If you haven’t played Red Dead 2 and you don’t plan on it you should at least learn about the ending and why it’s so good.
About the game: RDR2 feels like the most expensive game I’ve ever played and it likely is. With the most ridiculous amount of 10/10’s the industry has ever given it combines graphics, an immersive open world and wonderful gameplay. This article is about the main story line characters which feel intensely complete.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is about a bad man named Arthur Morgan. Arthur isn’t exactly the cut and dry bad guy that we talk about in stories, in fact largely, he represents the qualities we find in the good “wild west characters” he in many ways in a father figure, he’s loyal and he protects the gang. He champions the gang any chance he gets by reminding newer or less disciplined members to give anything they steal back to the gang which is composed of men, women and children.
He also kills people. He steals, robs, lies and cheats and he’s done it for a lot of years in the service of the gang who sees themselves as entrepreneurs living off the land and the idiots of the world the same as any other capitalist system.
Led by Dutch, the gang starts to take more and more risks at a time when the lawlessness of the American Frontier became fairly lawful and the story of a happy gang on the run turns into a desperate one.
One of the ways the gang earns money is by loan sharking and our main character as the enforcer contracts TB (a death sentence of a disease at the time) from beating a sick man for his loan back. Arthur starts to realize that he’s dying around the same time that his gang starts to feel the toll of the risks; one of his best friends and another father figure die as a direct result of a risky bank job.
As Arthur gets sicker, he starts to look out for other gang members and recognizes that some,especially a young couple and their child, must eventually leave the situation if they are to survive another year. Our big and tough thug meets a nun and has a beautiful moment (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hAdZPnxINQw) where he tells her he’s scared of death. She admits to him that often she also lacks faith in God because she has seen horrors in her days as well. Seeing horrible things is a key part of this story, meaningless suffering and greed are constant themes in RDR. I think this is where the story turns important for our purposes because it’s not an argument that being a good person will result in repayment in the afterlife but it’s a perspective of an outlaw to society who still finds reason to believe in love.
The philosophy here of things matter if you make them matter has been wrung throughout history by those who reject the ideals of religion or meaning and embrace American Pragmatism. Rockstar games (RDR and the Grand theft Auto series) are parodies of reality. They make the case for rejecting the rules of society or governments in exchange for, at least in GTA money. But here for the first time Rockstar seems to come to a conclusion that reaches for meaning.
Arthur dies helping John escape, at least in the canon ending and for once a death in a Rockstar game means something. Arthur’s bad deeds are redeemed in the last few weeks of his life as he devotes himself to helping others. Not out of religion, not because of what is legal but because of what is right. We stand at a moment in human history where the government or masses may not always agree with us, religion is becoming less relevant and we need to find other motivations to spur good deeds.
Video games are a unique way to tell the story because it puts you in that character’s shoes. There’s no medium that creates this much empathy as well as one that can give you as much context with hundreds of hours going into explaining these complicated relationships. You thought you shook when a 2 hour movie kills the supporting character? Try watching your foster father die after spending 50 hours with him.
Arthur’s death is beautiful, meaningful and sad because he becomes a good person, in fact if you have poor “honor” ( a ranking mechanic in the game that is affected if you kill/rob civilians) you get a far less beautiful death. By the same merit we rejoice when Micah, the low down cheating lying snot that got everyone killed is hunted down and shot.
But what would a Rockstar game be without pessimism? In the epilogue, John does an act of vengeance and as a result sets in motion another tragic tale. So maybe despite those good acts we are doomed to repeat our history.
Ignoring the epilogue, I believe that Rockstar is saying something about how we should live our lives (there are even 2 more horrible non-cannon endings if you decide not to help John); if you live a good life and serve others it will mean something and be a more beautiful story. You won’t be rich, you won’t be perfect and the end will no doubt be mostly bitter anyways. Society as a whole finally identifies more with the bandit than with the heroic lawman. But context is a wild west and quite frankly, exploring this new frontier will be key in telling the stories of tomorrow.