God of War’s director on toxic masculinity and why Kratos had to change

SIE Santa Monica Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment

The new God of War is the first entry in the core series to not feature a sex scene. Even though the minigames have composed a fraction of the series, they’ve encapsulated the approach with which previous God of War games portrayed women as objects and their antihero as the brooding, entitled meathead. To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with sex, in or outside games. The issue in God of War was the gratuity and the presentation, which was, at best, tasteless, and at worst, contributing to the culture of toxic masculinity.

Likewise, it’s not particularly interesting that God of War’s creators cut sex from the new game, but that they try and largely succeed in scrapping gratuity. Kratos’ bad behavior now has meaning and purpose. It serves the plot rather than titillating the player. Yes, Kratos definitely has that grating air of “now that I have a child, I see the error of my former ways.” But the game’s creators make a genuine and applaudable effort to grow upon the series, rather than erasing its history.

I recently spoke with God of War director Cory Barlog about this shift. Here’s what he had to say:


Polygon:

Playing the game, I kept thinking of the ongoing conversation about how we raise sons to not be utter garbage humans. 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?

Cory Barlog:

Oh, so many. This relationship developed over so many years. But I think I say it a lot better now. As we were figuring all this stuff out, I kind of had my very crude straw man version [of things].

Knowing that five years was going to go into this [game], I knew that we’d have an incredible megaphone. We have the ability to say something with what we do, right? Which I think is awesome. And I think perhaps I didn’t take advantage of that so much when I was starting out [in games]. I was so, sort of, enamored that I didn’t really think too much about the things below it, right?

That’s not to say I hate the work I’ve done before, because I love all that. It’s just, I feel like as I get older, I’m looking at things a little bit differently. 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.

That it is what makes us the whole human, right? And who better to be a canvas than a person who is so broken, who is so much of a fragment of a person, whose life was so traumatic? At 8 years old, [Kratos was] 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.

There’s very little humanity that he had left [after the previous God of War games], but I do not believe that anyone is so far gone that they don’t have some way to pull them back from the brink. I think it’s been a fantastic, dramatic chance to be able to take that on for Kratos.

[There’s this] idea of him not knowing how to do these things, but his son not knowing any different, right? Because [Atreus] wasn’t fully raised by Kratos. [His mother] Faye did a lot of the work initially. [Kratos] was spending a lot of time out in the woods, trying to figure out how to get control of the demons inside of him — the monster inside of him that we, as his creators, allowed to be out all the time.

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.

Honestly, if that can be taken away, if people look at it and they can see there’s a complexity to being a human being ... and also that there’s different ways [to behave], not just the way it’s been done before.

Comments

So good. As a new father of a seven month old boy who is also thinking a LOT about toxic masculinity, this game is a big breath of fresh air.

I wasn’t going to bother with this game. I enjoyed the original run well enough, but felt that they didn’t really align with my priorities anymore. Toxic masculinity and everything it encompasses is something that’s really been on my mind for the last few years, and the series felt like somewhat of a relic I felt comfortable leaving in my past. The positive press the game has been receiving, and this interview in particular, has totally changed my mind. I really appreciate that developers are willing to evolve in this way. Really looking forward to playing this!

There is something really amazing to see these developers grow as we do (disclaimer, I’m 36.)

There’s something extra amazing in seeing this franchise specifically grow past its moral lows. But still be badass!

Does not feel like a "relic" to me at all.

BOY! … IF IN FACT THAT IS THE GENDER YOU IDENTITY AS!

It’s spelled "boi".

Comment of the week.

There is no such thing as toxic masculinity.

Lighten up Francis.

LOL, shut up.

I hope I’m able to say this one day in the future and it’ll be true. But alas, no, toxic masculinity very much still exists today.

Like seriously y’all. Not trying to troll. Why can’t we just say there are male jerks. Masculinity is a good thing.

Ok, expanding on that then. Masculinity on its own is a fine thing. Toxic masculinity is not. Like, say, a strawberry is cool. A toxic strawberry, however, is bad.

Adjectives, my friend.

For what reason do you think men invented the idea of masculinity, and if the reason is different from "to trap and steal from women", what about the historical record favors it?

I think you responded to the wrong comment.

Thanks but I was indeed replying to "Masculinity on its own is a fine thing"

"Thumbs up Emoji"

"Masculinity, on its own, is a thing that can be good or bad depending upon how one views the social constructs that have been built around the concept, but in the case of this silly strawberry example, we will posit that it’s ok, with ‘ok’ being the opposite of ‘toxic’," kind of takes away from the pithy tone I was trying to portray.

I see the point you are making and feel no need to argue against it. Cheers!

why is the strawberry toxic? what made it toxic?

why is that strawberry toxic to you?
are you sure its to everyone and not just you? maybe other people can eat the "toxic" strawberry and are unaffected.

see where the problem lies in just blanket claiming that masculinity is toxic?

its just a buzzword and not a very good one either.

It isn’t a buzzword. It is not a blanket statement about all masculinity. It is a word with an adjective infront of it. It is the "bad masculinity". It is the aspects of masculinity that people view as bad, which people referrer to as toxic masculinity for short hand.

This is not a complex concept at all. You should not be confused by this.

but it IS a blanket statement .. a man wolf whistles at a girl or makes a sexually aggressive comment to his friends and someone else over hears and is disgusted by this behaviour.. the person over hearing is thinking oh that man is toxic, not taking in to account anything other than what they are hearing or a perception without any context to provide a accurate summary of what that particular human is like, so instead you throw the blanket over that person or the group he’s in because that is the easier thing to do.

Because thanks to the rules here if you then approach that person and express your disgust .. your also now expressing toxic masculinity because your standing up to another person and its that whole set of ambiguous rules all over again, everything taken out of context .. just like its exactly the same when someone shows "weakness" by being emotional and crying in public, he gets called a homo or gay or told to man up or whatever .. its the same thing but the other end of the scale.

there are too many blankets and not enough beds.

"a man wolf whistles at a girl or makes a sexually aggressive comment to his friends and someone else over hears and is disgusted by this behaviour.. the person over hearing is thinking oh that man is toxic, not taking in to account anything other than what they are hearing or a perception without any context to provide a accurate summary of what that particular human is like"

A person is not toxic masculinity. Toxic masculinity is a set of attributes of behavior a person can exhibit. In the same way, someone stealing something says very little about how that person typically conducts themselves, or their worth as a human being.

Unfortunately, people do tend to conflate people’s actions with those people’s worth, but that’s a far more general problem with human nature, and not something remotely related to toxic masculinity.

My guy, don’t wolf whistle at girls, it super shitty behavior. Women do not like being cat called. And do not defend people who do it. And I’m not sure what a sexually aggressive comment about a girl is, but it doesn’t sound awesome.

Second of all, it is not a blanket statement. It is a very specific set of things. Don’t get upset because you don’t take the time to understand them and get think that everyone is out to get you.

"Masculinity is toxic," THAT is a blanket statement. Meanwhile toxic masculinity is the opposite, it specifies a specific kind of masculinity that is negative. Toxic masculinity is different than masculinity.

In all fairness, while some of us already know what the term means, it’s not hard to see how others might misunderstand. It’s not uncommon to use adjectives to imply that all forms of the thing being described have that attribute.

As an example, in college there was a fairly radical religious group that would visit campus and hold demonstrations/talks a couple times a year. One of their signs listed the people they claimed Jesus hated. Among those was "homosexual pedophiles". It was pretty clear that they were implying that all pedophiles(or, at least, the only bad kind) were homosexual. In the same vein, someone hearing the term "toxic masculinity" could be forgiven for reading into that that masculinity is toxic, and not just talking about one particular brand of masculinity that is toxic.

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