[In this less-regular-than-initially-anticipated section, I record some of my more memorable gaming moments, the moments that remind me why I play games. In this entry I describe my feelings as I played the epilogue of Red Dead Redemption. If you are yet to finish Red Dead Redemption, I strongly recommend you do not read this post as it shall spoil a calibre of ending not enough seen in videogames.]
My mother is dead. It happened suddenly—very suddenly. I didn’t even really note the time passing: three years since we buried my father, three years since The Law betrayed him, betrayed us. I guess ma died from grief, or just gave up, or something of the sort. After all, if this is no country for men like my father, what kind of country is it for women like my mother? It doesn’t matter now; what matters is that they are both dead. There’s a gap in the soil between their graves and Uncle’s, just enough room for one more.
But first, I have business to settle. Pa tried for redemption, but that didn’t go down so well, did it? No, I won’t try for redemption. Revenge will be my game.
I take Pa’s gun, the same gun that saved me from that grizzly three years back, when I was cocky enough to think I could shoot. Well now I know I can shoot. I dig my heel into the stead and leave my ranch for the last time, rifle on my back, and make for Blackwater. I’m furious. My revenge cannot come soon enough.
I have no plan. I am too angry to have a plan. My dad wanted to change, god damn it; why did they have to kill him? The anger is swelling somewhere in my gut, and I just want to make as many of them pay as possible before it consumes me utterly. Lawmen, men, women, dogs, horses, I don’t care. I am going to shoot the first moving thing I see.
But lo and behold, fate shines on the people of Blackwater this day. Before I see a single person (perhaps the foul weather is keeping them inside, perhaps a communal sense of foreboding), I notice the question mark symbol on my radar: a stranger. Some unfinished business of my father, perhaps?
The first person I see, then, is a federal agent—his bowler hat gives him away. A plan forms in the part of my mind that is still thinking. This is not my father’s unfinished business; this is my own chance to do something with the anger threatening to burst within me. I tell the man I have a letter for Edgar Ross and, to my surprise, the agent tells me where to find him: Lake Don Julio. I leave without another word. I still consider razing the town on my way out, but resist. My revenge has an aim now. I will let it build up inside of me, eat me from the inside as I gallop to Don Julio, and then I will let it all out in one relieving sigh.
So begins my journey across the same lands my father traversed those years earlier. I pass McFarlane’s ranch mere hours after leaving Blackwater. This is urgent. I know that if I do not vent this anger soon, something bad is going to happen. I dig my feet into the stead, desperately. I ride the poor animal within an inch of its life.
A lawman waves at me from a crumpled wagon, one wheel lies detached in the grass. Another lawman’s bloodied body is crumpled nearby.
“A criminal we were transporting escaped! Shoot him or bring him back alive!”
I look at the lawman for full seconds. My options are clearly highlighted at the bottom of the screen: “Shoot the outlaw or return him alive to the lawman.” I can still see the criminal staggering across the barren land; I could be overtaking him within seconds. Hell, I could probably shoot him from here.
I shoot the lawman in the face and continue to Lake Don Julio.
It felt good; I won’t deny it. Sure, at the back of my mind I realise I have just killed a man, possibly a good man. But what of it? I killed him because of what he represented. The anger still bulges under my skin, but it is held at bay for just a bit longer.
At Lake Don Julio, I find Ross’s wife. He has gone south, to Rio del Toro with his brother. His wife is polite and kind. I consider killing her, just to get to Ross. Perhaps I could take away his family, show him what it is like. Part of the reason I don’t do this is because I am concerned the Stranger format of this mission would fail if I killed her, but mostly I like to think I would have let her live regardless. I try to tell myself that I spared her because I am a better person than Ross. I don’t quite believe it.
On to Mexico.
“Help me! Help me!”
Mere seconds after crossing the border, a woman is waving me down, asking for assistance. It is a half-hearted attempt—I can see the boots of the bandits waiting in ambush behind her wagon. Pa often encountered this set up. He told me how he always let the girl go, that it was rarely her choice to be involved in such a heist.
I shoot each bandit in the face with my revolver. The girl begins to beg for her life, but gives in and starts running after I shotgun the second horse. I calmly finish off the third and forth horse before I chase her down. I don’t even slow as I fire the shot, nor do I look back to see if it finished her.
I find Ross’s brother camped under a tree by the river. He tells me Ross has gone downstream to hunt ducks. Once again, I consider killing him to get to Ross but again I resist. My next bullet is for Ross.
Do I think killing Ross will prove anything? Of course not. Do I care? No. This isn’t about doing the “right” thing. There is no right thing. Pa tried to do the right thing and they killed him. This is about releasing the black blob of anger that is taking me over. This is about removing from me the impulse to gun down every god-damned man, woman, and creature I pass.
Ross speaks to me; I don’t listen. He hasn’t even removed his pistol from its holster when I empty my revolver into his face.
And that is it. There is a brief moment before his corpse slides into the river where I can see the crumpled mess I have turned his face into and, in that second, the anger is purged from my body. It is like a drop in pressure—abrupt, nauseating, violent. I see things with such a sudden clarity that I feel like being sick.
Pa found his redemption when he chose to leave his life of crime behind. Pa found his redemption when, even after the government kidnapped his family and forced him to hunt down his old gang, he did not seek revenge. Pa found his redemption when he knew they would come back for him but refused to run away. Pa found his redemption by leaving behind a family that could look after itself.
The government and its lawmen did not take away Pa’s redemption. Edgar Ross did not take away Pa’s redemption. I did. The dirt has not even set on my mother’s grave, and I have become everything both her and my father tried so hard to leave behind.
I holster my pistol and walk back to my horse. I take one last look at Ross’s body bobbing to the ebb and flow of the river, and ride away. I try not to think of his wife and brother. I try not to think about how I have failed my father. Instead, I think to the future, of how I could possibly make up for these sins, of how I could find my own redemption.