As much as this concept of putting your family first may be sweet, when it comes to video games, it’s not always viable. There are countless fantastic tales told within games’ storylines that revolve around families that are as dysfunctional as Homer Simpson is bald. Tales that simply couldn’t be if these families operated in a healthy and loving way. Nope, just like real life, more often than not gaming’s on screen families are far too busy getting in each others’ way and wrecking each others’ heads to band together and count the meagre hairs on that yellow head. The difference, of course, being that families in our world bicker over who gets to use the shower first in the morning or who’s turn it is to take out the trash, while families in video games lob off each other’s heads and attempt to end the world.
Throughout the history of Mortal Kombat's storylines, these savage sisters have slapped the living shit out of each other at ever given opportunity. There’s a raw hatred between them that runs so deep you can feel it whenever they cross paths. They find it impossible to contain their emotions and erupt into flurries of violence in the hopes that one of them will ultimately die in the act, giving the other peace. Kitana’s awareness that her clone was created out of malice in a bid to end her life leaves her with no love for her sibling at all. She finds the very existence an insult. Mileena’s untamed nature makes her a ruthless and unpredictable opponent that enjoys the fight. Happy in the knowledge that she’s can easily cause her sister such heartache, she almost gets off on the idea. And if this leads to yet another fight between then, then it’s all worth it in her tarkatan eyes. It’s an interesting set of circumstances that propelled these characters in an entirely different direction than the healthy rivalry between Street Fighter’s Ryu and Ken; two men who grew up together and spar to improve their fighting skills. They also enjoy each fight as it makes each of them stronger both as warriors and as friends. In fact, they are brothers in all but blood. Mortal Kombat’s siblings, however, would much rather gouge each other’s guts out and bathe in their gore than see eye to eye. All this homely carnage would make a weekend away at their family abode an absolute bloody nightmare, and that’s without even mentioning the fact that their mother can scream so loud that she could blow the skin off of a human body.
It’s not just siblings that end up at each other’s throats in their respective universes either. It’s pretty much an open invitation for any family members to have at each other in disturbing and destructive ways. Case in point, our old friend Kratos. Ever since he was a boy, big burly Kratos always enjoyed a good tantrum. Lobbing his toys from the pram and decapitating passersby with them, the ash covered anti-hero from the God of War games pretty much fought anyone who was unlucky enough to unwittingly cross his path... and hunted down anyone who wasn’t. Not wanting to be upstaged by Kitana and Mileena’s family feud, Kratos systematically killed everyone in his family. Both his parents received the old Greek tragedy treatment, along with his brother, his wife and even his daughter. Kratos’ family issues make Darth Vader and the young Skywalkers look like a model family that we should all strive to be like. I never quite understood all the arguments within the Skywalker clan. Honestly, I think they all need to relax, head to Mos Eisley Cantina, enjoy a stiff glowing green drink and chat it out. Sooner or later they’re bound to come to the conclusion that they’ve got the coolest father this side of the Dagobah System. Unfortunately though, I don’t believe Kratos would avail of any similar options. Chances are, he’d just pick a seat behind that charmingly bald astro-jazz band and sulk there for a while.
It’s when you get to witness both the good and the bad of family life that these video game representations really start to make sense, and there’s no better example of this than the Devil May Cry series. DMC games, by their very nature are all about family, from the very opening scene in the original PS2 game which tells the tale of a demonic knight named Sparda who saved the world from being overrun by evil to the final battle between two brothers in the franchise’s reboot. Even down to the first time we meet the game’s protagonist, Dante, he takes a job on a demon infested island because the lady who approached him looked like his mother. The gig itself, coincidentally involved the cleaning the up of a mess left behind by his aforementioned demon daddy. Every move Dante makes, every time he swings that sword, it all leads back to family business. Hell, even the fact that his arsenal of weaponry contains his signature twin pistols subtly points towards the importance of family within these games.
The Sons of Sparda aren’t the only ones in the DMC universe with fecked up family affairs either. In the third game, a tough character named Lady attempts to hunt down and destroy her father. Haunted by a horrid past in which he murdered her mother and fuelled by a lethal blend of anger and vengeance, Lady spends the game traversing a gigantic tower in the hopes of ending her father’s life once and for all. In turn, this plays as a fantastic contrast to the situation between Dante, Virgil and their own father. No matter how they try, these brothers can’t seem to escape the fact that they’re doomed to an eternity of living in their old man’s shadow. Enormous powerful demons never recognise the lads for who they are, they see them for who their father was, and judge them by those means. Just in case the pair didn’t have enough trouble to deal with, being half-demons with silly haircuts and all.
In their own bizarre way, video games perfectly embody many of the concepts of family life. Sure, it’s a blown up fantasy adaptation, but it can still be strikingly close to the bone at times. I’ve found myself in many of the positions that these characters’ tales revolve around. Alright, I didn’t Kratos shit up and murder my whole family or anything like that, but I have been the one living in the shadow and judged by the actions of another. I spent a lot of my years as player 2 throughout my day to day life, watching as the world took notice of player 1. I’ve received a slight taste of the competition that Ryu and Ken strive on before changing my direction and following a different path. I’ve even grown a bit of a Luigi moustache at one point. But these are some of the influences and environments that made me the man I am today, whether this happens to be for the better or the worse. Ultimately, it made me want to look out for those who have come after me like my nieces and nephews, who I can now see more of these traits in. If anything, it has made me want to become the Uncle Pey’j to their collective Jade.
Remember you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family... However, you can still choose your favourite syrup so it’s all good.