As young creatives in entertainment industries get older and have children, more stories about reluctant but caring fathers are popping up in mainstream media. On the film and television side, movies like Logan and shows like The Mandalorian and Obi-Wan fit this mold. Sony has championed this kind of story on the video game front with 2013's The Last of Us and 2018's God of War, both stories about complicated dads forced to take care of a child (whether their real kid or a surrogate one). God of War Ragnarok, on the other hand, is more than just a "dad game," as it has a solid message that anyone can learn from to improve their personal relationships.
Instead of glorifying a parent-child relationship with some abusive and manipulative tendencies, God of War Ragnarok stresses how important it is to respect, listen to others, and give people space when they need it. Even if you aren't a dad, God of War Ragnarok still has a poignant message about communicating that anyone can take to heart.
This article contains light spoilers for God of War Ragnarok.
Communicating the problem
The typical dad narrative follows a set premise: A fierce warrior with a troubled past must learn to love something on his own. By the end of their journey, they've shared some tender moments with their child, whether they be blood-related or found, and decide they'll do whatever it takes to protect them. While these stories can be emotional and entertaining, they often have some unsavory undertones. These stories tend to herald characters who are overprotective of those they are close to, but justify it by showing that it comes from a place of love.
As a result, some of gaming's worst dads can be over-glorified. The Last of Us' Joel, for example, ends the game as a selfish man willing to deprive the world of a cure just because he doesn't want to lose another daughter. Still, he's remembered as a hero within the series and its fandom, with one of his most misguided lines being used to promote HBO's upcoming TV adaptation ("You have no idea what loss is."). These narratives still work on the whole; they just aren't shining examples of healthy relationships.
Sony games have been getting more thoughtful about this. Joel suffers serious consequences for his terrible actions in The Last of Us Part II. On the flip side, God of War Ragnarok allows Kratos to improve as a person, critiquing his more ignorant actions and thematically offering lessons that anyone can learn from.
Although Kratos seemed to have a better relationship with his son by the end of God of War, we see that he's regressed back to being overprotective and restrictive to Atreus in Ragnarok. That behavior comes even as Atreus is getting older and trying to come to terms with his own identity. Throughout the game's opening, Atreus and Mimir constantly call out when he's not communicating, with Atreus going further and encouraging him to end Fimbulwinter.
Kratos makes it clear that all he cares about is Atreus' survival and spending as much time with him as possible before his prophesied death. He shocks Atreus by going out of his way to help his son free a trapped creature in an early side quest. Still, the first part of God of War Ragnarok highlights how Kratos ultimately struggles to communicate with Atreus, so his actions and comments feel spiteful and selfish, even when he wants to be helpful.
Kratos consistently pushes Atreus away at multiple points in the game, and so he goes on his own journeys. Kratos' failure is no longer because of inexperience; it's a communication issue. Throughout God of War Ragnarok, Kratos must learn that he can still be a guiding hand for Atreus but must also listen to his son and give him space when he needs it. Whether you're a parent or not, that's a good mindset to apply to any personal relationship.
The dangers of a lack of communication also reflect in other parts of the game. In the side-quest The Lost Treasure, Kratos encounters a father who died while searching for treasure on his own to prevent his son from being hurt. Upon further investigation, Kratos learns that the son also died because he tried doing the same thing with another treasure and didn't let them know. In an effort to protect each other, that father and son didn't communicate and suffered because of it. This otherwise insignificant side-quest thematically stands as a warning for how Kratos and Atreus' relationship could end up if they continue to be dysfunctional and not communicate.
Kratos and Atreus do hit a rough patch before things get better. Atreus ultimately defies Kratos on one of his adventures, meeting a character that he quickly begins to see as a more ideal father figure. He's kinder and more communicative -- though it becomes clear that his comments may have insidious ulterior motives. God of War Ragnarok demonstrates that relationships can't be constructive unless everyone is honest and open with each other.