the world. These feelings suggest that you have become a "good father" in the game.


So there might be a question, for these "fathers" as the main character, how can they make players who have no relevant life experience become a qualified "good father" in games? In this article, I will try to explain this from three aspects: character image, gameplay and narrative.

2. The projection of an ideal father figure?

The first aspect of creating a strong sense of immersion is to create characters that meet players' psychological expectations. The game characters controlled by players are the main medium through which players interact with the game; in the virtual world, they are the substitute and spokesperson of players. The first success of many games lies in the fact that the father character in the game perfectly matches the player's imagination, or rather, projection, of the ideal father character.

Projection, a concept in psychology, refers to the mental process by which people attribute to others what is in their own minds. In games, the protagonist often becomes the object of our projection, and we will project our own understanding of the identity and behavior of this figure in life onto the character in the game, and those who conform to the projection will be easier for the player to understand and immerse in, while the others will make the players get confused and even feel the sense of dissonance.

From this perspective, we can better understand why the fathers in the game tend to be more inclined to the image of an unspeakable, tall and austere old man, because this represents the ideal father image in the minds of most players - not to have such an old dad, but to feel that fathers should be like this.

Of course, the real father is much more than just the image of an old dad, and father characters in-game are various, like Ethan in Resident Evil: The Village. It also inspired me, that the parent figure does not necessarily need to be a father, and we can replace it with any family member. It can be the mother, brother or sister. The character which represents the parent-child relationship for players to relate, can be more than just the stereotype, for example, a silent and strong old dad.


3. The gameplay matching father characters

The behavior of a character is largely reflected in the specific gameplay of the game, and players often have their own expectations about a character's behavior. If the gameplay does not match the character's image and personality, it is difficult for players to immerse into the character.

If we change the sex of the protagonist in Resident Evil, it won't be strange for players, and it's largely because we have been used to controlling female characters to fight with zombie, and the gameplay and game style are relatively irrelevant with the gender. But for God of War, the fighting style of Kratos is more brutal and masculine, so if changing Kratos to be a mother figure, it will be difficult for players to immerse in.

From a macro perspective, games with fathers as the main characters are more suitable for action, FPS, and other games with combat gameplay, and these will be more in line with our expectations for character behaviors. On the contrary, parenting gameplay or other causal gameplay is often less likely to appear in games that feature father figures.

And from the more detailed gameplay design, the interaction between father and child can often increase the player's sense of immersion, for example in God of War, players can command Atreus to shoot arrows, or let Atreus solve the puzzle. In such a simple play design, the player can also feel the relationship between Kratos and his son.


4. Emotional connection brought by emotional narrative

A good narrative is crucial for most games, otherwise, even if the character image fits the player's projection and the gameplay matches the character design, what we play may be a game that lack of the feel of empathy.

From a perspective of purely plot production, empathy or emotional connection is not particularly difficult to create. The plot having its cause and effect, the creator can have plenty of space to lay out a character in a way that makes the character's behavior reasonable. But in games, we often have a hard time getting players to feel related because the narrative is often limited by the design and volume of the game itself (unless it's a text adventure game).

If the internal logic of the story cannot be expressed in the game through detailed narrative and effective design, the players will be disconnected from the character and feel that "he is not me, because I don't know why he would do that".

5. Summary

Back to our original question: how to make players become a "good fathers" in video games? There are three aspects: character image design, gameplay, and narrative. Although most players agree that it is not a false proposition that a player's sense of immersion comes from each person's differentiated life experiences, it is by no means a necessary condition for players to feel immersed.

If a game can shape a character matching the player's projection, build up the gameplay relevant to the character, and have a logical narrative, it might not be that difficult for a player who has never experienced being a parent to become a qualified "father" in the game.

Video games may come from real life and go back to real life. What we think and see in life is projected in our game characters, and the storyline we experience through our game characters becomes the catalyst for our understanding of the world and our family. Countless players have left comments in God of War game communities, saying that Kratos' story reminds them of their own fathers. Fathers in real life maybe are not as strong as Kratos, but they love their children in the same silent way.

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