From Toxic Men to Women Without a Voice, Let's Spoilercast 'God of War'


#1

There's so much to talk about with God of War, but we wanted to give everyone a chance to play the game. Austin and I beat it a few weeks ago, and finally have enough distance to start processing what the game has to say about toxic masculinity, fatherhood, the voice and agency of women in God of War games (and distinct lack therof), why so many men were able to find themselves in a person like Kratos, and more. This spoils everything in the game, so if you haven't beaten God of War, be warned.

You can subscribe on iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher. If you're using something else, this RSS link should let you add the podcast to whatever platform you'd like. If you'd like to directly download the podcast, click here. Please take a moment and review the podcast, especially on iTunes. It really helps.

Interaction with you is a big part of this new podcast, so make sure to send any questions you have for us to gaming@vice.com with the header "Questions." (Without the quotes!) We can't guarantee we'll answer all of your questions, but rest assured, we'll be taking a look at them.

Make sure to swing back to Waypoint on Friday for the next episode.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/59j79b/from-toxic-men-to-women-without-a-voice-lets-spoilercast-god-of-war

#2

Atreus isn’t Tyr, he’s Loki and only. It’s all but confirmed by when the World Serpent, Jormungandr says Atreus looks familiar the first time Mimir talks to him on the bridge and we know Jormungandr was thrown into the past during Ragnarok. Kratos might be Tyr, he’s traveled between realms already and with time travel being a thing in this story it makes sense that a wise god of war, seemingly making non of the mistakes of other gods of war, shows up, knowing about the Unity Stone. But even then I don’t think either is Tyr, but if Tyr is one of them it is this Kratos or Atreus but even then neither is likely as it’s established that Tyr is Odin’s son. I actually think Atreus isn’t Jormungandr’s Loki, whatever time loop this realm is in was thrown off by Kratos’s arrival changing the timeline.


#4

I can’t help that think that they’re being a little unfair by repeatedly talking about God of War’s history of misogyny problems and sexual violence.

Since the beginning of the year, I played through the previous six God of War games. There are a ton of things to be critical of in those games, but I just don’t see misogyny as being one of them. Doesn’t misogyny imply a prejudice? I didn’t catch a whiff of prejudice from Kratos, except against the gods. Kratos hates everyone equally. The articles I read on the topic pick out moments from the series where you’re brutally killing women just to solve a puzzle. What they don’t point out is Kratos brutally murders everyone and anything in his way to solve a puzzle. You burn caged men alive to solve puzzles, you throw men into traps, you throw harpies into traps, you throw demon dog after demon dog into giants gears to get through them. Kratos murders anyone in the way of his vengeance, it really doesn’t matter if they’re male or female.

The best characters in the series are almost all women. In the console trilogy, the vast majority of the male characters can be defined as really angry, wants to murder. The only main characters who have more facets to them than just must murder are Athena, Gaia, and Pandora. Pandora is also the only character that causes Kratos to pause his vengeance and show even the slightest hint of compassion until we get to Atreus.

I also didn’t have a problem with Freya. Everyone in the game is deeply flawed, as are all the Gods in Norse mythology. If her fatal flaw is that she’s an overprotective mother, she’s still by far the most virtuous character in the game. She also ends up being probably the most interesting character by the end of the game. Is it really a problem that she’s not a flawless character in a game where everyone is flawed?

And now the most difficult thing to defend, the sex minigames from the first six games. I’m not going to say they were necessary or anything more than juvenile. The argument to have about what it says about the creators for including the minigames isn’t something I’m going to get into now, but from inside the game, I don’t see them as misogynistic or a representation of sexual violence. In everyone of the situations, the women are welcoming Kratos to join them and sure seem to be having a good time.


#5

I think Freya was written the way she was because she was the antithesis of Zeus, overbearing and controlling to the point of being unkind whereas Zeus was hands off but benevolent. Zeus was ordered to kill his bastards Kratos and his Brother Deimos but taking pity on them letting them live but through his absence and manipulation (Zeus was the Grave Digger in the first game) created a series of circumstances that created an unkillable god and Freya literally by being unwilling to risk harm coming to Baldur creates an unkillable god and both Kratos and Baldur hate their parents.

Baldur is a making all the same mistakes Kratos made, focused on ridding himself of the painful burden put on him by his mother determined to kill her, something Kratos knows all too much about. Kratos fights extremely hard to give Baldur the opportunity to turn away from his quest for revenge, giving him every last possible second to stop. I believe this is the point of the Freya/Baldur story, mostly because of Kratos in one of the few candid moments with his son tells him that “we have to be better”, decrying the very behaviors of his past (which I took as a statement by the devs to decry the behavior of the previous games but I know I might be creating that connection).


#6

I don’t think Kratos really ever tries to help Baldur, and I certainly wouldn’t classify telling him to just like “stop feeling your feelings” as fighting extremely hard. Until the very end, Kratos only interacts with Baldur because he’s in the way and a threat to spreading his wife’s ashes. The whole shouting “the cycle must end” while snapping a man’s neck at his weakest mental and physical state reads like a wint tweet or something. There really is no narrative reason Kratos, who can like bench press a mountain, couldn’t have just pulled Baldur away and hope that he can deal with the over a century’s worth of trauma - that exploded in a mere five minute - provided time/support to sort through everything. It’s a false dichotomy that is not interrogated (mimir actually reinforces it), and the only reason Kratos did it is probably because that would have taken too much time and effort not being dedicated to spreading Lafaye’s ashes.


#7

The whole last fight is Kratos trying to stand in Baldur’s way, telling him “This path you walk… vengeance. You will find no peace. I know.” Even the first fight starts with Kratos trying to get Baldur to turn back before Baldur attacks first and during that fight Kratos keeps asking him to leave, and only gets murdery when Baldur threatens his son’s well-being. The second fight is only an effort to save his son from being abducted by Baldur, and soon after that sneaks around Baldur, avoiding a fight with him. To you point, why didn’t he just pull the weakened Baldur off Freya, Kratos literally tell him after he beats him that he will not come after Him and his son again and he will not touch her (Freya). They walk away and even though Baldur can barely walk he dismisses Freya’s pleas for forgiveness and starts strangling her. Idk, just seems to me the Kratos way didn’t want it to end that way but Baldur kept injecting his quest for revenge into Atreus and Kratos’s journey a journey he was more than willing to put off and chill in their cabin until Atreus was older but again Baldur forced their hand to leave their home.


#8

I think it’s hard to talk about God of War without talking about its history of misogyny. I respect that our views might differ on this, but I would recommend reading around and getting some more perspective on folks who have critiqued the other God of War games specifically on how the series depicts and views women. I’m not able to give the links myself (I’m not as read-up as I should be), but I’m sure other folks can lend a hand.

With that said, I would like to point to Rule 1 of the Waypoint Rules, particularly the clauses concerning doing your own research when it comes to talking about marginalisation. It is, rightly, a sensitive issue, and, as a member of the moderating team, I think discussion about it should come from an informed and nuanced perspective.

To give a jumping off point for your post, I’d like to point to a few particular points.

The idea of ‘an equality of violence’ leaves a lot to be desired. Violence in reality is not evenly distributed and graphic depictions of violence against women fits into a broader social context. The scenes people highlight are chosen because they are often uncomfortable and sexualised in how they depict violence against women.

The reason why these can (and, potentially, should) be read in this context can be found in the last part of your post. I respect that you outlined that you weren’t going to go into your thoughts about it, but building sex into a minigame goes beyond juvenility and into exploitation. I’m not familiar enough to speak to what these scenes look like, but, viewed in conjunction with the violence against women showed elsewhere, it is more than fair to raise questions and discuss how God of War, as a franchise, depicts women.

In terms of Freya’s depiction, here is a handful of tweets that are worth thinking about, in my view:




#9

In the framing of mechanics of the original God of War games, women were either ineffectual background elements (Athena, Gaia), objectified pinatas (the sex minigame near the start), or vehicles for shallow sympathy (Pandora). Since Kratos is meant to be a cipher for the player in gameplay, these outlooks are likely congruent with his own.

Take that, and add it onto the gruesome scene in 3 where Kratos uses and ends up killing a woman by forcing her to hold open a door (which I’m sure the devs thought was hilarious irony), of which the only purpose seemed to be pointless sadism.

Kratos being also cruel or careless to males doesn’t equate because it’s never done in a way that disempowers them as people. He is flagrantly misogynist in the original trilogy of games.

And on that note, his guilt in this new game seemed to only correlate to his endless acts of violence, but never to him having a deep resentment of women that weren’t his (first) dead wife. I don’t know if there’s a way you could truly engage with his past level of depravity, but it didn’t seem like they really tried here.


#10

I think it’s telling that in the Giant Bomb interview Barlog mentions the fact that he hadn’t seen his family in three months and revealed that his son was acting out and having issues controlling his emotions. That’s some uncomfortable irony right there.

His response to Brad’s labour question is indicative not only of his vested interest in keeping quiet on those issues as a member of the executive class, but also of the fact that crunch culture comes from the top and filters down. They’re all deluding themselves that this is the best way to create something.


#11

real quick i wanted to shout out my friend Ayla for her piece on Gwendolyn in Dark Souls as a trans character, which Austin points out as an example of reads they can’t do themselves early on in this cast

(also maybe keep an eye on Deorbital for some God of War related stuff, just saying)

ok that aside i’m really excited to hear Austin and Patrick talk about their experiences relating to fatherhood and how that informed them on this one.

particularly i related a lot to Austin’s frustrations with Kratos not actually changing much through the story. i wanted, or maybe expected, a lot more from the story on that front given the reaction to it, but ironically, it felt like it pulled its punches.

to me the reaction felt like something less due to the way the text handles its themes, but more due to it being one of the few pieces of media the (largely male and heteronormative) reviewers encountered that made them really consider ideas of masculinity for the first time. this is super frustrating as someone who’s had to reckon with those ideas for years now, and it was deeply unsatisfying to see especially given the previous context of the games leading up to this


#12

I think his point still stands that Kratos as a character doesn’t necessarily “deserve” the moniker of misogynist and the accusations of sexual violence. Story wise, he never acts in a manner that implies those things. He commits horrific acts, no doubt, but does so indiscriminately. When he hurts a woman, he does so in the same manner he would’ve for a man, a mythical creature or anything else. None of his acts have any sexual undertone either (none that I can remember.) I understand that power dynamics between genders is often sexual without being overtly so e.g. an abusive man may take sexual pleasure in his dominant position without committing outright sexual gestures. But even then, Kratos is never hinted at enjoying this power over women. The “sex mini-game” can certainly be criticized on their own for being exploitative and in poor taste in the context of a game, but again, within the fiction, those sexual relations are always done in what seems to be absolute consent.

If people want to point those criticisms at the games themselves, their developers and/or the industry as a whole, I would more than likely agree. But that is separate from the character’s portrayal and the storyline it is attached to.


#13

saying “just one last thing quickly” with almost half an hour left in the podcast is that Real Austin Walker Shit

I haven’t played the game (and don’t really intend to) and am not smart enough to have much thoughts about it but I have read far too much eddas so here is some mythology about a theory presented on the podcast:

Mimir is probably not Odin as he’s a distinct figure in Norse mythology; he’s the owner/protector of the Well of Mimir, which sits at the end of one of the roots of Yggdrasil the World-Tree and which grants vast knowledge to anyone who drinks of it. Odin traded his eye for a single drink from the well. Mimir is still only a head in the myths, because his head was severed in the Aesir-Vanir War and Odin just kinda carried him around for a while talking to him, as you do.


#14

I wonder how the opinions of Austin and Patrick would differ if they knew more about Norse myth? Like, there is a whole ton of Norse mythology in this game that people who aren’t versed in it wouldn’t pick up on and it’s to the point that you can kind of guess a lot of the main story beats including Freya and what she does. Not saying it would be better or anything but they would have a different perception from the start.

From the start when you meet the Stranger you know that he’s Baldr because of things he says about being invulnerable because in the myths Freya binds everything existence so that it cannot hurt him except she forgets holly. Later when you meet the Witch of the Woods you know she a god but not which one but when you find out she’s Freya you know that her relationship with Odin is not good and you can tell from the earlier interaction with Baldr that he also hates her. Then later when you get the holly arrows from the Dwarf you can tell how all this is gonna play out and you can guess that Atreus is Loki since he’s the one that gets Baldr killed


#15

I don’t think Kratos is Tyr. On the mural at the end of the game, Atreus’s parents are given the names Laufey and Fárbauti (cruel striker) which are the names of the giants who are Loki’s parents in the myth. Also, in actual Greek myth Kratos wasn’t an Olympian, he was a Titan god of power, son of the Titan Pallas, god of war. So I am wondering if there is going to be a reveal that Kratos was never Zeus’ son and that the Titans and the Jotunn are in fact the same race scattered through different mythologies.


#16

Say what? Kratos isn’t a historical figure, he doesn’t exist outside the games and the developers’ intent. To say you agree with the criticism as it applies to the series but not to Kratos himself sounds like you’re splitting hairs because he’s your fave. If a game’s got a misogynistic streak, how is it not relevant to the protagonist of said game?


#17

Spoiler: Mimir is actually Mimi Bobeck.


#18

Never played a God of War game (probably never will), but I saw a clip yesterday from some of the older games, where Kratos throws a half naked women through a stage and ends up using her to prop up a lever or something (only to get her killed).
You can’t just say “well he beats everyone up” as a defense here, because the act of violence he commits in this specific case still clearly communicates a very specific image that reflects the world we live in.

“he just hates everyone” is basically the same thing as the South Park defense. Just because you dish out violence indiscriminantly, doesn’t make it accepable when you punch down on folks that are already in a marginalized position.


#19

So to what degree do new games have to address the issues of their past games? The criticisms Patrick and Austin had in the spoilercast didn’t seem to be about this game being misogynistic but rather not enough was done to make up for the previous games depiction of sex and violence against women. Is it enough that the developers and series seemed to have moved on from the way women were depicted and treated in previous games?


#20

I think they’re speaking to Kratos’ position within Greek myth but I do agree with you. This specific read on Kratos can’t be removed from his misogyny and the games and the creators of said games should be critiqued for not even touching on it in this entry in the series, which is otherwise intospective and reflective.

I mean most people probably only think of GoW Kratos when they hear that name, anyways. In fact I bet most popular interpretations on Greek myth have been informed by GoW, the same way Marvel has influenced the understanding of Norse myth, or how most of the Renaissance history my friends know is from Assassin’s Creed. There was a responsibility here to reflect on that and it seems the team behind this game failed in a pretty key area.


#21

Sony Santa Monica are deliberately leveraging the recognizability of the franchise because they know that there’s still a lot of value in the character and the IP. There’s very little reason why this game couldn’t have been an original entity with a different character who we are shown to be carrying an immense amount of guilt, but the developers chose to use Kratos despite all of the baggage attached to the character.

That choice comes with a responsibility to address that baggage in a meaningful way, in-sync with the heavier tones of this new game. Kratos’ monologue to his son after the final battle could have read as:

“I…am from a land called Sparta. In my life there, I savaged my enemies, showed immeasurable cruelty to women, children, and other innocents, and…I killed my father”

We don’t get even something as token as that, the narrative only addresses a history of generalized violence.

I genuinely really liked the game, and loved the moment where Kratos out-and-out admits to Athena’s ghost that he’s an unforgivably bad person. But I never got the sense that the writers were willing to touch on Kratos’ worst sins, and neither him nor the development team get a pass on that just because enough time has passed since then.