Stay Close to Me: Performing Paternal Masculinity in Videogames

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Mark Pajor


This essay examines discourses of violent protective masculine behavior in the videogames Heavy Rain, The Walking Dead, and The Last of Us within the context of active player performance. These three popular and critically acclaimed games allow the player to perform the role of a father whose actions as a paternal figure most often manifest as violence in the name of love and protection. Interrogating this identity of fatherhood as distinct from other kinds of violent masculinity often seen in videogames, this essay finds evidence of a crisis of paternal masculinity resulting from the dissonance between traditional paternalistic values and modern postcolonial understandings that paternalism is problematic, and more for the sake of masculine self-affirmation than the well-being of the child. Heavy Rain encourages the player’s performance of a relatively straightforward violent masculinity for the sake of protecting one’s child. The Walking Dead and The Last of Us nearly avoid the problematic nature of paternalism by setting the action in apocalyptic settings where violence can be envisioned as a necessity, but ultimately anxieties of the place of paternalism in modern society leak through in the games’ judgment of the necessity and morality of the player’s violent performance. Pulling from performance studies, this essay considers how the player’s performative experience in these games is integral to their discourses on paternal masculinity.

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