With the release of God of War 4, it’s clear that the game industry is embracing more mature ideas. This is not in the sense that games are becoming more violent or sexual, but more serious and thought provoking. In one instalment the God of War serious went from a vengeance and blood fuelled slaughterhouse action game, to a story driven tale about a father and son. In a spoilercast, director Cory Balrog discussed his desire to do more with the series this time around. He also discussed how becoming a father himself influenced the heightened sophistication of the game. With the developers growing up and settling down with families, the industry itself is maturing. However, this is a trend that almost perfectly mirrors the music industry in the 70s.
Dad Rock in the 1970s
Rock and Roll exploded as a loud and aggressive new media that inspired cultural movements and social change. A subgenre within Rock was born when the first wave of 1960s Rock legends settled down with their families. Music became less rebellious and more virtuosic, experimenting with more sophisticated sounds. This became known as Dad Rock. Many attribute the birth of Dad Rock to Bob Dylan, who in 1967 left the public eye to retire away with his family. The albums he recorded in the basement of his home used a wider range of instruments, were more refined and were generally more ‘artistic’.
Rockstars like Creams’ Eric Clapton, the Beatles’ Paul McCartney and Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler refined their songwriting, utilising on their talent as musicians. Their music wasn’t for huge crowds and rocking concerts. Bands like Pink Floyd began writing concept albums, like their legendary Dark Side of The Moon. These albums had themes that tied each song together, with jazz inspired instrumentation. This new wave of Rock appealed to their maturing audience through their slower pace and deeper sense of musical artistry. This was for people who were over the thrill and adrenaline they first experienced. These Dads just wanted to sit at home, put on a record and feel the music.
The maturing sophistication of Rock musicians is similar to what gamers are seeing in developers. Super Mario Bros. was released more than 30 years ago, the PlayStation 2 was 18 years ago and the Xbox 360 was 13. The video game industry has taken longer to mature than the music industry, but it most certainly has matured. Where music became more sophisticated through experimentation with sound, genre and instrumentation, games have grown more artistic through story, cinematography and their emotional depth. Simple fun and gameplay are not the single priority of video games anymore.
There are numerous examples of maturing studios producing “Dad Games”. Games like The Last of Us, The Walking Dead (S1) and Bioshock Infinite directly explore the paternal relationship between the player and their companions. NaughtyDog took the Indiana Jones like over the top action sequences of Uncharted 1-3 and adopted a family driven story and darker tone for Uncharted 4. Far Cry 5 took its open world sandbox action and placed it in a radicalised allegory for modern day America. Yager Development revived the tactical shooter Spec Ops series with Spec Ops: The Line, deconstructing modern military shooters. Nintendo reinvented the Zelda franchise through tranquil exploration and deep simplicity in Zelda: Breathe of the Wild. Portal 2, which features a song from Dad Rock revivalists The National, took the superb puzzle mechanics of the first one and gave the series a deep story.
A slew of indie games took a minimalist approach to gameplay to tell artistic stories. Games like Bastion, Braid and Papers Please use simple mechanics to build rich, serious and often surprisingly dark narratives. Games like Gone Home, Firewatch, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter and Dear Esther play like interactive exploration adventures. However, through this simple and normally boring gameplay, they give players a purely story driven experience. These games require more depth and attention to understand what it is that makes them so appealing. This is the exact same quality that drove Dad rock. The youthful adrenaline gamers first enjoyed has worn off and maturing gamers are looking for mature games.
While this does not mean gameplay driven fun and traditionally entertaining games will go away, much like Rock continued to thrive and evolve for decades, the new wave of serious, thought provoking and mature “Dad Games” will keep coming.