Open Your Heart To It — Healing and Identity in God of War
Spoilers ahead for God of War: Ragnarok
Throughout the God of War games, themes of free will, destiny. vengeance, and justice have been prime subject matter. Kratos, a Spartan son of Zeus who became a Greek God through acts of retribution, has been motivated by these core themes for many a spectacular bloody fuckfest.
We have watched him make an break pacts, kill Gods, lose loved ones, and burn the kingdom of his enemies to ash. All while burdened with grief and sadness from being forced to kill his own family.
And with the Nordic Myth Duology, God of War and God of War: Ragnarok we see healing begin in the formation of a new family, a new life, and a whole new world to explore.
2018’s God of War was a spectacular romp through the world of the Norse pantheon and their mythos. An interesting take on the myth of Baldur, unique designs for the Gods of the Aesir and Vanir made by a spectacular team of artists and technicians, and spectacular combat with new weapons and combos created an unparalleled experience for both Hardcore GoW fans, and button mashing casuals like myself.
The most interesting choice, in my opinion has been Atreus Laufeyson- this world’s unique iteration of Loki, the God of Mischief.
As Heathen mythos was an oral tradition in it’s original form and therefore had no official ‘canon’ in the way the Christian Bible does, our modern understanding of Loki comes from the Poetic and Prose Edda- tomes that depicted him as curious and cunning, but rarely outright malicious. He makes messes- but often is also the one to find ways to fix them.
And Atreus does show those traits in spades- but his origins are entirely unique and a deeply creative take that explores the identity crisis of being from two worlds- and knowing so little about either.
Atreus- who was going to be named Loki by his mother Laufey- spends a majority of the new game moving past the mourning of his mother to explore his identity as both a God and a Giant- two parts of himself he knows little about. And with such limited knowledge about his Spartan God heritage or the Giants and their legacy, Atreus is in a bit of an identity crisis and desperate to find answers about who he is meant to be.
Meanwhile, his father is struggling with the identity he has forged with his choices- the reputation as the Ghost of Sparta and his past of God-Slaughter. As a War God, Kratos is an expert in the cost of battle and has grown exhausted with leading men to their deaths for glory and country. He wants to be with his son, to live in peace.
But this means constantly struggling against his nature- which as he admits, is to do whatever it takes to protect what he loves. Even if it means giving in to the base instinct to kill whoever puts Atreus in harm’s way.
Everyone tells Kratos that he cannot change. Odin tells him he does not know what it is to be loved by Mortals as a true God is, Thor tells Kratos that they are Destroyers who cannot change their path, and even the Norns mocked the old Spartan for ‘being so predictable that he cannot defy his fate.’
These battles with Identity- Atreus’s search for who he will be, and Kratos learning to overcome who he used to be- are both healing centric journeys. Atreus healing himself from the turmoil of growing up not knowing what he was, and Kratos healing his conscience by learning to do what is right not because it is written- but because it is necessary.
The duo learns the consequences of keeping secrets, the necessity of communication and patience, and how to heal themselves and eachother by working together to overcome that which harms them. Kratos learning that he has done his job- raising a competent and intelligent young man who can care for himself- only happens because he learns to be vulnerable with his allies, and with his son. And Atreus was only able to learn that he is a maker of his own fate- by trying to defy fate in his own spectacular ways.
The lesson in this game is that you learn through living. You learn who you are, by doing and exploring. By making mistakes and getting in arguments and forgiving and growing. That fate does not bind your choices if you choose not to let it.
And if you open your heart to the world, you can find so many amazing reasons to be a part of it.