The Author Plays God of War: Ragnarok and Has Notes

I suppose the point of video games is to aspire to be like the characters you’re playing. Who wouldn’t want to sneak around like Snake in Metal Gear? Or battle zombies like Ellie in The Last of Us Part 2? Or yes, kill gods like Kratos in God of War: Ragnarok? I mean, he’s been doing it so long, it really does feel like his story is my story. And now that he has a son, I feel like I identify with him so much more. But what is his life really like? What would it be like to be Kratos? I found myself asking this question during a particularly difficult battle with a Traveller as I kept dying and dying. And then it finally hit me. The answer, not the Traveller.

Kratos ponders his existence while Atreus looks on

Initially, I had everything backwards. I kept thinking what would it be like to keep fighting and dying and coming back to life and fighting and dying and so on? Would that make God of War some kind of sadistic purgatory where our heroes are simply doomed to fail over and over before getting it right? Would knowledge of this arrangement bring despair or freedom? And that’s really the gibbering blood-soaked meat of it right there.

Kratos dressed for murder and dinner

Every time Kratos dies, his companion comes running over to him to help. If you use a Resurrection Stone, Kratos will get back up and resume axe-throwing again. If not, Atreus might yell no, father, don’t leave me or Mimir will say for the thousandth time, Get up, brother! This happens. It’s part of the story. Only, once you reload from a checkpoint, that little piece of reality is erased from the characters’ minds. You remember it, but they don’t. As the story progresses, this gets worse and worse, until by the end (which I haven’t reached yet), you and the characters possess a wildly different set of memories. Well, if not different, then at least abbreviated.

Atreus and Unknown Friend ponder the beauty of Unknown Place

You see now, don’t you? For Kratos, his journey through God of War: Ragnarok is a straight line that never doubles back, never forks and rejoins. If it takes you ten tries to beat a Berserker challenge, Kratos only remembers it as one, that is, the one where you won. As far as he is concerned, Kratos has never died in a fight, which makes about as much sense as the phrase it is what it is, but I digress. The point is, from the start to the end, Kratos believes he won every fight. He just went from place to place handling his business. Wasn’t that difficult either.

Can’t believe I timed this capture at just the right moment

And here’s where I put down the controller: if our lives were like Kratos’, we would never know. What if, for each of us in our own separate realities, we have already died dozens of times, only to respawn at a checkpoint and continue as if nothing had happened? Die in a car crash? Respawn to the party where you decide instead to chuck your keyfob into the bushes and call an Uber instead. Accidentally eat at Jack in the Box in 1993? Respawn and go to Whataburger instead.

Kratos asks himself: should I move here?

Besides making me question the nature of my own reality, God of War: Ragnarok is a fantastic game and a worthy follow-up to 2018’s God of War. It feels a little more linear, with fewer opportunities to just explore and grind. The trials in Muspelheim are back, but you won’t get to them until later in the game. I still don’t understand how to effectively use my companion’s arrows in combat, but that’s fine. There’s a lot to learn, including all of Kratos’ killer moves, which he has evidently forgotten since last we saw him.

Either way, I cannot recommend God of War: Ragnarok enough. There are so many games that aren’t worth the $70 price tag, but this isn’t one of them. Rest easy knowing your money will be well spent.

Oh and they just added a photo mode, so you don’t have to use the built-in Screen Capture tool like I did to write your God of War post.

Dad’s Journal: The Horrors of Astro’s Playroom

My son still lacks the hand-eye coordination to play video games on the PS5, but that doesn’t stop him from plopping down next to me in my chair to watch and order me around as I play. Recently, while looking for a new game, he asked for Astro’s Playroom. And that’s fine. No violence or nudity or harsh language to be found here. What you will find here, however, are little cutesy Astro siblings acting out some of the best and worst moments in gaming history. And that’s all fine too, until you see something that gives you instant PTSD. Something like:

It will be years yet before El Matador experiences the horror of The Last of Us and the utterly soul-crushing death march of its sequel, and I can’t help but envy that kind of ignorance. For him, the world is still a wonderful, friendly, and inviting place.

Silly boy.

Silly boy with your dreams!

Anecdotal Parenthood

Some parenting anecdotes today.

My son took a piece of bacon to school this week, and he couldn’t have been more proud of himself. He stole it off the counter as we were on the way out of the house, and even though it broke into three pieces by the time we made it to school, he held onto those pieces for dear life. Upon arriving at school and entering the paddock where they store the children prior to indoctrination studies, Matador found himself surrounded by curious faces. I did not stay to see whether he shared the bacon with others. I was just happy he was happy.

I am my son’s own personal Kindle Vella, and every time I put him to bed, I have to tell another chapter in an ongoing story about Floop (an anthropomorphic car) and Agent Speckle (who I believe is a frog). Last night’s chapter had our protagonists journeying to another star system that also contained twelve planets. In a brilliant stroke of humor, I had Floop name the planets after the days of the week (which requires that he repeat some names). While Matador found this hilarious, it was also unacceptable. So Floop decided to rename the planets but couldn’t think of a group of twelve anything (i.e., I couldn’t think of any). As the characters mulled it over, Matador exclaimed, we can name them after the months of the year.

That boy’s a damn genius.

The Floop Chronicles have a new character every chapter, so the other night I was trying to introduce one. Carrot? Rejected. Jeremiah Finklestein? Nope. After five or six options, I told Matador I was out of ideas. He then said, “How about lemon?” When I stared back at him blankly, he doubled down with, “Limón,” like I hadn’t understood him. One the one hand, I’m disappointed my son thinks I don’t know what a lemon is, but I guess I’m happy he thinks I can speak Spanish.

In the scary math tricks department, we ran into a situation where Floop needed to count on his toes, but as Matador pointed out, cars don’t have toes. I told Matador that Floop had ten severed feet in his trunk with five toes on each foot. So how many toes did he have? Without hesitation, he said fifty! While I paused to let pride wash over me, he added, if Floop had twenty feet he would have 100 toes!

The Stanley Parable is not meant for children, which I discovered this week when Matador went from this is a fun game to crying uncontrollably in the space of five minutes. To be fair, the narrator gets a bit intense if you take Stanley in the basement garage and everything starts repeating. We’re really only playing so he learns how to use the mouse. I’m still driving with WASD, but he’s handling the camera. He’s getting a lot better at it.

I really do enjoy hanging out with this kid. He reminds me of a much smarter version of myself when I was five years old. According to the only home video we have from 1986, I was quite the annoying look-at-me six-year-old by then. Luckily, Matador would rather you leave him alone because he’s busy or, my favorite thing he says, my schedule’s full right now.