Arthur Morgan’s Final Moments Changed How I Play Red Dead Redemption 2
I adored Red Dead Redemption when it first came out. Rockstar’s behemoth game about the final desperate throes of the outlaw era is matched only by its successor, Red Dead Redemption 2 – a behemoth game about the final desperate throes of the outlaw era. From the grim and snowy prologue to the bittersweet epilogue, the story of the latter is just as much of a narrative masterpiece as its iconic predecessor, if not more so. The two games have many other parallels, too, although one of biggest things that connects them for me is that I hated both of their endings the first time I played through them.
Although he’s an outlaw, Arthur Morgan is clearly written to be a generally good man no matter how you choose to play as him. Not necessarily good in the sense of following the rules of the law and not robbing and murdering people, but good in the sense that he has a code he lives by and a sense of morality that guides him away from being a truly despicable bandit. He’s a great antihero, which is what makes his futile fight against the inevitable painful for me to play through – his final chapter was almost too much for me to bear.
The first time I played through Red Dead 2, I realised pretty early on that I would have to forgo a lot of the game’s side content in order to keep the momentum of the main story going. I did spend the first few chapters exploring, doing stranger missions, and completing challenges, but once the Pinkertons started to close in on the Van Der Linde gang, it felt weird taking time off to help a photographer or aid a scientist with his strange robot. I enjoyed every moment of the story – even the infamous island of Guarma chapter – all the way up until Arthur’s tuberculosis started to get bad.
What started out as a little cough gradually progressed to full-on consumption. Arthur became a worn-out shell of the rough and ready outlaw he once was, and it felt like my fault. Honestly, I wasn’t sure what had done it initially, but when he remarked it was a man he beat up while collecting a debt my heart sank – I instantly recalled the poor man I beat half to death in front of his wife and son. I couldn’t remember if there was an alternative way to collect the money, and if this was some vicious punishment for an immoral choice I’d made.
As Arthur grew weaker, guilt festered inside of me. I know he isn’t real, I know he’s just code, but he’s so brilliantly brought to life by Rockstar and his actor Roger Clark that I couldn’t help but feel for him. Progressing through the final moments of the game felt like a death march – I knew I was going to kill Arthur if I kept going. My guilt wasn’t helped by his continually worsening state. It was a cruel sight to force onto players.
I did my best to make Arthur’s final days as good as possible. I chose to have him help the family of the man who inadvertently doomed him, and I played through the Native American plotline, too. While I understand it was included to offer Arthur some redemption – before he got all red and dead – these missions felt very tacked on and just dripped with white saviour tropes. Still, I wanted to try and redeem Arthur as much as I could, more to assuage my own guilt than anything else.
As well as these honour missions, I also revisited old friends and strangers, went back to burnt out campsites, and just did anything other than playing the final few story missions. As hard as it was seeing Arthur suffering, I didn’t want to keep going because everything was just too bleak. Eventually, though, I knew I had to get on with it. With Arthur wheezing and gasping, finishing the game felt like mercy.
I think I did everything I could for Arthur at the end, but I worried I hadn’t done enough for him when he still had time to enjoy his life. I promised myself that when I played through the game again, I’d spend as much time as I could with Arthur before progressing to the debt collector missions. Unfortunately, there is no other way to collect the sick man’s bill. Arthur’s fate is sealed. Still, I spent far more time singing at camp and drinking in bars – I made sure that, at least on my second playthrough, I would give Arthur the best life possible.
Now that I’ve had some distance from my first experience with the game, I appreciate what Rockstar managed to do a lot more. I knew Arthur was doomed from the start, but I still wish he didn’t suffer as much as he did. But, because I know of his suffering to come, I make sure every moment he has is as joyous as possible now, and that feels like a good life lesson to take from the game. I’m not saying we should all go out and shoot up saloons, but we should take the time to enjoy what we’re doing while we can. Arthur can have as many lives as I want, but I can’t.
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