OPIRG - Dis-O Week 2021
New Canadians Centre
Sparq Retail
Promotional content for Red Dead Redemption 2

A Love Letter to Red Dead Redemption 2

Written by
Cheyenne Wood
and
and
July 15, 2021
A Love Letter to Red Dead Redemption 2
Promotional content for Red Dead Redemption 2

The pandemic has certainly been something else. Between the off and on lockdowns and ever-changing rules and regulations, as well as the looming fear of actually getting COVID, some level of distraction was needed. Being an avid gamer since well before the pandemic, video games became that much needed comfort when days seemed to blur together.

The holidays were especially harsh. As someone who does not partake in celebrating Christmas anymore, there was still a sad feeling that overwhelmed my heart during those cold winter months. Winter is a season of change and mourning, and what will lead to new beginnings. It was particularly hard going through that without loved ones around, so video games became a heavy crutch for me. Yet somehow the games I played on the regular: Overwatch, Skyrim, Dead by Daylight, Fallout 4… they just weren’t enough of a distraction anymore. These were games I had played for hours on end both with friends and on my own, and I needed something new. It was the holiday sale and I was overjoyed to see that the prequel to an old favourite of mine had gone on sale, so there was next to no hesitation. After several hours of overnight downloading, Red Dead Redemption 2 (RDR2) was ready to play, and ultimately became the game that got me through the pandemic. 

Now, mind you as a Mi’kmaq person, some folks found it surprising that I was playing such a game. After all, the overtly racist concept of “cowboys versus indians” was an awful stereotype in which the “good guy” cowboys killed the “savage indians” (Savage and Indians both being very dated and racist terms for Indigenous folks, so please do not use these terms). However, as a city native who grew up with video games, the first Red Dead Redemption was a classic and an all-time favourite of mine, before I even came close to starting to reconnect with my heritage. Plus, upon reflection, I think I was interested in how the game would represent Indigenous Nations.  

The Red Dead Redemption storyline takes place during the colonization of the wild west. There are less and less notable gangs of cowboys around these days, with the lifestyle being less achievable, and with the Pinkerton Detective Agency being part of the blame. The Pinkertons were a private security agency that was founded in the 1850s and was one of the real world aspects that influenced the 1899 setting of RDR2. 

Playing as the titular character, Arthur Morgan, a middle aged man in the infamous Van Der Linde gang, the game doesn’t shy away from the aspects of found family. Raised by the gang leader Dutch Van Der Linde, Arthur Morgan finds family in the rag tag team of misfit cowboys. This would include favourite characters such as Charles Smith, an Indigenous man who joins the gang and acts as a voice of reason to Arthur in relation to key karma related moments in the game. Sadie Adler, a woman who you save from the clutches of a rival gang, joins up and takes to the gunslinger lifestyle, acts as another voice of reason to you as the player, when things eventually turn south. Ultimately the Van Der Linde gang is made up of 24 iconic, diverse characters, all with their own deep backstories and interconnected lives that make the game that much more lovable. 

RDR2 doesn’t shy away from historical accuracy either. Being a nomadic gang on the run from the Pinkertons, the gang eventually ends up in an area akin to Louisiana. Around 30 years after the Civil War, there are many aspects revolving this era that the developers included. With multiple characters in the gang being people of colour, they didn’t shy away from racism accurate to the time. How well they delivered the immediate karma that came with it.

 Eventually you are tasked with siding with a local nation of Indigenous people, who you learn are being starved off their land by the local army to get the oil that’s under it. This results in the Van der Linde gang helping them blow up a nearby oil field, steal back their horses and flee northward to Alberta. RDR2 pays close attention to historical details in this way, given this was indeed a tactic employed by both Canadian and American governments when it came to accessing oil. Further, older characters in the game make commentary about the discrimination against Natives, recognizing how they were segregated to small, next to worthless pieces of land by the American government as settlers moved westward, a commentary made within the first hour of gameplay. A favourite scene of mine included one in which you accompany Charles to investigate random, discarded carcasses of buffalo, only to discover white farmers were being paid by the American government to shoot any buffalo they saw – something that also occurred, in which Canadian and American governments both sought to eradicate the buffalo population in attempts to starve Indigenous nations who relied on the buffalo has a main food source.  

Besides the historical accuracy, there were plenty of cheesy western tropes that did make it into the game. Between the first gang heist being a train robbery, the abundance of quickdraw shootouts, as well as the use of lassos by a character who certainly has no experience on a ranch. 

Avoiding storyline spoilers, as I hope this article will inspire others to play the game, all I will say about the ending of the game is it is so incredible. A beautiful well-woven story that had me invested from start to finish. It took me about 2 months to finish the “good” side of the game- being a game full of karma influencing decisions, there are two routes that it’s recommended you focus on; the good end, or the bad end. From my knowledge there isn’t any benefit to playing the middle of the scale, so you either have to fully dedicate yourself to making Arthur Morgan a Robin Hood of sorts, or a money-obsessed man willing to do anything for his own selfish goals. I have no idea what the evil route would entail, as it certainly changes how the game goes on and how it ends. Still, the good ending was a tearjerker that had me sad it was over, but so very happy I got to experience it during some of the hardest months of my life. 

All in all? It goes without saying that Red Dead Redemption 2 was a masterful game that helped me get through the pandemic. From the position of a minority, they touched on issues that were very often ignored by other games and pieces of media that cover the cowboy era. Most don’t dare to touch these ugly stereotypes with a ten-foot pole. I won’t hesitate to say that RDR2 is the thing that got me smiling on days that emotionally felt like I was living Bo Burnham’s Inside. From the themes of found family, redemption, love, vigilantism and accurately representing people of colour as cowboys, this game is far up on my personal top ten list of best video games I’ve ever played. 

On a lighter note? If you ever play this, I recommend you play with a friend. Whether you both play it separately and chat about your choices or sit on the couch with a bag of popcorn and share witty commentary and help each other make choices, I guarantee the storyline will draw you in like a good book or a captivating movie. 

All my love and then some, to Red Dead Redemption 2. I gave you all I had. 


OPIRG - Dis-O Week 2021
New Canadians Centre
Sparq Retail
Written By
Sponsored
OPIRG - Dis-O Week 2021
New Canadians Centre
Sparq Retail

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