God of War: Ten Values Taught in a Violent Video Game

The God of War video game series depicts the main character Kratos, a Spartan warrior, as a man hellbent on revenge. He lives only for the hope to destroy the gods for their roles in his family’s demise. And yet, it was by his own hand that his family fell. Tragedy struck because of his choices and his trades (for his soul). With his brash Spartan rage, Kratos lunges into battle against Athena, Zeus, Ares, and more.

His hate-filled heart knew nothing of self-control and certainly nothing of balance, save for the balance between his two Blades of Chaos. It is those very blades, chained around his forearms, that force him into a lifelong service under the God of War, Ares. The service was in fact lifelong, and in part, only broken when Kratos fought his way out of the Underworld. After killing Ares, Kratos became the God of War. Even in godhood, it is those chains wrapped tight around his arms that give him permanent scars — a reminder of his past.

Lessons from the Past

In God of War 4, Kratos’ past still haunts him. Having killed the Greek pantheon, he absconds to ancient Norway to make a new life for himself. He wraps his arms tight in bandages to hide the permanent scars from the chains he once wore. He tries to hide his true nature from himself and his own son, Atreus. Atreus is a young boy who has been raised mostly by his mother, Faye, while Kratos has hunted for and defended them. Kratos spent very little time with Atreus until Faye passed away. It was her last request that they take her ashes to the highest mountain in all the realms.

Kratos and Atreus embark on a journey that they are certainly ill-prepared for. Along the way, Kratos must raise a son he hardly understands and teach him to be a good man. What sage advice does the most violent man in Midgard have to offer? What does Kratos even know of being a good man, with a past so drenched with innocent blood? Let’s see.

1. Don’t be sorry. Be better.

From the very beginning of the game, Kratos is testing Atreus, seeing if he is ready for the long journey ahead. Kratos tells his son to hunt and kill a deer. As they stalk their prey, Atreus chases after the deer, far too eager to prove himself. When he finds the deer, Kratos tells him to hold fire, but Atreus’ excitement gets the best of him. He looses an arrow before taking the time to prepare a proper shot, and scares off the deer. Atreus apologizes, but Kratos does not accept. He says, “Don’t be sorry. Be better.

This quote sheds light on how Kratos hopes to raise his son. Kratos clearly does not believe in past redemption. No amount of guilt or sorrow will change what has happened, and only action will change the future. Kratos has made countless mistakes in the past, slaying Gods and murdering innocents. And yet, despite knowing the errors he made, and arguably feeling he should be punished, he has been rewarded with Godhood. But there is no one to redeem him, and no one to forgive him. All that Kratos can do is be better.

It is the most important advice that he gives to Atreus.

2. Finish what you started.

When Atreus does hit the deer with his bow and arrow, he stands over the wounded creature and feels empathy for it. Kratos, however, does not have time for regret. He knows that even though empathy has its place in the world, survival must come first. And as he plans their long trip to the highest mountain in all the realms, he knows that Atreus must learn that no matter the difficulty, you must follow your path until its end.

This advice is not about killing a deer. This is a command to have conviction and dedication. Kratos explains blankly in this way that if you have a goal, it is your duty to reach it. In every game, Kratos follows through on every plan and every mission. He honors his actions and his emotions in this way. Nothing is done with regret, because he always intends to follow through.

3. That was his choice. We make ours.

Traveling between the realms and fighting in wars of an ancient civilization is all in a day’s work for Kratos, the God of War. He’s certainly disillusioned to the violence and bloodshed. He understands the complications of a war, and tells Atreus that even as they travel through this war-torn landscape, they should not pass judgements on either side. There is no way to know all that led up to this point. As they travel, a light elf dies by the hand of a dark elf. Atreus is confused at the sight and says, “He didn’t even defend himself.”

Kratos makes it very clear that the action, or in this case inaction, of others should not sway your actions. Most importantly however, Atreus concerned himself with the decisions of another person. Kratos wastes no time in telling his son that we are only responsible for our own choices. There is nothing we can do to sway another’s decisions, only stand by our own.

4. Face your fears.

Behind a large gate, a Soul Eater holds the key to a mission. Young Atreus aims to avoid this fight with a terrifying beast that stands four times his height. He reasons that they came only for the information, but Kratos sees an opportunity for growth, and a chance to be courageous. When Atreus asks why they’re going to fight when they only need information, Kratos responds simply saying, “Because you are frightened of it.”

Kratos hopes to raise his son without fear, and with the confidence of a god. He chooses to fight to show Atreus how important it is to face your fears. This also is an opportunity to Atreus to finish what he started. Kratos knows that fear should not control you. And so, we must face our fears, and address the things that make us weak. And of course, Kratos fights with Atreus. This teaches him, and teaches us, that no one has to face their fears alone. It is okay to seek help in facing your fears.

5. Keep your expectations low and you will never be disappointed.

Kratos and Atreus look through nearly every corner of every alley and hallway in every realm. Whether they’re searching for magical artifacts, or even Atreus’ Toys, there’s always some hidden secret lurking in the shadows. That doesn’t mean, however, that there’s always a magical artifact waiting! Atreus expresses his frustration after searching down a long and dark hallway to no avail, and Kratos tells him, “Keep your expectations low and you will never be disappointed.

Atreus has gained a sort of preconceived notion that all of the world will be exciting, jam packed with the next clue, the next treasure, the next quest. And based on his experience with Kratos, it’s understandable that he might believe that there is some grand pattern to the world, and that all of his efforts will succeed, and he’ll always find what he’s looking for. But Kratos knows better. The world is not so cut and dry, and not every pathway leads to a desirable end. He shows him that he should not feel entitled to his success, or deserving of “loot,” but rather grateful for all that comes from the process.

6. Do not concern yourself with what might be. Focus on what is.

Kratos and Atreus ascend in an ancient temple with an elevator-like mechanism, one step closer towards their goal. As Atreus finds his footing on the rising platform, he senses something. Something bad. He can’t tell what might come, but it leaves him feeling defensive and distraught. Kratos gives him simple advice: “Do not concern yourself with what might be. Focus on what is.

It is a waste of time to prepare for a possibility. We live in only one moment: the present. And all we can do is react to the present. We can only deal with a threat or a problem once it presents itself, and not a moment sooner. Thus, Kratos teaches Atreus to be in the moment. That’s not to say that he shouldn’t prepare for the future. Instead, he means that worrying about a probability is futile, and likely causes greater distress in your life. Act on the moment, not on a possible future.

7. Trust yourself. Your eyes. Your instincts.

In all journeys, you meet new people and hear new stories. Kratos and Atreus learned a story of a Dwarven King. The King had armor that was coveted through all the lands. Their friend, Mímir, an Asgardian and currently severed head, tells them that there were so many legends surrounding the mythic armor that’s it’s practically impossible to tell what’s true and what isn’t. Kratos tells Atreus that legends cannot be trusted, so Atreus asks, “What can you trust?

Yourself. Your eyes. Your instincts.” Kratos makes it very simple. This world is a confusing place, and everywhere you look, a new narrative tries to sway you and gain your favor. Every story you read has a purpose and an opinion, even if it’s a positive one. Kratos knows how the narrative of “the gods” has been spun to be positive, and yet it is “the gods” that cost him his family and his homeland. Now, raising the next generation, he hopes that Atreus will learn to tune out the overwhelming buzz of stories and legends. Instead, trust yourself, your eyes, and your instincts. Experience, experiment, and extrapolate.

8. We do not win because we feel ourselves superior.

Feels like it wasn’t that long ago that we were hunting deer. Now we’ve fought dark elves, trolls, ogres, and a dragon! I feel like we could beat anything now!” Atreus realizes that he is getting stronger. He is learning his potential as he learns more and more about his godhood. There is certainly unknown limits to the strength of a god. And he is proud of being a god, and thankful to be strong. Kratos sees something in Atreus that once plagued Kratos himself: arrogance.

He retorts, “We win because we are determined. Disciplined. Not because we feel ourselves superior.” Your perception of yourself does not make you the victor. In fact, feelings of superiority are entirely in vain, for that feeling of superiority will only limit your compassion and your ability to grow. Even Kratos knows that with all of his might, he stands no match in a magical duel against Freya. His knowledge of the world pales in comparison to Mímir’s. Even his brute strength can be tested against other gods and beasts. So Kratos knows that he is not at all superior. His success only comes from determination and a disciplined moral guideline.

9. The true strength of warrior lies in their self-control.

At the beginning of the game, Kratos sees anger in Atreus. He sees anger get the best of his son’s actions more than once, and is deeply concerned. He knows the long and fruitless trail pathway that anger can take you down, and he wants better for his son. He wants his son to be better than the rage-filled monster that he once was. And Kratos keeps this on his mind until he feels that Atreus has grown. Then, and only then, does Kratos give his son a dagger, forged from the powerful materials of two different lands.

On the other hand, he knows that a weapon so dangerous must be wielded mindfully. Kratos explains that the power of any weapon comes from the heart, but only when tempered by the mind. Through discipline and self-control one can find just how to strike true. In a world of dragons and magic, Kratos knows that Atreus must defend himself. But still, a warrior’s a strength comes solely from their self-control and desire to do good.

10. Who I was is not who you will be.

At the end of God of War 4, Freya stands over the dead body of her son, Baldur. Kratos killed Baldur because he was moments away from killing Freya. Kratos would not let her deranged and estranged son cause one of the few good gods harm. Freya swore revenge on Kratos, and ridiculed him for being just as evil as the gods he hates, especially for hiding the truth of his past from Atreus. With that, Kratos tells Atreus everything. He tells Atreus that he killed gods and innocents. He tells Atreus that he killed his own father, Zeus.

Atreus is baffled and hurt. “Is this what it is to be a god? Is this how it always ends?

Kratos repeats the very first lesson he ever gave his son, and combines together every lesson in one. “No. We will be the gods we choose to be. Not those who have been. Who I was is not who you will be. We must be better.” They can be better. They can make better choices, and they cannot live in fear of a future that might happen. All they can do is face their fears, trust their instincts, and learn self-control to become their best selves.

Bonus: Pain we endure. Faulty weaponry we do not.

At some point, in the middle of the game, the strap of Atreus’ quiver rips while they are fighting a dragon. Atreus shrugs it off and thinks nothing of it. He insists that he can hold it, but Kratos will hear nothing of it. He improvises a quick fix to the problem, and helps Atreus fix his quiver’s strap. “A broken quiver will slow your draw. Pain we endure. Faulty weaponry we do not.

We have an abundance of tools presented to us. It is our job to maintain our tools, whatever they may be, so that we can best succeed in our quests. We are each granted the tool of thought and unique intelligence. Our tools must be kept in their best state, constantly refining and improving. Just as Kratos works with dwarves to create the best axe upgrades, we must constantly search for upgrades to our minds.

Just as Kratos, and just as Atreus. We can be better.

Even in a video game focused around the God of War, the most violent of gods, there is something to be learned. Our stories show us how we can grow and teach us about our humanity through the lens of fantasy.

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