Heavy Rain's Daddy Issues
On finishing Heavy Rain, basking in the heady afterglow of its breathless conclusion, my first desire was to speak at length of its twisting and sometimes obtuse narrative. With the identity and motivations of the Origami Killer revealed, the natural desire is to seek out those with equal knowledge and dissect the story that lies before you, but the more I have done that, the less satisfied I have become not only with the dissection but the patient I have put under the knife.
In the end, there is really only one narrow focus of Heavy Rain, which almost two weeks later continues to tickle my mind, and it is on that point that I wish to make my thoughts known.
WARNING: If you have not played or completed Heavy Rain and you intend to, then it is best to imagine that I am waving you off with large red flags. I am going to churn through the innards of the story with no regard for spoilers. This article is a look at the psychological motivations that drove me to make the decisions I did in the context of the game and as a father, which as it turns is a pretty important deal.
I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that daddy issues are front and center in Heavy Rain. From the moment Ethan rises and stalks lazily about his house for the better part of an hour, the quality of fatherhood is a primary theme, particularly for the central character who embarks on a horrific journey to rescue his kidnapped son.
I am not here to debate, and certainly not defend, the actual narrative. Tragically the quality of the story is ever more lacking the more it is scrutinized. If you wish to indulge in the nitpickery, allow me to direct your attention to the almost cruelly unforgiving: http://www.gamecritics.com/daniel-we...
Whatever may or may not be said for the story, however, if you abandon yourself to the logic of the world with a critical eye suffering from acute near-sightedness, then you are rewarded with a very tense game that is driving at core fears and basic human emotion. Yes, I puzzled as much as anyone at the revelation that Scott is the killer, but as a modern and murderous parental Diogenes, his motivation worked for me because I connected to it as a father. That's not to say I sympathized or understood his mania -- just that I bought it.
Playing as Madison, Scott or Jaden I was very much playing from a video game mentality where my actions were driven specifically to get the best results from the game possible. I didn’t act based on some set of driving instinctual imperative, but by trying to logically deduce which options would best preserve the gaming result that I wanted. This is how I play most games.
As Ethan, a father who has lost one son in a tragic accident and now is facing the fact that his other son is abducted, slowly drowning and in pain, I acted in a natural sense as a father who would give up everything to succeed. I acted irrationally, unmercifully and without necessarily questioning every decision in the way I might have otherwise. I felt, in a sometimes very disturbing sense, like a person making choices rapidly, with too little information from deep wells of the amygdala, because my pretend son was in horrible danger.
Shoot that guy? You got it. Cut off a finger? I’ll cut off a second if you like. Crawl through this broken glass? Dude, thanks for letting me keep this shirt on.
With most of the characters in Heavy Rain, I bought into the illusion of choice that this largely linear game offers. As Ethan I had no choice. Given any choice, real or artificial, I acted in a thought process that was very in character. Regardless of all other factor will doing X move me closer to Shaun? If yes then do; if no then do something that will.
I find it curious how willing and able I am to look past Heavy Rain’s missteps, and I think it is probably because a game has never engaged me as a father before, and no role is as core to my identity as that one. And, I am sure it is for this reason that no character has quite resonated with me the way that Ethan did. Even at the very end where my clumsy meat-hands sent Jaden to a gory doom, I shrugged his violent death off as an acceptable casualty.
But, I do not know how anyone whose Ethan was incarcerated and essentially taken from the gamespace managed to muster any enthusiasm to keep going. There were two things that Heavy Rain absolutely had to provide me with — two points on which I was completely uncompromising — and those were:
1) Shaun had to be saved
2) Ethan had to be the one who saved him
If Ethan turned out to be the killer then I would have removed the Blu-Ray from the drive and urinated on it immediately. Had Shaun simply died after everything that happened, I would possibly have spent the next week inventively creating whole new vulgarities to e-mail to the offices of Quantic Dreams. While I was slow to warm to the game, once I had connected with Ethan’s plight, I was all-in and there was no room for flexibility.
I long to spend less time in the coming weeks talking about or thinking about Heavy Rain, because the more I do the more it seems I discover some element reveals the fraud it perpetrated on a narrative level. For now, I am glad to have played and glad to have finished, and I’d like to remain in the headspace, because it’s been a very long time since I’ve taken the role of a protagonist who in many ways could have been me.