The Evil Switcharoo

So I “finished” Red Dead Redemption this afternoon. In the tradition of these games, of course, you don’t really finish them, you just wind up the major narrative and then can continue to play/live in the world as you wish after that. A nice feature – though subject to the problem of why you should “go on living” when there’s no more narrative to unfold. Something I’ve probably written about before, or ought to in the future.

Anyway, I guess it’s spoilers from here.

So part of the end of the game is that your avatar, John Marston, is killed by the long (rather crooked) arm of the law. After his death, you find yourself in control of his son, Jack, instead – briefly as a boy riding back to see his dead father, and from then on as an adult who clearly “grew up like his daddy.” There’s a bunch of stuff I could say about this, including that Jack’s voice is extremely annoying and that I resent playing an avatar who was a little shit as a kid, but there you go.

The main thing this speaks of to me is that it’s a rather clever way the designers have allowed players to reconsider their playing of the game. It’s especially the case, I think, that the transfer of control to Jack gives players “narrative permission” to play in a more evil way than John did. After all, he has cause to be pretty anti-law and order, and he doesn’t have his family being held hostage and so on as a way of keeping him on a leash – nor does he have the same level of narrative context for his actions.

As such, I found myself experimenting more with the evil side of the game. That amounted to shooting a bunch of people in the head for no reason. The game responded as expected – a bounty on my head and a loss of “honor points”. It played out at its best, though, in a final quest to get revenge for my father’s death. In the process of this you meet his killer’s wife, his brother, and the killer himself. In keeping with my interpretation of Jack, I maimed and then killed them all. I did feel a little disturbed by the process, but it was also exciting – more so killing his wife and brother than the guy himself, since the game didn’t necessary telegraph it as an option in the same way.

In the end, the game acknowledges this clean slate option you get in controlling Jack through one of the numerous “achievements” in the game, this one called “Nature or Nurture?”

5 July 2010
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