OPINION: The new God of War delivers ‘disembowelment with a side of nuanced masculinity’

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Angharad Yeo, host of ABC ME's Good Game Spawn Point, explores what happens when a studio decides to turn a video game character known for his arrogance, violence, and rage into an aging single dad.

God of War protagonist, Kratos, is not like a regular dad. He's a cool dad. He's pure muscle, has tattoos, and rips heads off with his bare hands. He's also a demigod. But the new God of War game is more than just the gratuitous violence of previous titles – it delivers your disembowelment with a side of nuanced masculinity. It's the new way of depicting gender identity and I am here for it.

After his partner dies, Kratos must raise his son, Artreus, by himself. The two are virtually strangers up ‘til now, as Kratos largely avoided fatherly duties to work on himself. (Of course, there's a whole other article in "Being An Absentee Father Isn't Okay, Even If You're Kratos" but that's for another time).

Even though Kratos never skips leg day he's been skipping heart and soul, and struggles to find the emotional strength to show Artreus tenderness. "YOU FIRE WHEN I SAY-," his voice catches and he takes a deep breath. "You fire… when I say you fire." He's teaching Artreus to hunt, and his words are still terse but he quells his anger.

Kratos' trademark rage stops him from being the best father he knows he can be. He's afraid of himself, the violence that defined him, and the path his son may go down whether by nature or nurture. When Artreus loses his temper, Kratos sees his past reflected in a young boy he cares for. Like so many fathers, he wants better for his son.

He's afraid of himself, the violence that defined him, and the path his son may go down whether by nature or nurture.

This change in Kratos' characterisation – especially within a franchise renowned for its 'boobs and brawling' – reflects a social shift toward a more nuanced masculinity in an era of reimagined gender identities.

Netflix's wildly popular Queer Eye reboot was a breath of fresh air. Oft-minimised aspects of maleness are now front and centre, like affectionate male friendships and the use of lip scrubs. In the series, light-hearted conversations about self-care are as impactful as heartbreaking D&M's about coming out, because they all take a hard swing at the barriers of traditional masculinity that hem men in.

Shows like Queer Eye create space for diverse representation, which, in turn, change our expectations of male relationships, and better positions us to understand Kratos and Artreus. Kratos is guiding Arteus as he matures into a god, whilst Artreus helps his father reconnect with his humanity. We see how balance is needed, and how change is possible, by seeing men who are learning from one another.

TV comedy series Brooklyn Nine Nine is a prime example of how gosh darn good life will be for Artreus and dad when they throw manly caution to the wind. Charles Boyle is a short, slightly odd-looking man, who says decidedly non-masculine things like, "Preparing food for one's lover is the most intimate gift of all, aside from washing their hair." Meanwhile Terry, whose muscular physique could give Kratos a run for his money, gets drunk off one drink, loves yoghurt, and openly discusses food and body issues. Neither ever questions whether their manliness is legitimate or enough – they're happy and confident in a way that neither Kratos or Artreus are (when the game starts, at least). It's comedy that doesn't tease or belittle – it celebrates their difference and chuckles at their individual absurdity. 

It's striking because if murderous Kratos can be reborn as a caring, fatherly character then surely there's hope for every man to be more than an emotionless barbeque operator and tinnie slammer. Even renowned dude-bro advertisers Lynx had their "is it okay for guys" campaign in 2017. We're finally getting normalised, layered depictions of male identity. But not everyone is keen on muscular perfection being tainted with feelings

All too often inclusive definitions of masculinity are accused of being negatively feminine or homosexual. Yet pursuing a masculinity that fears femininity is unfulfilling, and potentially unhealthy – heck, even Kratos doesn't want to be that anymore.

Where there's change, there'll always be naysayers. God of War is critically well-received and a possible contender for game of the year, proving that less traditional depictions of masculinity can still be wildly successful. Thank God of War for that.