Who is the best dad in video gaming?
And I'm not talking about: "the coolest character who happens to be a father". Rather, I mean: "the character who is the best dad."
Fathers in video games don't typically turn out to be very good role models or successful parental figures. Often, they end up being surprise villains, or they turn out to have been neglectful or abusive (physically or emotionally). A lot of times, parents in video games turn into cannon fodder, dying early in the game in order to push the protagonist into his or her heroic role.
Very rarely do you have a father character in a video game who sticks around and actually gives his children any amount of love or support. That's why I think Harry Mason is such a special character in video games, and quite possibly the best video game dad of all time. So this Father's Day, I'd like to take a moment to pay tribute to this wonderfully-designed gold-standard of video game parenting.
Harry Mason goes through hell and puts his life on the line to protect his seven-year-old adopted daughter in quite possibly the most fatherly display of love and dedication that you will find in a video game.
I recently had conversations with an old friend of mine from high school (screenname Huh?Mr.Box!) who had recently played the Silent Hill games for the first time. I expected to hear that his favorite game was Silent Hill 2, and that his favorite character would be James or Pyramid Head. I mean, that's what every Silent Hill fanboy says, right? Personally, I'm fond of Heather from Silent Hill 3. I'll admit, I had a huge crush on her when I played the game for the first time (and before you start calling me a perv, I was 17 when that game released!) because it was so unusual to see such a well-developed female character in a game.
I was surprised, however, when my friend's favorite character ended up not being James, or Pyramid Head, or even Heather, but rather Heather's father: Harry.
I guess with all the crazy characters that the Silent Hill series is known for, Harry kind of gets lost in the shuffle as being too "normal". But when asked why he liked Harry so much, my friend eloquently responded: "because he's such an awesome dad!"
And you know what, Harry is an awesome dad! That simple argument started to even shift my long-held opinions about the characters in the series.
Here's what Huh?Mr.Box! had to say about Harry:
"I really like how Harry was just an average writer and not a typical superhero or police officer armed to the teeth. Not everyone, much less your average Joe could stop the resurrection of a demon god (or perservere through all the nasty things encountered along the way) like Harry did. Silent Hill 3 also confirmed that he was a great man and father willing to love and protect his daughter at any cost, for which he paid the ultimate price. Although James Sunderland is a well-written character from a great game, Harry's sheer determination as a protagonist is just one of the reasons I feel that Silent Hill 1 is the best in the series."
Harry and his wife find baby Cheryl on the side of the road one day and eventually adopt her.
So why is Harry such a great character and great dad?
Put simply, the guy puts himself through hell (almost literally) and takes on a "god" in an attempt to find and protect his daughter after she goes missing following a car accident outside of the titular town. No amount of demons, hellish Otherworlds, crazy cultists, asinine puzzles, or black magic will make him turn his back on his beloved Cheryl. I guess being a single dad will create a strong bond like that, but here's the real kicker: Cheryl isn't even his biological daughter! She's adopted. Harry and his late wife found her on the side of the road.
Cheryl sleeps in the jeep with her coloring book in hand.
We don't really get much information about Cheryl or her upbringing in the original Silent Hill game, but every indication that we do have shows that Harry was a loving and supportive father, and that Cheryl was a well-adjusted, kind-hearted young girl who really loved fairy tales and drawing bug-eyed pictures of her dad.
Harry is the kind of dad who will drop everything he's doing to take his daughter on a road trip. Unbeknownst to him, the reason she wants to go on a road trip is because of a black magic spell cast by people who want to summon her back to the town so they can sacrifice her to their god, but Harry can't be faulted for being responsible for putting her in harm's way to begin with. Nor can he be faulted for getting in the accident that stranded them both in Silent Hill. Unlike the Shattered Memories version of the character, whose wreckless driving results in the crash, the original Harry Mason was tricked into crashing the car by the sudden appearance of a ghostly girl in the middle of the road.
And if the first game wasn't enough to convince you of Harry's dedication to his daughter, consider that at the end of the first game, after Cheryl's soul is recombined into Alessa and the god is birthed and defeated by Harry, Alessa gifts him with a reincarnation of Alessa/Cheryl. Despite being confused, angry, and upset at the loss of his seven-year-old daughter, Harry eventually decides to raise Heather as his own daughter. The bond between the two is strong, and Harry once again has to fight to protect Heather. After failing to rebirth its god, the cult continues to track Harry and Heather through their life in Portland, determined to offer her as a sacrifice. After evading the cult, he and Heather settle down in another town (unnamed within the game), and Harry raises Heather to be a normal and pretty responsible teenager, awkward sense of style and short temper notwithstanding. She's not perfect, and seems to have some self-esteem issues and neurosis; but those are pretty common traits for teenagers.
Heather doesn't let anybody bad mouth her dear ol' dad!
Most importantly though, Heather adores her father. This is apparent over the course of the entire game. Saying something that could possibly be construed as an insult of Harry will incur Heather's wrath, as Vincent finds out when he meets Heather in his office. Heather seems to have been instilled with a great deal of empathy and a sense of personal responsibility. She even expresses guilt at having to have killed the monsters she encounters, and she even questions whether or not Harry would approve of her desire for vengeance. Over the course of the game, she describes Harry as having been extremely active in her life, and doesn't express any sense of inadequacies in his parenting, despite having to raise her all on his own. In fact, Heather doesn't seem to be at all interested in her mother, as Harry seems to have been more than enough of a parent to her.
"He loved me just like I was his very own daughter... Even though he didn't know who or what I was. It was so sudden... I never had a chance... to tell you... to tell you how happy you made me."
- Heather Mason, Silent Hill 3
No "fatherly love" from Christophe Gans and the movie
I really dislike that Silent Hill movie director Christophe Gans decided to change Harry Mason's character into a woman for the movie. This was because he likes to have more female characters in his movies, and also because he apparently thought Harry acted too much like a woman during the game (according to the Silent Hill wiki). This was a very unfortunate and unforgiveable move. Silent Hill has always been a series that breaks the mold of video game conventions, and Harry's character is an example of this. The whole point of the character was to depict a devoted father who is just an ordinary guy. In this way, he breaks the stereotypical video game protagonist archetype. He's an emotional and sensitive person, rather than the gruff macho-men that you expect video game heroes to be.
Replacing Harry with a female character in the movie gives off the impression that men can't be as invested or serious about parenthood as women can be. But the whole point of Harry's character in the game is to show just the opposite! Fathers can be every bit as dedicated to their children as mothers are. Even adopted fathers. Furthermore, the fact that he is a single father even further drives the point home. Single fathers in movies and video games are almost always depicted as having auxiliary roles in their children's development. They're usually out-of-touch, weekend-dads who get little-to-no love or respect from their children until dire circumstances force the father to defend his child. But Harry breaks this mold. He's a good father and primary caretaker right from the start. Sure, the game depicts some "dire circumstances", but these circumstances aren't the catalyst for building a strong bond between father and daughter. That bond is already there.