Absent, abusive, and/or neglectful parents make frequent appearances in videogames. In fact, ever since developers started telling stories through games, they have featured a number of less-than-stellar parents, especially when it comes to dads.
This is the medium that gave us the King of All Cosmos from Katamari Damacy and We ♥ Katamari, who wiped out all the stars in the sky and forced his diminutive son clean up his mess. Videogames gave us Donkey Kong, who had a son that disappeared several years ago, or else refuses to recognize the child as his own. We have fought with Heihachi Mishima from the Tekken series, who threw his son, Kazuya, off a cliff. His son survived, so Heihachi raised another child to be his own son’s rival. When Kazuya defeated both his rival and his father, Heihachi returned and, in a stroke of originality, threw Kazuya into a volcano.
I JUST LOVE CLIFFS
Even the Mother (Earthbound) series had a dad who lost his mind to grief after a dragon killed his wife, leaving the young children, Claus and Lucas, to wander alone.
Now I’m not going to pull a classic “Jack Thompson” and use one videogame trope as a condemnation of the entire medium. That style of arguing is logically flawed since, much like depictions of violence, awful and neglectful parents have been a thematic device used across all media, and why not? Bad parents make for classic stories.
How boring is it for anyone watching a movie or reading a book to discover the protagonist of the story was raised in a safe, loving family?
"Would someone just THROW A CHAIR or something?" - Daughter on the right
For example, as warm and caring as Martha and Jonathan Kent may have been, they were not particularly compelling characters in their own regard. Neither were Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru particularly useful to Luke Skywalker, except for getting killed and forcing him to accept the call to adventure. Good parents tend to exist solely as living backgrounds for the protagonist; giving him/her an understanding of right and wrong that will later be challenged. Well, that and dying at the appropriate moment.
In general, bad-dads and villains tend to be more compelling and interesting characters in stories, which has lead to a creative culture full of “mom and dad issues” that pumps out worse and worse biological parents for our heroes to overcome.
However, not all videogame dads are as blatant about their abuse and hatred as the head of the Mishima family. One father in particular is so insidious about his abuse and neglect that he has hidden in plain sight of gamers for over twenty years, which is quite a feat when we consider that this medium has never been particularly subtle about anything.
We are the subtlest
For the scummiest of the scummy dads, we need look no further than Nintendo’s very own King Koopa, Bowser.
I know he looks like a "cool dad," but children need a parent, not a friend
Bowser has been a part of videogame culture since 1985, and he’s been a shitty dad since 1988, which is also the year I was born, but I’m sure that’s just a simple coincidence.
Bowser’s kids first appeared as The Koopalings, a group of seven anthropomorphic turtle demon-children who Bowser dressed as his favorite musicians.
This was a classic parenting mistake that the “entitlement generation” grew up with. In our case, our parents assumed that if we were given constant praise, we would grow up with high self esteem, which leads to success. Really, they mixed up their causes and their effects and ended up with a bunch surprisingly vocal and visible group of us who fly into a rage every time we’re reminded we’re not that great.
In Bowser’s case, he was hoping that by dressing his kids as musicians, they would form the next great family band and save him from his life of chronic alcoholism and repeated arrests from violating Peach’s restraining order. But, whose parent hasn’t done that at least once? My dad had all types of instruments around the house, although… I did get yelled at whenever I touched them. Hmm. Anyway, Bowser’s constant praise gave the Koopalings a dangerous and exceptional sense of entitlement.
Koopalings: The original Guidos?
To be fair, the Koopalings did have some brief musical success with their horrific performances on the syndicated Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3. Here’s one of their singles, from the episode entitled (seriously?) Dadzilla. I should also note that is not Bowser who is taking care of them. Two of the Koopalings, sick of their father’s attempt to live vicariously through them, steal his ship and fly to the real world, where they use their magic wands to create a new dad.
Parents: this is what happens when your kids have too much self-esteem without the work ethic or talent to back it up.
But creating a band of Jackson 5 / Brady Bunch / Partridge Family / Osmond / Hanson / Von Trapp Family wanna-bes was the least of Bowser’s parental sins. If that were all he’d done, we would be able to just write him off as “another neighbor you sometimes have to call the cops on,” and call it a day. But no, he does far more to scar these children.
When the Koopalings fail to achieve wide commercial success as Bowser had hoped, he refuses to do the sensible thing and simply sell them into sweatshop labor for a quick profit. Instead he abandons them and stakes all his hopes on his until-now hidden son, Bowser Jr. I presume he kept the child locked away in a cage for the first years of his life, like how my dad kept…me.
Raising his new “only child” (huh, I’m an only child) Bowser pours all his spite and rage into the boy’s upbringing, creating a miniature version of himself that knows only anger and fear. Soon the boy’s only escapes come from petty theft and kidnapping, as his father constantly demands that he “Do as I say or I’ll bury you in the backyard with all your other siblings.” I mean, my dad used to say that to me also… that’s just something parents say, right? During their “sober moments?”
Come to think of it, he also always told me to “find my princess,” and only let me play with blonde-haired princess dolls. And he wouldn’t let me ask about my scoliosis… I remember the doctor saying something about how “unprecedented” it is to have “exterior bone” and “spike-like protrusions.”
And then he’d only let me outside if I dressed up like Mario and agreed to vandalize things. Oh… Jesus… Oh no. I… I’m Bowser Jr. I must be. I… he never let me see my reflection. I always wondered why children would cry when they saw me! Oh, and last month when I injured my hand… why did the surgeons recoil in terror?
HOW DID I NOT SEE THIS BEFORE?
He’s made me just like him! I don’t know any other life! What choices do I have?
Oh god, I’m going to be sick!
… FIRE?! I JUST VOMITED FIRE?! Okay well… that’s actually pretty cool, but still, I HATE YOU DAD! I WISH YOU’D NEVER DONE THIS TO ME!
YOU'RE A BASTARD DAD! WHY COULDN'T YOU JUST THROW ME OFF A CLIFF?
Colin is a columnist here at Default Prime. He's a gamer, unprofessional writer, and plays a mean bass kazoo. He thinks the gaming industry has a lot of growing to do, but he's eager to see where it goes.
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