The Great Backlog Battle: Zen and the Art of Pirateship Maintenence
There were a great deal of fantastic games published in 2013, and a few of them even dealt with complex ideas larger than people shooting each other for the sake of a plot point. While games like The Last of Us, BioShock Infinite and Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag don't appear to have much in common at first glance, the three console titles all raise some very interesting questions and ideas in one specific area.
Light spoilers ahead.
If you'd played Assassin's Creed III, you'd know the antagonist of the story was a gentleman by the name of Haytham Kenway. He just so happened to be the father of the protagonists, Connor Kenway, but more importantly, Haytham is the son of Edward Kenway, the pirate you play as in Black Flag. Throughout Black Flag, Edward's family proper (meaning those outside the immediate rogue's gallery of the high seas) is barely shown. In fact, it's just a few brief glimpses at his days at home with his wife, Caroline, that we even know Edward had a life to go home to after his privateering days were over. Of course, we knew Kenway would eventually settle down at some point, as his son and grandson would duke it out a few decades later in the U.S. colonies.
It isn't until the end of Assassin's Creed IV that we learn Kenway's wife was with child at the time of his leaving. This is news to Edward as well, as he himself doesn't even find out about the child until the final moments of Black Flag's story. When it's all wrapped up, an English ship arrives at port near Edward's Caribbean home. No doubt, those of us who played Assassin's Creed III were expecting little Haytham to come running down the dock. Instead however, we meet young Jennifer, Edward's daughter. Surprises aside, the reunion between Edward and the daughter he never knew is quite touching. Edward had grown quite a bit during his time with the assassins, and was far from the roguish bastard we were introduced to in the opening moments of Black Flag. Aside from a few minutes together during the credit sequence, we barely have time to see how Edward will adapt in his new role. That said, even in those brief moments, there's more honest character development between the two than most games spread across an entire campaign.
Edward is eager to connect with Jennifer, and the two have quite a long journey back to England with which to do so. The cute dialogue between the two about the differences between a ship and boat rings true to life, and even though we've never had that conversation with a daughter of our own, anyone that's spent time trying to explain things to a child can easily relate. However, as compatible as the two are upon finally meeting, a quick post-credit sequence set some years later reveals the relationship has soured a bit. Now in her late teens/early twenties, Jennifer and Edward can be seen at an opera house (the very same from the beginning of Assassin's Creed III). A young potential suitor finally builds up the courage to speak to Jennifer, only to blow it when he calls her Ms. Kenway. Jennifer has abandoned her father's surname for her mother's maiden name (Scott), and disregards the nebbish man with one of the coldest shoulders in the history of mankind. We'll likely never find out what happened between Edward and Jennifer to cause her to act in such a manner, but suffice to say, you felt the truth there in spite of the two only sharing but a handful of lines.
Obviously, Joel's and Ellie's relationship in The Last of Us was much more developed, but over the course of those dozen or so hours, the overall relationship was nearly the same. A man set in his ways, reluctant to care about anyone but himself ends up in a patriarchal relationship with a girl he hardly knew. Both Joel and Ellie served as surrogates to one another, but for reasons we watch unfold, there's a great bit of honesty in the emotion on display. Even Joel's ultimate decision is rooted heavily in the interests of this relationship, and no longer his own personal needs. The same could be said for Booker and Elizabeth, although the complexities of that father/daughter dynamic go well above and beyond everything put forth by The Last of Us and Black Flag. Still, it's hard to deny the resonance of that relationship once all the cards are on the table, and the truths behind both characters are revealed.
All three games tackled the relationships between these fathers (biologically or not) differently, but more importantly, all three did it well. You mileage might vary on the games themselves, but the characterization was undeniably on point in each instance. We've seen characters like Alyx and Eli Vance (Half-Life 2) have strong bonds in a game before, but again, that was another great and different example of doing this kind of emotional exploration correctly. Of all the things that impressed me about Assassin's Creed IV, the way it buttoned everything up with that surprise reunion was the most memorable part. To me, that's just as true for The Last of Us and BioShock Infinite. Both games had their share of gasp-worthy moments, but I find myself talking about the depth and complexity of character more than how great it was to shoot random bad people/monsters in the face.
Now I don't have a daughter or a son. I have a hard enough time making adult decisions about my own life let alone worrying about making decisions regarding another life all together (hey, these action figures aren't going to buy themselves). But there's something fascinating about the way these games communicate the connectedness of these characters. Then again, I'm saying all this as a man without any idea of what it's like to be the daughter in that situation. Perhaps it's just that all these games offer a glimpse into what I'm perceiving to be a "healthy" father/daughter relationship from the male perspective. I'd like to think I wouldn't sell my daughter off to settle a gambling debt, though. Regardless, all three resonated with me in ways I didn't expect. Whether that says more about me or the games in question, I don't know, but I'm glad the question exists in the first place.
This year, I’m no longer neglecting my backlog while it continues to pile up. Instead, I’m whittling away, bit by bit, in a competition with a free dinner on the line. Every week I’ll be updating you on my progress with the twelve games I’m hoping to beat before the clock strikes midnight on December 31. This is the Great Backlog Battle.