Red Dead Ideology

By Morgan Shaunette

An example of a work that reflects specific idealogies from the popular culture is the story and technology behind a video game, specifically Rockstar Games’s Red Dead Redemption. A spiritual sequel to the company’s 2004 release Red Dead Revolver, Redemption’s storyline is set in a fiction part of Southern Texas in the year 1911. The plot follows John Marston, a reformed outlaw who is conscripted by the young United States Government into hunting down his former partners scattered across New Austin and bringing them to justice. From there, the player chooses how Marston goes about his task and whether his retirement from crime sticks or not.

The game reflects several ideas that have become the norm in modern ideology, despite it taking place a century ago. The first is the idea of the government or the people working for it being corrupt. Two characters in the game represent the government; the first is Edgar Ross. An agent of the ‘Bureau of Investigation’, Ross is cold, manipulative, and openly condescending towards Marston. His means are harsh (holding Marston’s family hostage to ensure his compliance) and it’s assumed that he is more interested in what Marston’s work could mean for him and his career rather than delivering justice. Ross’s partner is this endeavor is Archer Fordham. While Fordham is clearly more concerned with capturing the outlaws and keeping Marston in line, he nonetheless stands silently while his superior laughs in their conscripted man’s face and merely goes along silently with Ross’s kidnapping. Both Ross and Fordham could be seen as represent the corrupt men in government being in control while the good men can only stand by and let them be corrupt.

Another aspect of the popular lexicon that is prevalent in the Red Dead is the presentation of the Western hero as a masculine ideal. John Marston is always seen as strong and in control, sticking close to his personal code of ethics but not unwilling to shed blood in defense, vengeance, or justice. His struggles of trying to save his family and earn redemption are both goals that have become part of the archetypal hero.

In addition, the leader of Marston’s old gang, Dutch Van Der Linde, is presented as a villainous counterpart to the Western masculine ideal. Marston’s distrust of the government is seen in Van Der Linde, but amplified; so fanatical is his hatred of the expansion of civilization that he’s willing to kill and die if it means he no longer has the shady, nefarious government intervening in his business. During the third act of the game, Marston hunts Van Der Linde to the edge of a cliff above his camp. Van Der Linde realizes that his time is done; civilization has wiped out his place in the world and his identity (a theme common in other Western stories). Van Der Linde makes a brief speech about how he pities Marston’s fate before throwing himself from the cliff to his death. Van Der Linde’s sacrifice for his principles is indicative of the idealization of the masculine cowboy fantasy.

The gameplay itself is indicative of the idealistic trends of popular culture with regards to video games. The studio behind Red Dead, Rockstar Games, became extremely well known and very profitable from their earlier franchise, Grand Theft Auto. The GTA series made its great success through open-world gameplay (giving players ample choices of what kind of gaming experience they wanted), expansive and detailed environments, and well-written and developed characters and storylines. Since the success of the franchise, many other games have made concerted efforts to take elements from GTA, most notably the open-world, ‘sandbox’ style gameplay. Red Dead has often been praised for its open-world as being well-realized and full of diverse experiences for the player to have. The popularity of sandbox games is indicative of the ideologies of today’s gamers; namely, that what makes for the best entertainment is freedom. The ability to choose how one goes about playing the games allows for a more immersive and relatable experience for the player, and has allowed that style of game design to become not only popular, but profitable.

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