June 20th marked Father’s Day in the United State, a day we celebrate all the great fathers out there — usually our own. So there’s no better time to take a look back and remember the great gaming dads out there. The last few generations of video games have been pretty dad-centric. Maybe the developers are growing up. Maybe the players are looking for experiences that mirror their real-life dad problems. Whatever the reason, we’ve got a glut of great dads to talk about.
The Xbox 360 / Xbox One generations might as well be called the Sad Dad Era of games. Lots of the most popular games centered on some very sad, very angry fathers. Some of these fathers were wronged, some of them sought revenge, and others just wanted to protect. Games like The Last of Us really exemplified all the best qualities of the Sad Dad Era, but we’ve since seen the rise of Glad Dads, Bad Dads, and Mad Dads — basically we’ve got all the types of dads in the Dad Rainbow now, and we’re going to talk about them.
Put on your favorite sweater, grab a cold one, and look at old family pictures with the subtlest of tears in your ear. This is our list of 15 awesome video game fathers.
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#1. Joel [Last of Us]
The ur-dad of video games. When we think of video game dads, Joel is our first thought. He’s slightly southern, loves wood-carving, rides horses, and gives dad-style lessons on the reg. As portrayed by Troy Baker in Last of Us, Joel is a caring, doting father — and the loss of his kid in the opening hour of the game strongly informs his character moving forward. He’s a guy that isn’t going to let the same thing happen twice, and he’ll do anything to protect totally-not-his daughter Ellie.
Joel is the perfect dad specifically because he’s so imperfect. The Last of Us: Part 2 is 90% about Ellie’s complicated, fraught relationship with Joel! That makes him even dadlier!
#2. John Marston [Red Dead Redemption]
John Marston tries his best. The former outlaw escaped the killer gang that raised him so he could raise his son in the country. Putting down his gun and starting up a ranch was no small feat — especially for a guy with no money. The fun of John Marston’s dad qualities is that we get to follow along. In RDR2, we follow every step of John Marston trying to do right by his family; getting a loan, ordering lumber, buying a plot of land, and building their future house. It’s wholesome!
RDR1 subverts every video game trop to let us spend time with the family. Instead of rushing instantly to a climax, the game’s leisurely final hours have John Marston hanging out with his family, talking to his wife, doing activities with his son, and taking care of his reclaimed ranch. These moments give us a pretty good insight into John Marston as a father. If only the government wasn’t hunting him down, he might’ve been a pretty great dad.
#3. Dr. Light [Mega Man Series]
Dr. Light isn’t just a sci-fi Geppetto — this guy didn’t just build Mega Man and move on with his life. Dr. Light is your main man in the Mega Man series, the guy that helps Mega Man complete his mission of protecting the world from Dr. Wily’s schemes. Heck, Dr. Light doesn’t just help one Mega Man! In the far future, Dr. Light leaves behind holograms with powerful upgrades specifically for Mega Man X to collect. Now that’s a helpful dad, working to aid the future generation. Maybe that makes Dr. Light one of the best grandpas in gaming, too?
#4. Bowser [Mario Series]
Don’t get out the pitchforks. Bowser might by a bad guy, but he’s not a bad dad. Bowser, King of the Koopas, is a doting father when it comes to Bowser Jr. The two of them are always doing activities together — whether it’s Mario Tennis, Mario Golf, or just planning evil schemes. In lots of games, we can see just how close Bowser is with his son. In Paper Mario: Origami King and in Mario 3D Land: Bowser’s Fury, little Bowser Jr. wants nothing more than to be reunited with his father. Only a good dad would inspire that kind of devotion, right!
But let’s just ignore the rest of the Koopa Kids. Bowser doesn’t care about them.
#5. Kratos [God of War]
From mad dad to sad dad, God of War changed drastically with its latest installment in the series, rebooting the angry-antics of Kratos and infusing him with a massive dose of dad-energy. Now Kratos grunts, says “boy”, and softens up to take care of his small child. The kid is pretty godly too, so he can take some serious punishment — Kratos is all about tough love.
We all know that Kratos killed his previous family in a bought of Greek Mythology madness, and the older father vows to never let that happen again. Dad Kratos is a fan favorite for a reason. Over the course of the game, he gains just a tiny spark of warmth. We are here for wholesome Kratos.
#6. Dr. Adam Fenix [Gears of War 3]
The barely human meat monsters of the Gears of War series have dads too. Marcus Fenix, the gravelly-voiced mountain of muscle you play as through the Xbox 360’s most popular cover shooters, isn’t just a big angry yelling marine. He’s also got daddy issues! And the king of all dads returns to help our heroes stop the Locust Army.
Dr. Adam Fenix is just a hilarious concept to him — he’s a big meat man, but he’s also bearded and wears a lab coat. Who knew the Albert Einsteins of the world also had time to lift between science sessions. Adam Fenix has the dad look down pat, but he’s also got a little redemption mini-arc with Marcus. By the end, the two are reunited and the inevitable heroic sacrifice splits them apart again. It’s fine, Marcus Fenix needed to learn a few lessons — in Gears 4 and 5, he’s a dad too!
#7. King of All Cosmos [Katamari Damacy]
The King of All Cosmos is a cold, demanding, and sometimes inscrutable presence in the tiny Prince’s life. After going on a drunken bender, the King of All Cosmos has destroyed all the stars in the sky. Now it’s up to the Prince to pick up the pieces (literally, with a big sticky ball) and rebuild the stars with random junk you’ll find around town. At first blush, this seems like a very bad dad. The King of All Cosmos doesn’t really do or say anything nice. He’s just a big weirdo — one that’s also very stern.
I think we all know dads like this. The patricians that demand the best from their kids while also being total screw-ups behind the scenes. The King of All Cosmos ain’t a great dad, but he is a great example of a dad. Maybe that’s cheating, but we need to represent all dads, and the best we can say about the King of All Cosmos is that he isn’t actively malicious. That’s something!
#8. Ness’s Dad [Earthbound]
We all know the working dad. The non-present dad is just part of daily life for some kids — dad is always travelling, always off working somewhere else. Ness’s Dad from Earthbound is the ideal version of this dad. Why? Because he gives you money! Every time you call up your dad in Earthbound, he deposits some cash into your bank account. You can take your cash from any ATM and spend it. This also happens to be the most realistic depiction of money-handling in video games.
Sure, Ness’s Dad doesn’t have a name. He doesn’t even have a sprite! At the ending credits roll, Ness’s Father is depicted as a telephone. At least he’s making himself useful. Ness’s Dad saves your progress and sends you cash you’ve earned from battles. It’s always nice getting a fresh deposit of cash after checking in with the old man.
#9. Barret [Final Fantasy 7]
Now here’s a wholesome video game dad that also kicks ass. Barret Wallace from Final Fantasy 7 is a gruff freedom fighter that spends most of his time battling the evil corporate forces of Shinra. He’s the first character added to the party, so we know he’s a loyal friend. He doesn’t want to pay Cloud for his mercenary services because he’s saving cash for his adopted daughter’s education. Marlene only appears a few times in FF7 and FF7R, but Barret always makes time for her. He completely changes his regular tough demeanor — whenever Marlene is around, he’s a loving dad! And he’ll protect her from anything, including an polluting company bent on ruining the world.
#10. Kazuma Kiryu [Yakuza Series]
The first dad on our list that isn’t technically a dad. Kazuma Kiryu is the Dragon of Dojima and the Fourth Chairman of the Tojo Clan, but he ain’t a father. Still, this guy emanates with some of the strongest dad energy we’ve ever seen in video games. He’s a stern, patriarchal figure that believes in justice and will stop at nothing to protect the weak — and he finally makes good on that in Yakuza 3, where he runs the Morning Glory Orphanage, taking good care of a gaggle of needy children.
Even as far back as Yakuza 2, he’s watching out for a kid named Haruka, who he practically raises until she’s a fully-fledged adult in Yakuza 6. He even takes care of Haruka’s baby in Yakuza 6 — his quiet desperation but strong sense of purpose to protect this baby is one of the best parts of the series, and that totally makes Kiryu an honorary dad in my eyes.
#11. Eli Vance [Half-Life 2]
We don’t really know much about Eli Vance. We know he’s Alyx Vance’s father. We know he used to work at Black Mesa with Gordon Freeman. We know he’s working with the resistance to defeat the Combine, and he’s got a cool robot leg. We know that Eli and Alyx have a great relationship, and that he’s very approving of our hero Gordon Freeman — and really, that’s all we need to know.
Eli Vance is a critical character in the Half-Life series — as portrayed by Robert Guillaume, he’s a powerful source of warmth and stability in a terrifying world controlled by the alien forces of the Combine. His death is one of the great shared traumas of the video game world. It’s such a pivotal point to the series, Valve still hasn’t moved past it — we’re still waiting to see what will happen next! Even Half-Life: Alyx, a VR-only prequel, partially addresses that famous death scene — and only makes things more confusing in the process. Here’s to you Eli Vance, you were one of the best dads around.
#12. Harry Mason [Silent Hill]
One of the first dad stories in gaming. Harry Mason loses his daughter Cheryl in a car accident — literally, she disappears from his car, with tracks leading into the nearby town of Silent Hill. To save her, he has to face the hellish denizens of basically the worst place on Earth. In both the original game and in the remake, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, Harry faces some very unreasonable obstacles to save his daughter. Maybe that’s nothing new for more video game protagonists — but come on, this is Silent Hill! Even I would think twice about exploring that place.
And Harry does eventually pay the ultimate price. In the original Silent Hill, there is no saving Cheryl. But, the vile cult that runs the town does produce a reincarnation — a baby. Harry takes her away and raises her like her own. Heather Mason is the main protagonist of Silent Hill 3, the scariest game in the series, and the only reason she stands a chance at a normal life is because Harry was kind enough to adopt a total stranger. That’s the kind of dad we can get behind.
#13. Lee Everett [The Walking Dead]
We almost left Lee off our list. One of the great and powerful dads of the dad generation of gaming, Lee Everett is a towering figure for a certain subset of gamers. The first season of The Walking Dead, developed by Telltale, was a turning point for video game stories. The narrative adventure game became Telltale’s bread and butter, and it was all because of this one game’s massive success. And the ghost of Lee Everett hangs over every subsequent entry in the franchise. In a lot of ways, Telltale’s Walking Dead is the best Walking Dead media out there. And it’s all because of Lee and his tear-jerking performance by Dave Fennoy.
#14. Norman Osborn [Marvel’s Spider-Man]
Don’t spit on us just yet! Norman Osborn built a giant company, took over New York City, and built a giant network of secret laboratories — all just to help his sickly son recover. Sure, Norman Osborn is the sole man responsible for all the chaos and destruction that takes place in Marvel’s Spider-Man. His creation of the Devil’s Breath strain, creation of Mr. Negative, and his constant bullying driving Dr. Octopus into his revenge-fueled mission — that’s all Norman Osborn’s fault. But isn’t that the job of every dad, to do anything they can to protect their son? Harry Osborn by all accounts is a normal and good kid — nothing like his corporate shark father, and a good friend to Peter Parker.
Even better, going by clues left in the game, Harry Osborn won’t just be cured of his illness. He’ll also emerge from his secret science float tank with Spider-Man powers! What better gift can a father give? I want Spider-Man powers, dammit.
#15. Big Daddy [Bioshock]
Unlike Andrew Ryan, who’s one of the worst dads in recent memory, we’ll totally go to bat for the big barely-human lummoxes of Bioshock. The Big Daddy’s are altered human creations, sealed inside pressurized suits and sent to work at the deepest depths of the underwater city of Rapture. When civil war breaks out and little child-like gatherers called Little Sisters are threatened, the Big Daddy appears to fight back. They’re programmed to fight to the death to protect their bonded charges, and as we learn in Bioshock 2, at least one Big Daddy is just a father trying to save his kidnapped daughter from the twisted capitalist depravity of Rapture.
Also, Big Daddy just looks cool. He’s got a giant drill. He stomps around and growls like a whale. That’s just good dad material.
Thanks for checking out our list of best video game dads! What are your favorite video game dad memories? There’s no better time to reflect on our favorites — and maybe give some of these games a replay. Sebastian Castellanos from Evil Within, Ethan Mars from Heavy Rain, and much more were originally going to appear on our list, but we had to go with the heaviest of heavy dad hitters. Let us know which gaming dads are your faves online and let the dad energy course through your veins!