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Pop Culture Parenthood: Red Dead Redemption

Pop Culture Parenthood: Red Dead Redemption

Because I’m a middle-aged man, I love Westerns and what they represent: the vast, unexplored frontier, the promise of fortune and adventure, and the lack of rules governing how to achieve said fortune and adventure. This dove-tails nicely with Rockstar Games’ Red Dead Redemption, an open-world sandbox game set in the American Frontier in the year 1911.

Red Dead Redemption’s Concept

Red Dead Redemption tells the tale of John Marston, a former outlaw who is being extorted by the Bureau of Investigation, headed by Edgar Ross, to hunt down and kill his former gang, the Van Der Linde Gang. Ross has abducted Marston’s wife Abigail (a former prostitute who was also in the gang) and his sixteen-year-old son Jack. John is an excellent horseman and gunfighter, aided by his never-explained ability to go into “bullet-time” in battles; time slows and the player can carefully select his targets before re-entering real-time and seeing John blow-away a half dozen bad guys in a split second (perhaps John is a mutant?) Through the course of the game, John travels to several locations in the West, even wandering down to Mexico (and accidentally starting the Mexican revolution). Eventually he kills Dutch Van Der Linde himself, who after an epic boss fight warns John that “When I’m gone, they’ll just find another monster. They have to, because they have to justify their wages… Our time is passed, John.”

In happier times.
In happier times.

With his former comrades dead, the Marston family is reunited and return to their farm together. But the game is not done, as the last few missions have you explore the character of John Marston as he attempts to lead a simple farmer’s life. The final act focuses on John’s attempts to reconcile with Jack. Van Der Linde’s final words come true, however, when Ross and a posse of lawmen attack the farm to eradicate the last monster left, John Marston himself.

John’s mutant abilities fail him, as there are simply too many enemies, and he is killed in a hail of gunfire. His family mourns him and buries him on the farm. Three years later, Jack (now a man himself) stands over the grave of both his parents. He rides off, in search of Ross, and eventually finds him on a riverbank in Mexico. The two duel, and Jack avenges his father. You can see the scene here. ** END SPOILERS **

But What Does This Have To Do With Parenting?

In the days before my first son’s birth, I managed to get to John Marston’s final mission; the birth of my son caused me not to play the final mission until a few weeks later, at 4 a.m. one night, holding my newborn son who wouldn’t sleep unless someone was holding him. The sound was off, so when the game ended I missed the heartbreaking song which played over the credits.

Before you congratulate yourself for beating this epic game, consider this: John and Abigail, former criminals and outlaws, abandoned that lifestyle long ago, settled down, had a family, and tried their best to lead an honest, hard-working life with their son. Jack waited until his mother had died until he took his revenge, knowing she would never have allowed it. And with Ross’s death, surely Jack will now be a hunted man, an outlaw.

Like many Westerns, the theme of Red Dead Redemption is obsolescence; the 20th century doesn’t need gunslingers like John anymore. By avenging his father, Jack Marston has damned himself to the life that his father lived; a life his father desperately did NOT want for his son. The newspapers would paint Edgar Ross as the victim and Jack Marston as a cowardly thug, as his father was before him, and that is all anyone would ever believe that they were. The violent history of the Marston name would continue on.

"I'm just a gangster, I suppose."
“I’m just a gangster, I suppose.”

In the daylight, I reloaded the mission and, as Jack Marston, walked to the riverbank where Edgar stood. Instead of talking to him, I pulled out my father’s gun and shot him, committing (what seems like) cold-blooded murder. My father, who was watching, was horrified. He asked, “Why did you do that?” My father is a writer who pushed me into engineering and succeeded, at least for some time. Despite his best efforts, here I am writing this column to you. So for both me and Jack Marston, there was no escaping our nature.


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