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Father Figure

Jeff Dunn | 17 Aug 2012 09:00
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Here's something I don't like to share with people: My dad died when I was thirteen. He was a lifelong alcoholic who struggled through a divorce with my mother, the constant weight of finding this month's rent, and a presumably overbearing conscience that always reminded him he wasn't living his life the way he should have been. By the time he passed, he was living in a rundown trailer in his friend's back yard, absently detoxing, losing an unhealthy amount of weight, and salvaging whatever amount of his time as a father he had left. I loved him.

These fatherless figures displayed their heroism by combating the dad-induced voids within them.

Since then, I've taken up gaming as my preferred form of entertainment. Videogames have been my food for thought, my inspiration, and my escape for years now; when I was going through my roughest portions of adjusting to dadless life, certain games were always there, inviting me to revel in their fantasies.

As I grew older and began to engage with my artistic medium of choice beyond a surface level, I realized the heroes I had been playing with were just like me - at least much more so than I had previously thought. They could kill hundreds of Nazis or zombies or monsters at a time, sure, but they had issues, too. They were flawed. They were pained.

I came to realize that, like me, many of gaming's greatest, most noble, heroic, and seemingly fearless heroes even had their fair share of "daddy issues." Some had lost their father, some never had one, and some even had to defeat theirs on the field of battle. I could relate to these pixilated people - beyond the whole nonstop action, romance and killing things stuff, their struggles were my struggles. And almost every time, these fatherless figures displayed their heroism by combating head on the dad-induced voids within them.

This theme of absent fathers, either in the physical sense (as it was with me) or the emotional one (as it is with so many today) is certainly not one unique to videogames. Lately, though, it has featured rather prominently in the medium in varying ways. Recent blockbusters such as Gears of War 3, Metal Gear Solid 4, and Uncharted 3 all feature heroes who at first appear physically and emotionally invincible, but deep down are haunted by the tragic failings of their fathers.

For me, the story of Uncharted 3's Nathan Drake in particular best demonstrates just how the loss of a father fundamentally alters the trajectory of one's being. While Nate is oftentimes seen as unflappable in the face of danger, beneath all the wisecracks and perfect hair is a boy still frantically struggling to make up for the fatherly care he was denied as a child.

We don't know too much about Drake's past, but we can say with certainty that the treasure hunter has some serious issues with his father, the most significant of which may never be resolved. Uncharted 3 hints that Drake's dad left him to the state when he was five (after his mother killed herself), leaving him to grow up in an orphanage with nothing but the reverie of his history books as company.

From there, Nathan Drake (which isn't his actual name) looked to larger-than-life figures like Sir Francis Drake to occupy the empty space created by the Uncharted hero's absentee dad. But it wasn't until Victor Sullivan, Nate's elder partner-in-adventuring, came along that a 14-year-old Drake found something close to a tangible father figure.

When Sully came into his life, Drake came to cling to him as the dad he never got the chance to have. Nate sees much of himself in Victor - from the devil-may-care attitude to the insecurities and imperfections equally imposed in them by lousy fathers. Nate always had the choice to continue the loner's life, but it was his inner longing for that missing sense of fatherhood that caused him to put himself under Sully's tutelage. Nate would, as Uncharted 3 frequently shows, protect Sully to the death, not just because they're best friends, but because Sully represents a sort of fulfillment of all that Drake never had as a kid.

Yet at the same time, that very fulfillment is what makes Drake who he is in the first place. Drake is a man who, at first glance, looks to be nothing less than a demigod among men. After years of death-cheating and baddie-bashing, he's become an expert hand-to-hand fighter, a skilled shot, and essentially a one man army. His life is never stagnant, as he travels the globe, always finding new adventures in which to partake, and new villains to thwart. He even has sexy women lusting after him now and again. His existence is one of pure excitement, and he seems to prefer it that way.

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