Ragnarök: “God of War,” Reinvented: From Sexual Minigames to Male Deconstruction | Culture
Let’s start with the beginning: God of War is one of the most famous sagas in the world of video games. In 2005, the first installment introduced Kratos, the Ghost of Sparta, a mortal who embarked on a bloody crusade to avenge his family by defeating – and replacing – Ares, the Greek god of war. Its canonical sequels, God of War 2 (2007) and God of War 3 (2010), along with other spin-off games, expanded the franchise’s mythology while diminishing the Greek pantheon: in each installment, more and more gods met their fate at their hands. of the merciless Kratos.
The game was quite a guilty pleasure, full of blood, guts and destruction; all made possible thanks to the Swords of Chaos, the legendary weapons that the protagonist had attached to his arms. A hack and slash game par excellence that also served as the perfect alpha-male power fantasy: Kratos was a muscular guy who knew no mercy, a rather flat character who seduced goddesses and killed weak Athenians almost simultaneously. The male power fantasy was fully realized in a mini-game of the third part: at one point, in Aphrodite’s palace, Kratos found the Greek goddess frolicking on a giant bed with two naked young women. The goddess invited him to share the bed with her, and if the player agreed, a curious mini-game began where the camera moved to the side and we had to press buttons in a kind of sexual choreography punctuated by moans. Aphrodite ended up giddy with satisfaction and our life bar was restored. With examples like this, it was hard to defend the idea that video games had moved away from the sexist stereotypes they often fell into in the past.
But then, in 2018, a miracle happened. God of War came back into our lives with a different tone. Kratos now lived in the north, surrounded by Norse gods. He was older and clumsier, more human and fallible. And most importantly, Kratos had a son, Atreus, around whom his entire existence revolved. His aim was no longer to seek revenge, but to protect him; instead of being him alone against the world, it was now an indissoluble duo. Meanwhile, the tempo of the game itself shifted to a more mature tempo. The fight was no longer schizophrenic and fast-paced, but calculated and brutal. The game embraced a new gravity and a new meaning.
That installment, whose unnumbered nomenclature was a clear statement of intent in a franchise trying to reinvent itself, achieved the seemingly impossible. What was once rage, strength, revenge and unrestrained action was now conveyed through something as unimaginable as a father’s love for a son. The newfound sensitivity
of the former mindless warrior moved the world, and the title won the Game of the Year award. This development was heavily influenced by the life experience of the game’s director, Cory Barlog, who explained that his own fatherhood brought a new shape and identity to the game.
Now, God of War: Ragnarök, the sequel to the 2018 game, released on Wednesday, November 9, takes the lessons of its predecessor and goes one step further, adding new playable elements, transformations and weapons. Like the previous game, it focuses on sequential images, without cuts, extra cinema or loading times. And while it’s true that it’s a game built more for PS4 than PS5, it’s a technical and narrative feat (with a story much more focused on Atreus’ personal growth), with superb work by the actors and musicians. In addition, the female characters gain new weight and continue to distance themselves from the cliché. It remains to be seen whether this sequel will repeat its predecessor’s victory and be crowned the big winner of 2022, but what is certain is that we are ahead of one of the big games of the year.
The saga’s sociological feat is no small one: Without much fanfare or remorse, an adrenaline-pumping, brainless and emotionally harmless franchise became a defense of fatherhood and the sensitivity that comes with it. But the narrative prowess that this new game brings to the fore deserves a special mention: a franchise about the gods ends up becoming, almost by magic, a vehicle that puts the quest for humanity above all else.