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  • Writer's pictureArthur Campos Mello

“Revenge is a fool’s game”: The Red Dead Redemption Series Analyzed (SPOILERS)

The Red Dead Redemption series consists of two games: Red Dead Redemption, which was released in 2010, and Red Dead Redemption 2, released in 2018 (RDR and RDR2, for short). These two western videogame blockbusters released by Rockstar Games (also known for its Grand Theft Auto game series) set a new level for the videogame industry with major attention to details of the sceneries and characters.

Throughout the story of both games, one main theme is clearly present as the player sees the modernization of America leading to the death of the Old West’s way of life, which is explicitly shown as the premises of the games. In the first game, the Mexican revolution, somewhat inspired by the American outlaw spirit, is depicted, and the second game, which was set earlier in the series’ timeline, shows colonial and racist ideologies entrenched into society during the start of the 20th century. The main characters for both games, John and Arthur, are part of a gang of outlaws that flees from many enemies because they are trying to maintain their outlaw way of life together and escape from the inevitable modernization happening in America. The line: “Sure, civilization may be dull, but the alternative, Mr. Marston, is hell” is said in RDR by Edgar Ross, an FBI agent that has a long history with John Marston and the Van Der Linde gang. This statement directed to John Marston can be applied to the outcomes of both games, as all the characters from the gang had suffered the consequences of “avoiding civilization” by being outlaws, demonstrating how thought out the narrative of both games were despite the 8 year gap between them.

Red Dead Redemption 2 isn’t just a game, it's an experience. Critically acclaimed for its natural and immersive open world, it also delivers a story with incredible depth with surprisingly up-to-date graphics after 5 years of its launch, considering new advancements with video game technology. Its release expanded upon the story of John Marston having to hunt down his fellow gang partners, and offered a different perspective on the fall of the Van Der Linde gang. The second game improves all gameplay aspects from the first, including random open-world encounters and giving choices to the player that impact story missions and the ending of the game.

It is up to the decision of the player, depending on their gameplay choices, to achieve redemption as a whole. The game uses an honor system that increases when you choose ethical options or to do good deeds for the ones around you, and decreases when you choose to kill and rob people; surprisingly, this system affects gameplay more than you think. The resources that you obtain from looting enemies, discounts at various stores, both story and side missions, and even the way the main character interacts with the environment change depending on your honor level. Unlike Arthur, John Marston’s honor level in RDR does not affect his personality and is mostly just a depiction of other character’s views on Marston’s actions, rather than Arthur’s honor system, which is more of a self-reflection of his actions.

RDR2, together with RDR, offers another overarching theme for the series. This theme is commonly mistaken by players, as seen after observing the endings of both games, and is about mistaking revenge for redemption.

For instance, at the end of the second game, Arthur is betrayed and killed by Micah, a problematic man and a fellow gang member. John then kills Micah at the very end of the game, to which I am sure every person who was playing the game was content with Micah’s demise. Nevertheless, after everything that John had done, he wasn’t able to redeem himself for his actions, and just went further into a path of revenge that his son Jack later trod. Further into the years, after John had been killed by Agent Ross, Jack sought revenge upon Ross and ended up murdering him in the same way John had murdered Micah years before. Arthur would always say “vengeance is a fool’s game”, and in both games we got to see the downfall of every character that pursued this path.

As we discussed gameplay and story elements from this series, it is evident that these games are worth playing. Unfortunately, games like these take a long time to be made, and they usually don’t contain any additional content released as DLC, but you will have more than 110 hours of content that will keep you immersed into multiple emotional stories about America’s dying world of outlaws.

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