Games

Father's Day Is Over, But Daddy Issues Remain in 'Bioshock 2' and 'Red Dead Redemption'

From Bioshock 2

Baby Boomer films such as Star Wars taught us about the corruptible and corrupting influence of an authoritarian father; now games like Bioshock 2 and Red Dead Redemption explore Generation X's “daddy issues”.

Father of mine

Tell me where have you been

You know I just closed my eyes

My whole world disappeared

Father of mine

Take me back to the day

Yeah when I was still your golden boy

Back before you went away

-- “Father of Mine”, Everclear

Having daddy issues is a tale at least as old as Sophocles' Oedipus Rex. Sigmund Freud, of course, used that story as a metaphor for describing psychological development and the way that individuals challenge authority and take on responsibility themselves as they transition from adolescence to adulthood. Beyond this metaphor for the development of the psyche personally, Jung and others like him would see the social significance of such stories within the greater culture. Struggle with the previous generation for authority is often understood metaphorically through such tales of sons struggling with or coming to terms with the father. Of course in that sense, the story of grappling with the father, while fairly ubiquitous in Western culture (Zeus and Cronus, Isaac and his two sons, David and Absalom, etc.) changes a bit depending on the time and place that it comes from.

Late 20th century American culture has been dominated by the voice of the Baby Boomer generation, and that generation's tales of father-son and also father-daughter conflict often reflect attitudes associated with the group that would come of age during the '60s and that would largely begin taking its place as the dominant voice in media and entertainment by the '70s. The original Star Wars trilogy, for instance, has at its center a story very much about coping with daddy issues, a story very reflective of shifting attitudes about authority and how that generation understood its “daddy”.

Born in 1944 (about two years before the year many see as being the beginning of the boom), George Lucas grew up alongside Boomers and witnessed profound changes in the fabric of American culture, as well. Lucas originally may have conceived of Luke Skywalker as a son learning about his father's past as a war hero via the abbreviated description of Anakin Skywalker by Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars (1977), a kind enough description of the “Greatest Generation” of heroes preceding Luke. As a product of post-Vietnam, post-Watergate America, the trilogy took a darker turn as Darth Vader was revealed as Luke's war hero father turned corrupt authoritarian. Consider also Don Henley's critique of government through a similar metaphor of fatherhood and its corruption of innocence when he discusses Ronald Reagan in his song, “End of the Innocence”: “Armchair warriors often fail / And we've been poisoned by these fairy tales / Lawyers clean up all details / Since daddy had to lie”. The trilogy represents a denial of father and a denial of authority as corruptible and corrupting, although it also suggests that the next generation has the hope of, perhaps, fixing daddy, eventually making him “right” again.

Similarly, Cameron Crowe (a late Boomer, born in 1957 on the cusp of the advent of Generation X) tells the story of a daughter confronted with the corruptible quality of fathers in Say Anything... (1989). Diane Court, and her slacker boyfriend Lloyd Dobler, may resemble Generation X in a movie written seemingly for that generation, however, the message of getting back on your feet and moving away from the legacy of such a father is still a conclusion seemingly much more Boomer than X. Indeed, few of the X generation would be much older than about 19 in 1989 (depending on whose definition of the generation you are using). The transition to their voices dominating media like television and film would have to wait until the late '90s and the first decade of the milleninum as they reached their late 20s, 30s, and even 40s.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, representations of fathers in the last ten years are those of somewhat invisible figures that are still haunting presences in many of X's stories. Spiking divorce rates in the years of X's childhood lead one to shows like Lost, a series full to brimming with characters with daddy issues. Jack Shepherd and John Locke, as just two examples, both struggle with absent fathers that they do not easily deny or embrace.

It's interesting, then, that video games, a medium initially pioneered by the Boomers but generally limited to simplistic stories of frogs crossing busy streets to find their way home and plumbers saving damsels in distress, have come of age alongside Generation X and are now telling their stories through different eyes. Gone is the cartoonishly evil figure of authoritarianism from the story of more contemporary parent-child relations, replaced with a concern about the distance that exists between fathers and their children and a concern about how such parents influence their children. Two releases this year arrive with coincidentally similar focuses on the relationship between children and their fathers, Bioshock 2 and Red Dead Redmption.

While the first Bioshock concerned a father-son relationship, that relationship took a back seat to themes concerning free will and control, the libertine and the slave. Certainly, the relationship between Andrew Ryan and Jack Ryan is distant (since the player inhabiting the role of Jack is unaware Anrew Ryan is his father at all at the beginning of the game), any potential struggle between the two's philosophies is determined by an outsider who forces Jack to kill Ryan. Largely, the interest of the game seems to be in exploring the illusion of free will (in video games specifically and by extension more broadly in real life) and less interested in familial concerns.

Perhaps more interesting to examining issues related to family is the game's more simple assumption about relations between fathers and little girls. The dynamic that exists between Little Sisters and Big Daddies is a compelling one and seems to underscore the idea that a little girl needs a daddy to protect her. In some sense, it's unsurprising that the game's sequel would take this concern for potentially lost and unprotected children (specifically masculine protection of the feminine child) and make it its most central focus as it examines the relationship between a daughter and her long distant father.

Long distant is, of course, an understatement, considering that Eleanor Lamb's Big Daddy has been quite literally dead and gone for most of her childhood. The opening scene of the game explains the circumstance of the severing of the relationship (again, a very literal psychic linkage) between herself and her father. If children who “lose” a parent to divorce often attempt to figure out who is to blame, there is no doubt here. Eleanor's mother, Sofia Lamb, is the one who is less literally, but also who is still very directly responsible for the gun to daddy's head. The idea that mommy is keeping the children distant from the man who fathered her children is very much present here and simplified to an almost childlike understanding through the overt display of brutality between the parents.

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Why filmmaking as a means of expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?

Not really, no. I have always done documentary. I used to write scripts and TV series but I only make documentaries myself for radio and television. For this story, I figured out after a while that it deserved a bigger ambition and a bigger screen and that's why I don't very much believe in inspiration. To be honest, I made this film because I had to do something. I didn't have a big project where I thought: I want to make this. I went there and I found a little money and at the end the ambition and the inspiration came along the way. But there was not an urgent necessity to make this film. It fits with a lot of things that I'm interested in, like popular culture -- What does art stand for and why do we go to the cinema? What is the purpose? This is a question I'm interested in, but inspiration, not so much.

Has The Prince of Nothingwood provided you with the answers to those questions?

It has, and I hope it helps people to think about this question. It tells you that there is an urgent need to make images, to make films, even during war,and even if you don't have the money. And even if the films are not very good, they will find somebody who will like them. So something is going to happen, and I think that's very touching. I don't like Shaheen's films, I hardly watched them -- I paid somebody to watch them. But I'm very moved by all these people that do like his films, and it makes you think about the value of art and the purpose of why we make cinema. I used to study aesthetics in London, so it was one of the questions I had and while the film is lighter than this, that's what was in mind.

The film uses Shaheen as a doorway, beginning as a story about one man which becomes a story about Afghanistan, its people and culture.

Yeah, but it's not so much about Afghanistan and it's not my purpose is to say things about the country. There's one guy like him in Iran who makes cowboy movies in the Iranian desert and there's also a guy like that in Tunisia. I mean you have this person with an urgent need to film whatever they have under their hand and since it's war, then it tells you something about the war. But it's not so much interested in him.

There was a lot of editing, 148 hours that you haven't seen [laughs]. Making a documentary is really telling a story and I don't have any idea of objectivity -- it is my point of view on Shaheen. Some people say to me that they would like to show his films, that they really want to see his films, and I say: "You don't see how much I have edited. I show you the very nice parts of his films." People think he's a great filmmaker and that's the story I wanted to tell -- but I could have told another story.

To my mind, objectivity is a human construct, a falsity that does not exist.

Except mathematics maybe, and sometimes physics.

The purist opinion of documentary as objective is therein built on a faulty premise. From the subjective choices of the filmmakers that bleed into the film to the subjectivity of the subjects, it's not purely objective. Hence, it calls into question the traditional dividing line of the objectivity of documentary and the subjectivity of narrative fiction.

Totally! It's the editing, and why you chose this guy, how you film it and what you show, or what you don't show. It's not only subjectivity, it's storytelling. Not many people ask me about this, they take it for granted that it's the real Shaheen. But I'm not lying, I'm not saying things that aren't true, but I am telling a story, a fictional story out of what I filmed. I took scenes that happened one day and I put them with another story that happened three months later and that's why we had seven months of editing with three editors. So it was a lot of work.

One of the striking aspects of the film are the light and comedic moments offset by a darker and heavier sensibility, which include moments when, for example, Shaheen talks about arranged marriages.

We made 70rough cuts and there was one version we tested and you couldn't believe you were in Afghanistan. People would say: "Oh this is too funny. You don't see Afghanistan, it's just a bunch of crazy guys." I then said: "Let's put in a little more darkness." You then have to strike a balance and to me, if it's not perfect, I'm happy.

Shooting the film in a dangerous and volatile part of the world, was the approach that once you had enough footage you then looked to shaping the film in the edit?

It's not when you feel you have enough, it's finding a balance between security and artistic concerns. That's it. You have a plan and you have an agenda. There are things you want to do, but it has to be balanced with security concerns. The real story I was going to tell about Shaheen I found in the editing room and in the end, I only kept five days of the shoot. The whole film takes place in Bamyan (Province), nothing in Kabul, although I had weeks and weeks of footage there that I had to take away.

There's a moment when Shaheen asks if you are scared, which sees him verbalise our silent recognition of your boldness and courage to bring this story to the screen.

It's very difficult and it's not like you are walking in the street and there's a bomb. This is not what's difficult. The difficulty is to cope with your fear and to have rules and to follow or to not follow those rules. There are many foreign people that never go out at all in Kabul -- it is forbidden. You have British diplomats who do not even drive their car from the airport to the embassy -- they will take an helicopter that costs £2,000 each way. Then you have foreign people who walk in the street without a scarf -- these girls get kidnapped.

In between these you have Shaheen, who is telling me all the time that I'm too scared, because it's a man's value to be brave and he's a brave guy, there's no question about that. He was in an attack two weeks ago. There was a bomb in a Shia Mosque and he helped to carry out the bodies. So there's no kidding about the fact that he's a brave guy and he has to be because he's been fighting to make his films. But you are in the middle of this and I'm not a brave person at all and I don't think being brave is a very important question. It is, but I'm not brave, I'm very scared and so in the middle of all of this stress it's enough just to manage to not go crazy, or to not drink too much [laughs].

Salim Shaheen and Sonia Kronlund (courtesy of Pyramide Films)

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