God of War and How Kratos Overcomes His Toxic Masculinity

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The  God of War New Game+, which was announced at E3, finally has a release date of August 20. I played the game to near completion and look forward to diving back into the Norse realms. While playing and hopefully replaying I can’t help but notice that Kratos’ is a new, less toxic man. I almost didn’t play the new God of War. I even tweeted that since the previous installments were laced with toxic masculinity and misogyny I wasn’t going to play it on principle. However, I am forever grateful my then-boyfriend played it in front of me and encouraged me to play it myself.

Multiple times the previous series has made it clear that Kratos gives little regard to women, both living and dead, in the pursuit of his own revenge against the gods of Olympus. The previous installments had sex mini-games to get easy experience points and featured women, often naked or dying in violent and somewhat erotic natures.

In God of War III,  Kratos saves a half-naked princess in Poseidon’s Chamber and then proceeds to kill her in order to hold up a crank that opens a door. After that scene, the player can return to observe her corpse and the blood at her feet as she continues to hang from the crank. Nudity was common in the Greco-Roman cultures, but considering the nature of her death, it is disturbing.

Also in the God of War III, Kratos kills Hera by grabbing her by the neck, strangling her, and then throwing her down a ramp after she comments on his relationship with Pandora. While her death was warranted in regards to her character, watching this scene as a woman is jarring and extremely difficult to get through. In addition, Kratos then uses her corpse around her gardens to open various weighted puzzles. It is important to note that Kratos was offended by the comments about Pandora because he saw her as a daughter. However, her death and sacrifice for him were only to further his revenge-filled narrative.

At the conclusion of God of War III, Kratos impales himself with the Blade of Olympus and releases hope back to the people as opposed to Athena. The ending left the story hanging on an ambiguous cliffhanger, and it didn’t surprise me that the franchise was being dusted off for the new console generation.

However, as a feminist and a woman, the examples given above are reason enough to be hesitant and downright against picking up the soft reboot when it was announced at E3. That being said, a lot of women and men played the previous series and I am in no way saying they are not allowed to or need to be bothered by the violence in the games. Everyone has their own triggers, relationships to violence, and experience that inform their choices.

The new God of War takes place far from the gods of Olympia. This Kratos is more mild-mannered and has moved on, both literally and figuratively. We pick up with Atreus laying flowers and candles on the body of his dead mother prior to her cremation. It is evident from the start that both Atreus and Kratos have a deep respect for the woman. The journey of God of War is one of a father and son, bringing the ashes of their wife and mother to the highest peak in the realms.

Kratos and Atreus have a rocky to almost non-existent relationship at the beginning of the game. The death of his wife has left Kratos alone and responsible for the upbringing of his child. There are many moments in the game where Kratos wants to be angrier and closer to his old self but instead works to be calmer and more understanding with the child in mind.

Atreus is the opposite of Kratos. The child adores talking to anyone he can, he skids on the ice and laughs if you wait around long enough and he will always take a seat next to a campfire whenever he gets a chance. Arteus, in the game, assists with reading runes and discovering lore. It becomes apparent very early on that he is wildly gifted with languages. His gifts are less in brawn and more in the brain.

God of War

Kratos may not be nearly as articulate with his son but, he never scolds Atreus for being emotional or playful during their journey so long as he isn’t in clear and present danger. It is clear that Atreus has always been allowed to be a child and carry the large emotional range of a child. From the way he speaks about her, it is clear he gets this side of his personality from his mother, but it is important to note that Kratos never at any point of Atreus’ life changed the way he was being raised to fit that of a Spartan child. Kratos, instead trusted his wife and what she instilled in their child.

Terry Kupers, of The Wright Institute School of Psychology, defines toxic masculinity as “the constellation of socially regressive male traits that serve to foster domination, the devaluation of women, homophobia, and wanton violence.”  According to Terry Kupers, toxic masculinity serves to outline aspects of hegemonic masculinity that are socially destructive, “such as misogyny, homophobia, greed, and violent domination.” This is contrasted with more positive traits such as “pride in [one’s] ability to win at sports, to maintain solidarity with a friend, to succeed at work, or to provide for [one’s] family.” Toxic Masculinity as a term is not meant to demonize men or male attributes, but instead, emphasize the harmful effects such extreme behaviors can have.

I would argue that Kratos treatment of Atreus is proof that he has moved past his Toxic Masculinity and is striving to teach his son to be better.

In multiple interviews, God of War’s director Cory Barlog has said that Kratos’ story has been about identity. Kratos has sought to forget his identity and who he was. Moving to a faraway land and living as a mortal is a clear example of that. However, being a parent offers Kratos an interesting opportunity, he gets to help define his son’s identity for better or for worse.

At the end of the game, after the two have spread Faye’s ashes from the top of the highest peak in Jötunheimr, Atreus asks Kratos why he insisted on his name being Atreus as opposed to his mother’s pick Loki. Kratos responds “…Atreus of Sparta was unlike the rest of us. He wore a smile even in the worst of times. He was happy. He inspired us to hope. That though we were machines of war, yet there was humanity in us. Goodness.”

Kratos named his child Atreus because he wanted him to be happy, joyful, and unlike him. He named his child after a man that carried none of his toxic masculinity.

1 thought on “God of War and How Kratos Overcomes His Toxic Masculinity

  1. The portrayal of a Spartan focus on discipline and restraint is likely truer to historic Sparta than the contemporary, media-driven perception of Spartan berserkers. The disparity in depictions might say something in itself about the societies that created them–a ’90s contending with empowered feminism while trying to reconcile sexuality vs. a 21st century grappling with the whole of gender identity and legacies of all sorts.

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