Why Portrayals of Moms in Video Games Are So Messed Up

In video games like "Red Dead Redemption," "Heavy Rain," and "The Last of Us," multidimensional father figures are abundant. But where are the playable mothers?

by Lisa Ludwig
May 14 2017, 1:54pm

I'm in a dark shaft and I'm crawling through shards of broken glass. I bleed heavily with every excruciating inch forward, and if I make another wrong turn I'll completely collapse—but then who will save my son?

Heavy Rain, released in 2010, puts the player in the skin of the desperate Ethan Mars, whose child has been abducted. Even as the action in this 'what would you do to save your loved ones?', Saw-style scenario becomes increasingly cruel and gloomy, the game provides a remarkable opportunity: the chance to play a realistic father figure. A real dad, one who frolics about in the backyard with his kids, or takes part in a depressing dinner at the kitchen table after his previously happy marriage has tragically ended.

Father figures—regardless if they're actual fathers or father-like friends—are celebrating a precipitous upsurge in video games. They embody perseverance, physical and mental strength, and have just enough family love, rooted in "human frailty," to tap into the player's emotions. They can be action-driving side characters like Sully from the Uncharted series, or morally-suspect protagonists like Booker DeWitt from Bioshock Infinite. Whatever they do, they're never accused of promoting tired or overused stereotypes.

I cried with Joel from The Last of Us when his daughter died in his arms and when John Marston taught his son how to hunt in Red Dead Redemption. But I asked myself: Where are all the mothers, and why can't we play them?

It almost seems like video game developers are creatively constrained in their narratives by the concept of a mother. It seems natural for a father to go out into the big, wide world fighting evil; women, on the other hand, appear mostly stuck in their traditional roles as childbearing caregivers. "Mothers are the ones you leave behind," wrote Carly Smith in a 2014 article for the gaming site Polygon. Not only is that boring from a technical standpoint, but it's also just sad.

Read the full story on Broadly.

Video Games
gender inequality
women in gaming