Guest Post: “Inspirational Video Game Dads” by Ron Walters
Today, The BiblioSanctum is thrilled to be kicking off the blog tour of Deep Dive by Ron Walters, celebrating the book’s upcoming January 11, 2022 release from Angry Robot! As you all know, we’re big fans of video games here, and so is Ron! He has very kindly written us a very special guest post about the how the father figures of his favorite games have influenced him as he was writing Deep Dive, which follows a video game developer whose real and virtual lives start to blur as work on his project forces him to spend precious time away from his family. The post is a fascinating read and I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as we did! Be sure to also check out the other stops on the tour!
I’m a sucker for narrative-driven, action-adventure video games, especially ones with dads as the main playable character. Nothing tugs at my paternal heartstrings more than a reluctant surrogate father shepherding a surly teenager through a zombie-infested wasteland, or a grumpy demigod widower tearing apart draugar with his bare hands while simultaneously struggling to build a relationship with his equally grumpy son. Even a non-playable outcast warrior who adopts a baby of mysterious heritage and mentors her up into her teenage years until circumstances prove fatal is more than enough to give me a huge case of the feels.
If you’re into video games, you know exactly who I’m talking about: Joel in The Last of Us, Kratos in 2018’s God of War, and Rost in Horizon Zero Dawn. For my time and money, these three characters represent the top tier of video game dads, for one simple, poignant reason: they are willing to do anything to protect the children in their care, no matter the consequences. It’s a trait that, as a father and a writer, I find imminently relatable and hugely inspirational, so much so that it’s the theme at the heart of my debut novel, Deep Dive.
In Deep Dive, Peter, the main character, is a struggling video game developer who agrees to beta test an experimental VR headset only to find himself trapped in a world that is almost exactly like his own save for the fact that his daughters no longer exist. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, Peter refuses to believe that the girls are figments of his imagination, and his dogged determination to find them is what propels the plot forward.
That selfsame grit is what largely motivates Joel, Kratos, and Rost in their respective worlds. Of the three, Joel shares the closest kinship with Peter. Their stories are wildly dissimilar, but the drive that underpins Peter’s search for his daughters is the same one that fuels Joel’s quest to get Ellie, his surrogate daughter, to the doctors who want to learn why she’s immune to the Cordyceps fungus that turns humans into zombies. (It’s also what ultimately makes him free her from their clutches when he learns the truth behind their machinations.) Unlike Peter, however, who’s desperate from the get-go to find his daughters, Joel initially views Ellie’s presence as a burden.
The Last of Us starts with the death of Joel’s biological teenage daughter, Sarah, during the initial outbreak of the Cordyceps fungus, then flashes forward twenty years. Joel is still not over Sarah’s death, so becoming responsible for Ellie, also a teenager, in a world where a single misstep can kill is the last thing he wants to do. But once a father always a father, and when faced with the option of abandoning Ellie or escorting her safely to her destination, Joel chooses the latter. Their bond is tenuous at first, but as they progress across the post-apocalyptic landscape of a shattered America, battling hideous creatures and even more hideous humans, they grow closer, and by the end of the story are father and daughter in all but biology. Just as Peter in Deep Dive realizes that getting home to his family matters more than any amount of professional success, Joel realizes that the emptiness left behind when Sarah died is not something to wallow in, but to fill. It’s an epiphany that leads him to tell the lie that closes the game, a lie which, controversy aside, provides the final proof that Ellie has taught him how to love again.
While Joel and Peter are experienced fathers, Kratos, the titular god of war, doesn’t know how to be a proper parent to his son, Atreus. Although Atreus is eleven when the game begins, it’s not much of a stretch to assume that Kratos has spent a big portion of his son’s life leaving the parenting to Faye, Kratos’ second wife. But when the game begins, Faye is dead, and Kratos, in order to fulfil her wish that her ashes be scattered from the highest peak in all the nine Nordic realms, is forced to assume the fatherly role he’s clearly been avoiding.
To a certain extent, his reluctance is understandable, seeing as he was responsible for the death of his first wife and daughter back in Greece. In this regard, Kratos and Peter are somewhat similar. Peter’s biggest problem is that he’s so consumed by the need to achieve professional success that he’s become an absentee father. Kratos, on the other hand, is haunted by his past, and is so worried that his sins will repeat themselves in his relationship with Atreus that he too becomes a negligent parent. Just like Peter’s manic work ethic in Deep Dive results in the utter upheaval of his life, bringing him to a reckoning about what kind of parent he wants to be, Kratos’ buried past becomes a powerful motivator which, when intertwined with his wife’s dying wish, forces him to face the sins he so desperately strove to put behind him, and in so doing helps him become the father he never thought he could be. The journey he takes Atreus on is long and dangerous, but in the end their relationship is better off for it.
Playing both The Last of Us as Joel and God of War as Kratos are exhilarating, nerve-wracking experiences, particularly if you imagine you and your own children in similar situations. Not only are you responsible for keeping Joel and Kratos alive, you’re also responsible for making sure Ellie and Atreus, respectively, don’t die along the way. It’s a mechanic that in other games might have come across as awkward or outright annoying, but in The Last of Us and God of War it adds a dynamic dimension to a pair of already stellar narratives. If Peter were a real person, I have no doubt that he would love both games as much as I do.
Lastly, and on the opposite end of the gaming spectrum, is Rost, from Horizon Zero Dawn. I say opposite only because you don’t play as Rost, but that doesn’t make him a passive or less significant character in comparison to Joel and Kratos. If anything, Rost is the one of the three who most deserves to be emulated, the one most dissimilar to Peter but also the one I think Peter would most admire. Rost is a veteran, self-assured warrior who exudes confidence, calmness, and strength in equal measure. He has the bearing of a man who is perfectly capable of taking down a Thunderjaw and then returning home to cook dinner and tell bedtime stories. It’s an equilibrium that speaks volumes about his temperament as a person, an equilibrium that Peter, at least at the start of Deep Dive, has spent most of his professional and parenting life trying and failing to achieve.
It’s this balance that makes Rost such an impressive, effective character, especially when his backstory is taken into account. His wife and daughter died at the hands of outlanders, and his subsequent quest for retribution, sanctioned by his tribe, caused him to become a voluntary outcast. His situation is enough to make anyone bitter, and yet when we first meet Rost he’s taking a baby, also an outcast due to her mysterious origin, to her naming ceremony. That baby is Aloy, Rost’s adopted daughter and the main character of the game. Rost’s influence on Aloy as both a father and a mentor cannot be understated; she would not be the person she is without his presence in her early life. He teaches her how to survive the harsh biome of Horizon Zero Dawn, and in so doing forges her into an empathetic, resourceful, and powerful warrior, which in turn makes the game the thrilling, extraordinary experience that it is. Even though Rost is only around for the opening act, his willingness to sacrifice himself to save Aloy’s life not only packs a massive emotional punch that has lasting effects throughout the entire story, it also makes him the kind of parent we all should aspire to be.
Reading a novel isn’t quite the same experience as playing a video game, but there’s a fundamental level of immersion that, when done well, bridges the two mediums. My hope is that anyone who enjoys games and feels inclined to pick up Deep Dive comes away with the sense that Peter, for all his flaws, deserves a place alongside Joel, Kratos, and Rost not necessarily as an action-hero, but as a person who, by the end of his story, finally understands what it means to be a good father.
When your reality shatters, what will you do to put it back together again?
Still reeling from the failure of his last project, videogame developer Peter Banuk is working hard to ensure his next game doesn’t meet the same fate. He desperately needs a win, not only to save his struggling company, but to justify the time he’s spent away from his wife and daughters.
So when Peter’s tech-genius partner offers him the chance to beta-test a new state-of-the-art virtual reality headset, he jumps at it. But something goes wrong during the trial, and Peter wakes to find himself trapped in an eerily familiar world where his children no longer exist.
As the lines between the real and virtual worlds begin to blur, Peter is forced to reckon with what truly matters to him. But can he escape his virtual prison before he loses his family forever?
About the Author
Ron Walters is a former journalist, college registrar, and stay-at-home dad who writes science fiction and fantasy for all ages. A native of Savannah, GA, he currently lives in Germany with his wife, two daughters, and two rescue dogs. When he’s not writing he works as a substitute high school teacher, plays video games, and does his best to ignore the judgmental looks his dogs give him for not walking them more often.