Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s I was privy to what many consider to be the best time in video game history. I remember when my family, around 1985, got our first NES. I also remember going over to my grandmother’s house and playing the ATARI 2600 as a child and I remember that fateful Christmas in 1991 when my brother and I sat around the Christmas tree and to our shock Santa had only brought us three, count them three, presents. Then more shock as we opened them and they were in my mom’s trademark JC Penny’s clothes boxes. I knew my parents had a rough go of it that year and I knew I should be grateful for what I got but when I opened the boxes I’m sure I screamed like a child. The console that changed my life was there, it was the Super Nintendo. I shouldn’t say it was the console that changed my life but I should say it was what was in one of the smaller boxes, it was Zelda: A Link to the Past. That game would create a fire in me for video games, so much so that I play that game almost on a yearly basis. The Super Nintendo would also introduce me to another game, a game on which I judged every game, a game that until 2010, would be my favorite game of all time. I mean don’t get me wrong, it wouldn’t get unseated by that certain game in 2010, but it would end up in a dead tie at number one. That SNES game was, of course, Chrono Trigger. Chrono Trigger was the first game in which tied me to characters and made me feel what they were feeling. When Robo was ambushed by his robot family for being “defective” it made me mad and sad, all at the same time. You felt Frog’s pain through the story and how he felt like he was a failure, Marles pride in wanting to prove herself outside her crown and Lucca for just wanting to make the world a better place. Chrono Trigger made me feel the story and no other game would do that, until 2010.
In 2010 the world was yearning for a certain type of game. We wanted a story, we wanted a story we could tie our self to and feel what a main protagonist was feeling. For me that game was Red Dead Redemption. It wasn’t until recently when the XOne Bros were asked “What is your favorite story of all time in a video game?” that is when I realized mine was a tie between Chrono Trigger and Red Dead. Furthermore, I realized why, it has been said that Shakespeare was the greatest story teller that had ever lived. It also, should be no surprise that Red Dead is a Shakespeare like tragedy in which you have the main character, John Marston, who is stuck between a rock and a hard place. For mistakes made in his youth, his family has been put in “protective” custody by the government until John can track down his old gang and either bring them in or kill them. Simple as that, WANTED: Dead or Alive.
Throughout his story, we meet a cast of characters that make you feel for them, make you like them and downright want to see a couple of them dead. From the first moments when you meet Bill Williamson you know that your first meeting won’t turn out well and you, as the player, will hate him. No, I mean it you down right want him dead and will go through an endless plight to ensure Bill Williamson never draws another breath. Bonnie McFarlane enables John to show his softer and more intellectual side and you realize that you’re not just playing some bumbling outlaw who doesn’t know his head from a hole in the ground. It’s all of them you meet on your journey that make you feel for John and his quest. Nigel West Dickens shows you just how rough it was to make a living in the west if your only true skill was salesmanship.
I remember first arriving to Armadillo and meeting Leigh Johnson and how I felt for this simple small town Sheriff and the fact that he had more on his plate than he could handle and all he had for help where two idiot deputies that thought they were skilled enough to face John when they first met. And then there is Seth, for those who have played and know Seth, what can we say but wow. It amazed me how one simple part of Seth’s story, a side quest that holds no water in the main game, would turn out to be the entire focal point for the expansion of the game. Now if you don’t want spoilers I would stop, go back and just take it at my word that Red Dead Redemption is one of the greatest games ever made and itself is a Shakespearean tragedy. For those wanting to know more keep going.
Throughout your entire journey, you know what you must do and how you must do it, and that is Shakespeare. As you play through and you're eliminating your old gang one by one you start to actually think that this just might end up ok for you and you might just be able to retire to your lovely ranch, raise cattle and deal with that dim-witted Uncle. Even when Dutch jumps off that cliff, you get that sense of “It’s over” and hell they even let you go back to your ranch. I remember riding up to the ranch and seeing your family there and thinking “here is my happy ending”. But the game lets you play, you head over to see Bonnie and get some cattle from her that you promised you would buy, you herd them back and you feel like you have accomplished this great task and you being rewarded by a normal life. Honestly, I thought the game would end here showing you that Dutch’s final words of “Our time has passed” wasn’t true. Then came the scene, you walk out of the barn and you're surrounded by government agents. You didn’t think they were going to let you take the credit, did you? And like every player I reloaded and reloaded this part of the game thinking “I’m John F’N Marston, you can’t kill me!”, yet they do and in a flurry of bullets the guy who you have put so much effort into, a man who’s pain you shared is now dead and all you can think is “Not like this”.
Scene fades and we get an image of two tombstones and man and you realize that John’s son Jack has buried both parents and it’s time for the Redemption part of our Shakespearean tale. You see it comes back to Shakespeare, you had a vested interest in a character who had an impossible task. He completed that task and is rewarded with the hope of a normal life and it puts you at ease. Then he is gunned down in a tragedy only befitting this tale. You see the title was Red Dead Redemption but to this point it has been Red Dead Family Rescue. This story was about Jack’s redemption, not Johns. This is where Shakespeare stops and good old Western story telling kicks in. Jack Marston finds that damn government official down by the river, fishing for trout I have no doubt, and without hesitation or mercy puts one final round in his head, scene fades and Red Dead Redemption pops on the screen and credits roll.
This ends my story of a game that had the ability to grab me, as an adult, and make me forget everything going on in my life. This game made me think I was John Marston, that I was going to get my family back, made me feel like a part of me had died in that hail of bullets and then pride in a son for avenging my death. Only two games in my life have made me feel their emotions. And if anything can be gleaned from these two games, if anyone is having a hard time trying to real in a story for a game, it can always be boiled down to one man, Shakespeare.
Casey Hight lives in South Dakota with his wife, Aneliese, and four children. He currently works as FedEx as a driver and moon lights as a manager at a bowling alley. He writes the openings for the XOne Bro's Podcast and can be found on twitter at @XoneSilence42 and XBox Live at Silence42.