1. Dr. Light, Mega Man series
Dr. Light, the bearded brains behind the creation of Mega Man, is a sort of Asimov-style Gepetto. Light, the story goes, wins the Nobel Prize for Physics, beating out his jealous partner, Dr. Wily for the top honor. Wily later goes apeshit, hijacks Light’s army of industrial robots, and reprograms them for total destruction. In a brilliant counter, Light reprograms his good-natured lab assistant and ersatz child, Rock, upgrading the boy into the soldier we know as Mega Man. Light puts an awful lot of responsibility on the new hero, sending his lone robot son out against Wily’s entire mechanized army. The story is almost Christlike, if Christ had an arm cannon. Rock/Mega Man gets the job done, but maybe if Light knew how to program some simple security safeguards into his worker bots, he wouldn’t need to send his kid into a hellscape of instant-death spikes and bottomless pits.
2. “Ken” Hayabusa, Ninja Gaiden (1989)
The opening scene of Ninja Gaiden shows two ninjas facing each other in a green field, under the full moon. Suddenly, they run at each other, jump 20 feet in the air, and cross swords. One falls. “With whom did my father have a duel and lose?” muses Ryu Hayabusa. “For what reason did he fight and die? Even I don’t know for sure. The day after he disappeared, in father’s room I found a letter addressed to me. It said, ‘Ryu, I am on my way to a life-or-death duel. If it is destiny that I not return, you are to take the Dragon sword of the Hayabusa family… Ryu, be always brave.’” Right, no pressure there. And so Ken Hayabusa foists his old grudge onto his son. After fighting through legions of enemies—including thousands of annoyingly persistent birds—and doing his ninja father proud, Ryu learns that his dad is not dead. Nope, he’s under demon mind control, and he’s intent on killing his son. Why couldn’t Ryu just have a cold, distant father who withholds his love, like everybody else?
3. James, Fallout 3 (2008)
Maybe it’s the radiation, but in Fallout 3, you have superhuman recall of your early, formative years. So you can remember father James—voiced by Liam Neeson—teaching you to walk, to read, and to appreciate the little things in post-apocalyptic life. Things seem to be going pretty well in your underground Vault home when, one day, James decides to flee to the surface without you. Perhaps he still hates you for killing your mother in childbirth, or maybe he just went out to get some irradiated air. In any case, the Vault’s overseer sees this as a grievous breach of security, and suddenly the fuzz are coming down on you hard. You’re forced out of the only home you’ve ever known and into a blasted, super-mutant-populated Washington D.C. area. Yet the next time you see James, he tries to act all fatherly again, expressing his “disappointment” if you’ve, say, recently nuked an entire town. Maybe if he’d been there for you, though, you wouldn’t have felt the need to unleash a nuclear holocaust. Did he ever think about that? No. Of course he didn’t.
4. Donkey Kong
If you thought Mario had it rough dodging Donkey Kong’s barrels, imagine growing up in the shadow of the biggest knuckle-dragger in video games. Donkey Kong didn’t skip out on Donkey Kong Jr. or pummel him with those massive fists. But Junior’s life and career have been a constant series of noble but failed attempts to live up to his pop. Junior is Julian Lennon to his father’s John. Junior’s fun but tepidly received arcade debut saw him rescuing the old man—whose mastery of the villain craft was obviously in decline—from a certain blue-collar Italian. The shame of working in a diaper must have gotten to the young ape. He spent the early ’80s in a remedial math program before changing his image and adopting the stage name Diddy. Dad has made an effort, teaming with his son in adventures and cart races, but the tension must still be there. How does a perennial second banana go about asking Donkey Kong for something as simple as a hug?
5. Heihachi, Tekken series
At some point, most whiny little boys will hear their fathers telling them to “walk it off.” This is not necessarily bad parenting. Karate-kicking corporate overlord Heihachi Mishima wanted his five-year-old son Kazuya to toughen up, so he took a similar approach—he threw Kazuya off a cliff and then forced him to climb back up or face being disowned. This probably is bad parenting. But it worked. The battered Kazuya was forced into a quasi-genetic pact with a devil in order to survive, and he spent the next 15 years as a rage-filled half-demon. Rage-filled half-demons tend to be pretty strong! Kazuya used his awful hate powers to defeat Heihachi in the first Tekken martial arts tournament. You would think Dad would be proud, but this still wasn’t good enough—Heihachi returns in the second tournament, beats his son nearly to death, and throws him into a volcano. Walk that off.
6. Deathwing, World Of Warcraft: Cataclysm (2010)
Lots of dads would like to see their kids get involved in the family business, but when that business is world domination, things can get ugly. When he’s not on the clock—attacking cities, causing earthquakes, and breathing fire on heroes—the über-dragon Deathwing spends a lot of time collecting consorts, so he’s got plenty of kids. His overachieving offspring Onyxia and Nefarian have been raid bosses since the original World Of Warcraft, and the rest of his line is so corrupt that the red dragons who consider themselves the protectors of life decided that Deathwing’s whole brood needed to be wiped out. Perhaps he should have just let the kids pursue arts and literature instead.
7. Dracula, Castlevania: Symphony Of The Night (1997)
Across all of his pop cultural iterations, Dracula is kind of a dick. Mysterious and romantic, yes, but still kind of a dick. In Castlevania lore, the old fang-face has a half-breed son with a human woman, and he promptly abandons them so he can keep doing spooky vampire things and get slain by Belmonts, like he always does. The son, Alucard (“Dracula” spelled backwards), fights all varieties of supernatural nightmares to ensure his father doesn’t rise again. He fails, obviously. In Castlevania: Symphony Of The Night, father and son engage in a petulant debate about human-vampire race relations that makes Dracula sound a little like Archie Bunker. It’s every dysfunctional family Thanksgiving dinner ever, only with vampires. Upon defeat, the vampiric lord quotes the Holy Bible at his son, which is like Superman singing the praises of packaged Kryptonite. What a dick.
8. Big Boss, Metal Gear series
Big Boss wasn’t always an insane dictator hell-bent on creating utopia through military action. Back in the ’60s, he was an okay guy, at least for a highly trained killer. Had a sense of humor, a good moral core. But preventing a military coup, enduring a nuclear war, and killing your mentor—all of which happen between Metal Gear Solid 3 and Peace Walker—can change a man. Maybe that’s why he’s always trying to murder his son, Snake, who’s also Big Boss’ genetic clone. In the original Metal Gear, Big Boss convinces his son that he’s an ally before revealing himself to be the supreme leader of a private army that’s stolen a walking nuclear tank-robot. His son has to shoot Big Boss with a bazooka. Then Big Boss pulls pretty much the same stunt in Metal Gear 2. That time, Solid Snake has to set him on fire. It’s just not a healthy relationship. Of course, forcing your kid to call you Big Boss in the first place is a sign you’re probably not psychologically fit for fatherhood.
9. Bowser, Super Mario Bros. series
Divorce is harrowing for a child, as is the experience of being raised by a single dad. These potential traumas are hard enough on kids without their father asking them to risk their lives on behalf of their new mommy. Bowser doesn’t seem to care. The guy sends his seven punk-rocker children off into the world with magic wands in Super Mario Bros. 3, with instructions to murder the plumber who’s trying to rescue Bowser’s new bride. Bowser’s particular brand of bad parenting clearly took a toll on his kids. Iggy, Wendy, and the rest of the gang didn’t put in an appearance in a Mario game for eighteen years after Super Mario World, finally making their return in New Super Mario Bros. Wii. During the interim, Bowser lavished all his attention on another son named Bowser Jr., apparently the favored child. No wonder the other kids turned into punks.
10. The King Of All Cosmos, Katamari Damacy (2004)
The King Of All Cosmos, an omnipotent being with an apparent drinking problem, destroys every star in the universe after going on the bender to end all benders. Does he clean up his own mess? No, he makes his son go out and rebuild every star by rolling up huge balls of junk on Earth. Then he has the gall to criticize the prince’s hard work the whole time. The little guy tries to remake the constellation Cancer by picking up some crabs, and the King tells him it’s gross and too full of crabs. There’s no satisfying this rainbow-vomiting tyrant.
11. John Marston, Red Dead Redemption (2010)
(Note: This entry discusses plot details from the end of the game.) John Marston’s life as a father is defined mainly by what you don’t see in Red Dead Redemption. Across his days in Mexico and the American southwest, you often hear John talk wistfully about his farmland and the wife who’s waiting for him there, but only rarely does he mention his teenage son. The man’s more interested in revenge on his own father figure than he is in becoming one. By the time John actually makes it home to his family, it’s apparent from their awkwardness around one another that John’s son Jack barely knows who his dad is. Jack’s a bookish homebody, and his dad’s a gunslinger. Not much to talk about. Just when Jack’s getting to know him, John’s gunned down saving the kid’s life. That single moment turns Jack into the killer he becomes at the end of the game. It isn’t necessarily John’s fault that Jack grows up to be just like him, but a legacy of seething revenge has a way of persisting across the generations.
12. Opa-Opa’s Father, Fantasy Zone II: The Tears Of Opa-Opa (1987)
Hard as it might be to believe, Fantasy Zone II: The Tears Of Opa-Opa is even weirder than its title. It’s a game about a spaceship with wings and feet in which you fight flying snowmen and turtles in an endless psychedelic garden. But that’s not really why it’s weird. No, it’s weird because of its ending, in which the game suddenly informs you that there was a story behind all this space combat. At the end, the little spaceship Opa-Opa has to fight what looks like an enormous version of himself. That’s his dad. Why’s he fighting his dad? Because the horrors of war split him into two distinct personalities when he was just a wee spaceship. One of those personalities became the evil mastermind behind the army of flying snowmen. Opa-Opa’s dad, knowing the truth of his son’s horrible dual nature, decided to become the leader of those evil forces so he could protect his son. The world of “Space Year 6226” is surely a very different one, but common sense says that Dad would have been better off hiring a shrink.
13. Andrew Ryan, BioShock (2007)
Industrialist Andrew Ryan, a vision of Howard Hughes possessed by Ayn Rand, has to approach fatherhood in stages. All the residents of Rapture, Ryan’s stupendous city under the sea, are his figurative children. They play in a socio-economic playground under the watchful yet detached gaze of the city’s founding father. When things go to pot, Ryan’s paternal instincts kick in with a hardcore entrepreneurial twist. His surrogate children, ironically dubbed Big Daddies, become the industrial enforcers he should have had on the payroll all the time. Finally, Ryan has to face destruction before he can look his own true offspring in the eye. But even then, his final trick is one only a very specific, ruthless type of father can pull off: He gives his son exactly what the boy thinks he wants, and in doing so, he proves that the kid really is as much of a disappointment as pop always claimed. You ain’t never gonna amount to nothing, Jack.
14. Jecht, Final Fantasy X (2001)
During those brief moments when Jecht was around to raise his son Tidus, he rapidly checked off all the boxes on the Child Protective Services clipboard. He was a drunk. He was cruel and narcissistic. He even made Tidus play Blitzball, a humiliating sport that combines sci-fi water polo and brightly-colored overalls. So yeah, he was abominable to his kid, but at least he was there. It was when he abandoned his family that he became a really awful father. He also became a giant mindless whale monster bent on destroying the world, which is hardly an improvement. Nope, whale dad was just as bad as Blitzball dad, leaving Tidus no choice but to gallivant across the world and murder him.
15-18. The fathers of Miranda Lawson, Jacob Taylor, James Vega, and Wrex; Mass Effect series
When you’re recruiting hardened vigilantes for a series of suicide missions across the cosmos, you’re bound to run in to a few people who just weren’t raised right. But even that doesn’t explain the epidemic of daddy issues among the squad mates recruited by starship captain Commander Shepard in this sci-fi trilogy. Here’s a sampling: Grizzled soldier James Vega’s dad used him as a drug mule. The alien Wrex comes from a barbaric race, but he’s still surprised when his poppa Jarrod ambushes him on holy ground in the ultimate escalation of an argument over which is better, sex or war. (Wrex stabbed his father to death, chalking one up for sex.) Expert operative Miranda Lawson’s father genetically manipulated her to be perfect and then proceeded to terrorize her when she didn’t meet his impossible standard. Oh, and that starched-shirt sidekick Jacob Taylor? His old man melted a bunch of women’s brains and turned them into a sort of half-zombie harem. And that’s not even the full extent of fatherly strife in Mass Effect. It seems like Commander Shepard has a type, and that type has no idea what it’s like to throw the ball around in the backyard.