One of the original buzzwords used by the left, Toxic Masculinity, has shown its face again. This time accompanies the latest installment of PlayStation’s God of War franchise. Polygon’s Chris Plante spoke with game director Cory Barlog about how the game teaches about toxic masculinity both intentionally and inadvertently through the storyline.
But before Plante even gets to ask any questions of Barlog, he makes it very clear that previous God of War games contributed to “the culture of toxic masculinity.” In the first few paragraphs, we get an insight into the problems he sees with the main character Kratos. He sees Kratos as a “brooding, entitled meathead.” But it’s not just Kratos he takes issue with. He didn’t like how previous God of War games “portrayed women as objects.” It’s a wonder how anyone like this could sit and enjoy a game without choking on self-serving social commentary.
This attitude bleeds into the interview where Plante explains the game made him think about “how we raise sons to not be utter garbage humans.” Instead of questioning why something like that would be on his mind at that moment, he runs off to the idea of toxic masculinity. Interestingly enough he never actually defines what he means by that. Or provides any examples of how the God of War franchise contributed to the “culture of toxic masculinity.”
Here’s the general definition from Wikipedia:
“Toxic masculinity is defined by adherence to traditional male gender roles that restrict the kinds of emotions allowable for boys and men to express, including social expectations that men seek to be dominant (the “alpha male”) and limit their emotional range primarily to expressions of anger.”
One can assume then that Plante is referring to the way Kratos lives his life in the God of War franchise. He’s a character out for vengeance against the Gods. He uses extreme violence to kill any god who stands in his way. In a separate interview, Barlog knows exactly who Kratos is, “We intentionally made him loathed, an antihero. Now we’re trying to make him a character you care about.”
But Plante forged ahead and asked Cory Barlog, the God of War director, “How do we not intentionally or inadvertently teach them toxic masculine behavior? I’m curious, what conversations were you having in the office while you were putting together this story and the relationship between Kratos and Atreus?”
Barlog doesn’t really answer the question. Instead, he talks about the evolution of Kratos’ character over the God of War franchise.
“This lesson that I hoped to pass on to [my son]: that the concepts of strength and emotional vulnerability and the ability to sort of be free to feel the range of emotions, that these are not two warring or diametrically opposed concepts.”
Barlog continues by both avoiding the direct question, but reaffirming subtly the importance of the father/son dynamic. He goes on to describe what makes Kratos the character he is by detailing the training at a young age.
“At 8 years old, (Kratos) entered into the most fearsome military training program in the history of mankind. The Spartans were turned into machines, instruments of war, and to have that be the way that you’re ushered into your formative years, it will absolutely turn you into what Kratos became”
Which is a good point. If you attempt to compare the values of today with that of people who live thousands of years ago, of course, you’ll find something “toxic” in it. Thousands of years ago, for example, slavery was a common form of currency in much of the world. You could buy, sell, and use credit with slaves. Something we sure as hell don’t do today in mass. In fact, in ancient Sparta, they practiced a form of infanticide where a group of elders decided whether or not they would expose young children to the elements, and leave them to die. The children would die of hunger, asphyxiation, or exposure to the elements.
Cory Barlog continues the theme of family as he explains the burden Kratos has carried throughout the franchise, and how his own son Atreus, can teach his father. A very classical view of fatherhood, as fathers know that their children teach them just as much as they teach their kids.
“So we are, in a large portion, were responsible for the fact that (Kratos) is the monster at all times, and now we are in turn taking our responsibility to help him balance these things. The journey is that he’s not very good at it in the beginning, and that’s what’s so fascinating, right? That a young kid, a 10- to 12-year-old child, can teach this guy who’s lived for hundreds of years? Who’s ascended to the throne of the pantheon of Greek gods, and been responsible for the downfall of so many of these deities. He has so much learning to do.”
Overall the interview was enlightening when it came to Kratos, though the question asked felt like Plante just wanted to push his own narrative of “toxic masculinity” through Cory Barlog. He wanted to Barlog to support and justify his apparent worldview and provide a certain type of answer. He wanted to imply that fans might rebuke any attempt to allow for character development, which to me is just silly.
But maybe the biggest thing that stood out to me was how Barlog actually talks about a traditional father-son relationship in the game. A traditional relationship that I bet Plante would actually describe as “toxic masculinity.”
Kratos now has the responsibility of a son. His life isn’t just about vengeance anymore. He has to care and provide for his family now. Barlog spoke about this relationship previously, “Atreus is the mirror that shines on Kratos that makes him realize that he needs to change…. Atreus will pull the humanity out. Kratos will be shown his own humanity, and he’ll figure out how to embrace it.” While he focuses on Atreus teaching Kratos, Kratos does his fair share of teaching Atreus as well including showing him how to hunt and preparing him for the hardships ahead in life. Tasks that were traditionally left to fathers. In fact, you see Kratos actually discipline and criticize Atreus. He even takes his bow away from when he messes up.
And then when Atreus says he can’t finish killing the deer, Kratos puts his hands on top of his and shows him that he actually can.
God of War depicts a strong, tough Kratos. He’s an evolved character though. He’s not the same one from God of War 3. He now has the responsibility of a child and he must embrace his masculinity to prepare his son for the harshness and reality of the world.
As a parent, I see the importance of masculinity in relation to raising your children. Unfortunately, people like Plante seem intent on viewing father’s as disposable. We’ve raised two generations of children who are at risk for this terrible social experiment. Study after study has shown that the lack of a male father figure in a child’s life leads to a plethora of issues.
Everything from a higher rate of mental health disorder, to poverty, to even a rise in risky behavior such as drug use and violence increases in fatherless homes. If Polygon’s Chris Plante really wants to talk about what is negatively affecting children he should look into the actual causes and see we should want MORE masculinity not less of it. And he shouldn’t assume that masculinity is inherently toxic.
I’m going to enjoy God of War, and its dive into Norse mythology. Anyone who’s read my writing will know that the mythos of the world holds a special place in my heart. Tell me what you think. Do you think God of War removed “toxic masculinity?” Or does it actually show why fathers are so important and why they need to be in their kid’s lives? Let me know in the comments below!