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.

Comments

Nice piece.

The need to rescue Shaun was the thing that drove me through the game as well, even when the poor controls and bad voice acting threatened to derail the game at every turn.

But it was the strength of that need that also made the game less than satisfactory for me. I was furious at the end when I had, in fact, saved Shaun and was forced to watch Ethan slowly — casually — walk out, carrying him to safety. Here was my kid who'd been stuck in a grate for days without food, in the cold rain. I had to restart his damned heart for chrissakes. I would be sprinting with him in my arms screaming for an ambulance, running to the hospital if I had to.

One of the next steps in games such as these has to be the employ of better writers (and actors), and more attention to the narrative and dialogue.

But, still, I'm really glad I played it and was happy to buy it to support this type of game.

Elysium talking about being a father in a GWJ.com front article = immediate win.

As always, great read!

I've seen many reviews and those who disclose being a father will relate to your tale. The closest I could do was place myself as the concerned uncle that tries to save his nephew, knowing fully well that the transition would not work in the least.

I tried to stay spoiler free until I beat the game, but the few comments that I could not stay away from, were from authors that started with "I'm a father and when I played Heavy Rain...". It came to the point where I considered putting the game away for 4 or 5 years until I had a child of my own and really connect with this story. Yes, I know how ridiculous this last sentence reads.

How you related to the remaining three characters was how I felt with all 4; it seems to me that all the actions for the "good ending" are pointed with a neon sign: complete the QTEs successfully, don't chicken out on any of the trials, survive the apartment fire, kiss the girl! And so on.

I look forward to the next game that allows players to identify themselves with the protagonists as much as Gamers with Kids have with Heavy Rain.

Hobbes2099 wrote:
I look forward to the next game that allows players to identify themselves with the protagonists as much as Gamers with Kids have with Heavy Rain.

Yes, I know I just quoted myself, carry on.

I found this before playing the game and only until I actually played Heavy Rain did I find it entertaining. Not only would Se7en be a brilliant game to play in the Heavy Rain format, but both Brad Pitt's and Morgan Freeman's characters would've been so much easier to relate to (at least for me);

Newly wed, stranger in a new city, starting a new job and trying to prove yourself to your new peers, short tempered, etc.

lostlobster wrote:
One of the next steps in games such as these has to be the employ of better writers (and actors), and more attention to the narrative and dialogue.

But, still, I'm really glad I played it and was happy to buy it to support this type of game.

Yes to both.

I predicted that Heavy Rain would receive great critical acclaim but would sell poorly. It seems that it hasn't sold as bad as I feared. Which gives me hopes for a sequel or other studios to try to give this format a chance.

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.

I think that the fact that the game brought out such an emotional response in you is pretty much the biggest complement you could ever give it. When was the last time ANY game made you feel that way? This exact reaction is what makes Heavy Rain so special.

Tragically the quality of the story is ever more lacking the more it is scrutinized.

While it's certainly not the greatest story if you compare it to literature or film, I'd certainly argue that it's among the better stories I've seen in a video game. I feel like we forgive a well executed but cliched story such as that of Mass Effect but are quick to criticize Heavy Rain for striving for something more and not quite succeeding. That saddens me.

How you related to the remaining three characters was how I felt with all 4; it seems to me that all the actions for the "good ending" are pointed with a neon sign.

Given the amount of backlash Mass Effect 2 generated when the method of keeping all of your crew alive at the end was NOT painted with a neon sign, I'm not exactly sure how else they would have done it. Can't please everyone, I guess.

Dysplastic wrote:
I feel like we forgive a well executed but cliched story such as that of Mass Effect but are quick to criticize Heavy Rain for striving for something more and not quite succeeding. That saddens me.

I think it's because we put Heavy Rain on a higher standard and came to expect so much more of it. It makes me happy to see people that paid for this game to enjoy it and demand more from future releases. It's definitely better than using it as an excuse for not buying it.

I finished my playthrough and didn't manage to save Shaun, and the ending was pretty hellishly dismal for all the characters. I think 3 died in all. Man. I know I could have gone back and fixed things, but I became totally fascinated that a video game of all things would allow such a brutal and hopeless ending happen to the player. It was kind of like the car wreck you just can't tear your eyes away from.

That said, I do feel semi-serious about going back in for a patch job. Jayden needs to kick the wrecking yard guy's ass, and Ethan has to get past the cops to get things going down the path I want again. Also, of course, I have to save Shaun, poor kid.

How you related to the remaining three characters was how I felt with all 4; it seems to me that all the actions for the "good ending" are pointed with a neon sign: complete the QTEs successfully, don't chicken out on any of the trials, survive the apartment fire, kiss the girl! And so on.
I actually was confused quite a bit by this one, as at one point you have to kill someone in cold blood in order to pass the trial.

Yeah, yeah I know I'm not a father so I couldn't possibly know what it's like .... yada, yada, yada. Okay, but I had a serious moral dilemma here because I didn't see Ethan as a killer. Here Ethan was, trying to get his kid back, and I thought "He's willing to hurt himself in anyway to do this, or hurt others in any way, but is he willing to take away someone else's father to stay one?" And in retrospect, he probably would have, but in the heat of the moment I put the gun away. And I was also able to get the best possible ending for Ethan and Shaun with still doing this. In fact it seems to have very little impact on the ending at all, as long as you do the other trials.

Which I think is interesting, that Ethan was basically asked to be a cold-blooded murderer and it was for no reason at all in the end.

I also was really pissed that my Jayden ending was so crappy simply because I didn't think to get clues. I couldn't just realize I messed up the scene and replay it, I didn't realize I messed up till the very end. Bit of a bummer. But hey that's what YouTube is for. But nowhere near the emotional impact of Ethan's story.

I would love to see statistics on the various choices from Quantic Dreams, if they capture that kind of data. It'd also be interesting to see how many times the shower scene gets replayed

Okay, but I had a serious moral dilemma here because I didn't see Ethan as a killer.

I'll just say that I had no moral dilemma at all. I couldn't push the button fast enough.

Elysium wrote:
Okay, but I had a serious moral dilemma here because I didn't see Ethan as a killer.

I'll just say that I had no moral dilemma at all. I couldn't push the button fast enough.

My wife and I were playing together and when we found out we had dto kill someone we looked at each other and said "I don't want to kill anyone. Do you?" As the moment came and we felt like we were being pushed into killing him with him being a drug dealer, etc. I/we still couldn't do it. The scene was one of the high points of the game for me, actually, as the decision had to be made so quickly and felt very significant and we didn't want to take one life to save another.

And, actually, having lived through that choice made the later scene where Scott is running and gunning through a mansion filled with dispensible henchmen a huge disappointment. The use of a gun had been important and somewhat scary before, and then it was treated in the usual videogame FPS-way and I got completely pulled out of the game. (See comment above about needing better writers.)

This was a very interesting piece. I agree with you on many points. The point that resonates is your connection to Ethan as a Father.

Despite its numerous flaws, I played through Heavy Rain and found it more engaging then any game I have played this year (including Uncharted 2 and Mass Effect 2). The point is that the mechanics, roles, and presentation were so refreshing that the plot holes didn’t matter as much to me. I was so surprised and enthralled by being able to play a game with characters that weren’t clichéd oversized space marines or gravity defying women, and who were concerned with issues that were easier to relate to rather than save a galaxy far far away. This is one of the few and possibly only games that can make tense moments out of what would seem mundane or regular events such as looking for your son in a crowded mall.

That being said, this game has problems and a lot of them. Despite these problems, I find myself looking at this game fondly and playing it multiple times, something I rarely do. I whole-heartedly recommend this title to anyone looking for a new experience or something to hit a little closer to home.

It isn’t just camera angles, cinematics, professional voice acting, etc. that will provide a more mainstream gaming experience. As demonstrated by casual games such as Cooking Mama, Diner Dash, or even Trauma Center and Phoenix Wright with all their Japanese quirkiness, it is relatable characters and motivations. Television and movies have gone through similar transitions over the past 10-20 years, it is good to see gaming growing up and appealing to a larger demographic. I can’t help but feel excited for the next steps in this direction not to be more cinematic but to make further strides in making compelling and relatable characters.

lostlobster wrote:
My wife and I were playing together and when we found out we had dto kill someone we looked at each other and said "I don't want to kill anyone. Do you?" As the moment came and we felt like we were being pushed into killing him with him being a drug dealer, etc. I/we still couldn't do it. The scene was one of the high points of the game for me, actually, as the decision had to be made so quickly and felt very significant and we didn't want to take one life to save another.

And, actually, having lived through that choice made the later scene where Scott is running and gunning through a mansion filled with dispensible henchmen a huge disappointment. The use of a gun had been important and somewhat scary before, and then it was treated in the usual videogame FPS-way and I got completely pulled out of the game. (See comment above about needing better writers.)

This is something I think Heavy Rain did very well with the exception of that sequence you mention. Every time you're asked to pull the trigger you're never given a clearcut situation, and you're given time to think. Even with the crazy religious guy pulling a "gun" on Blake. Actually, I thought Blake was big enough of an asshole that I kinda wanted to see him get shot. Again, they played on your expectations of what happens in thriller movies (and to a lesser extent games).

Elysium wrote:
Okay, but I had a serious moral dilemma here because I didn't see Ethan as a killer.

I'll just say that I had no moral dilemma at all. I couldn't push the button fast enough.

I think I can feel where you're coming from, and yet when the time came, I put the gun away the first time; it's what Hobbes, father of Zero would do should I be put into that situation in real life. To restate the obvious, when I have children I'll be able to look back and scorn my current indecisiveness.

As I said before, since the "correct" sequence is plainly traced, I replayed the chapter and then went for the kill looking for the "expected" result. The game, even though it preaches decisions vs consequences, is very vocal about what they expect the player to do.

Nevertheless, the actual shooting scene is by far my favorite of all the game, the reaction was so unexpected and yet felt so real. With all the bad acting and meager writing, my jaw dropped during that second run through.