Warning: Contains spoilers for Read Dead Redemption 2 (obviously).
So at the start of this year, Covid lockdowns were still well into affect, and since the entertainment industry was left out to dry, my parents quickly ran out of things to watch in their free time.
Having just completed the entirety of RDR2 myself the night before they vented their immense boredom to me, I proposed an idea; how about we play through a modern game?
My parents are not gamers; adult life took that out of their sights many decades ago, and although they will sometimes swing by while I'm playing a game they usually catch me playing fairly closed experiences; Rocket League, online MK11, online Tekken 7 etc. etc. Basically nothing story-driven that would interest them.
My concept was simple; I would play and they could make all the decisions. Sometimes I would offer them to play as well but I also understood that the even fairly standard controls of RDR2 are not standard to someone who only may pick up a controller once a season. I should mention here than my parents are both in their early 50s- Not old by most standards but old enough to already be teens/adults by the time gaming came into popular media.
To begin, I laid out the story of Red Dead Redemption in very simple terms; who John was, who the gang are, the fact that this game was set before the first, and so on. Enough- I believed- to help them understand that the game had a set direction. And so we began.
Chapter 1 started well, it mostly consisted of my parents being in awe of modern graphics tech; the way the snow moved as you cut a path through it, the mo-cap animation that was done, the lighting etc. What I had forgotten, however, was that Chapter 1 was essentially a 2.5-hour tutorial. My dad specifically was not very enthralled by the idea of 90% of a game being exposition and travelling. He attempted to play the game during the first train heist, but by the way he crouch-walked everywhere and fought the camera during movement and shootouts I could tell he was abit overwhelmed.
Another issue was the fact that my dad specifically could not watch the game for too long. He spends his 9-5 on a laptop and then spends his evenings watching TV, however 90 minutes in it was giving him a headache. Which turned what I thought was going to be a single-seat chapter 1 into two separate sessions.
When it came to making decisions, it was clear that my parents saw the characters as nothing more than ruthless outlaws on the run from the law. This was not helped by the rather aggressive way the characters spoke to each other in this first chapter; jokes about wishing members were dead, some casual racism dropped my Micah at the start of one of the missions etc. So when it came to letting the people on the train go or killing them, it was unsurprising that both my parents wanted to play the part and kill them.
I'm not afraid to admit that chapter 2 is an absolute snore-fest. Even I uninstalled the game the first time before I was convinced to see it though. However alot of the missions in this chapter are very important for setting up the backstory/character for most of the cast. The hard part was getting my parents to sit through it too.
Although I managed to get through this chapter in only a couple of weeks, by god my parents almost didn't. It was clear that this chapter had made my dad reconsider his choice to sit through this game with us. Often if there was not enough action going on, he would go off and do something else (and I cannot blame him).
Alot of the reward of this game is remembering the little details. However my parents, with their start-finish movies and TV shows it was hard for them to remember the little things going on. They would often forget names of everybody in camp, even so far to forget what Arthurs name was. It was clear that Chapter 2 had a negative impact on the experience. I knew what laid ahead, but my parents did not, and as I mentioned at one time I didn't either, and I straight-up stopped playing because of this chapter.
In this chapter you meet Mary, Arthurs former partner (and fiancé/wife if I remember correctly). My mum immediately picked up on her manipulative nature and was hesitant to help her with her brother, Jamie. I'd never seen it that way before, but it really opened my eyes up to the way that Mary twists Arthurs emotions in the story.
In this Chapter, Arthurs goes debt collecting, one of those debt collectors is obvious a Thomas Downes, despite telling them that this mission is very important to the whole story I don't think they actually picked up why.
Chapter 3 I think is where things start to get interesting for the gang- they find themselves inbetween two ancient families in a blood feud. Although the chapter starts off slow like the previous chapters things quickly spin out of control, namely in 'Blessed are the Peacemakers' where Arthur is captured by Colm O'Driscoll and his gang.
I don't think it occurred to my parents how brutal this game can be, as, in the same sitting, we play through 'A short walk in a a pretty town'. Where, not only does Sean get capped right at the start of the mission, but I also happen to use a shotgun in first person for the first time in our playthrough and remove someones head entirely. And then after all of that mess, we immediately jump into 'Blood Feuds, Ancient and Modern' where the gang annihilates an entire estate and burns it to the ground.
By this point in the game I have explained the honour system, and I think by this point my mum understands that Arthurs journey is affected by our choices, and that Arthur is more of an extension of ourselves rather than a set character. Her choices started becoming much more honourable, started letting people live etc. In contrast to my dad who wanted to be as nasty of a cowboy as he could.
It was difficult getting them to grasp the idea of the open world game, and that, although in some way you could approach things any way you like, the outcome of the story is always the same. I had to explain this again after my dad asked if the Braithwaite shootout happened in my playthrough as well.
I seem to have misremembered chapter 4. I was preparing myself for Arthurs TB diagnosing session, however that was still a chapter away. Chapter 4 was an okay experience overall, my parents found the interpretation of a 1899 American city to be an interesting contrast to the open lands of the other chapters. My parents also noted that there was very little desert in this game up to this point, as they were expecting more of a classical western style than what we got.
My parents also noticed the sheer volume of death in some of the missions- Arthur and often two other gang members would often go up again 50 police officers in the city without a single scratch, obviously this was for gameplay reasons but they felt it took away from the realism of the game.
My parents did not like Angelo Bronte, and found joy in watching him get his comeuppance later in the chapter. They were not fond of the idea of living in a swamp. The subtle beginnings of Arthurs cough went unnoticed in this chapter, likely because they had no idea anything was going wrong with Arthur in the first place.
My mum seemed to care about Hosea and Lenny's demise in the bank heist mission, however my dad didn't, likely because he missed all of the important bonding missions involving these characters.
Chapter 5 is balls-to-the-wall action from start to finish, my parents found humour in the fact I went from 1v50'ing police in Saint Denis to 1v100'ing the Navy. They also found it strange that a western game isn't even remotely close to the west anymore, and were curious about where the story could go from there.
My mum picked up on the two important changes that happen in this chapter; Arthurs TB forming and Dutch's descent into insanity, she first commented on the cough just after you defeat the navy ship in one of the last missions on Guama. Wondering why Arthur was coughing so much all of a sudden.
Ironically, my dad made a comment about their being no overarching antagonist for the gang to fight, just as Agent Milton arrived at the gangs temporary hideout. My parents also didn't know the Maxim Gun existed before WW1, but then again neither did I lol
Obviously, in one of the last few missions of Chapter 5, Arthur is struck by a bad case of lung-ouchies and falls off his horse, ironically my mum asking me why Arthur was coughing so much just before the horse stops for the animation to play out. It's a very sad scene as he is diagnosed, however I wasn't entirely sure that my parents saw it as a death-sentence for the main character. My mum specifically wondering how Arthur is going to cure that.
I knew how Chapter 6 would end, but I was curious what my parents thought about how this could end. They both agreed that Dutch had to kick it at some point, and assumed that Arthur would be the one to do it.
At this point in the story I realised that if you didn't know John already, it was very hard to see/remember him as anything more than a side character, by this point he was in maybe 6/7 main missions, mostly as one of many members of a large team (think the assault on the Braithwaite's or Angelo Bronte), rather than a small group of 2-3. I had to remind my parents several times during this chapter that John is the main character of the first game, which is set after this one.
Something I haven't mentioned yet is all the missions related to the Native Americans' Plight. I think my parents picked up on the relationship between their struggles and the gangs, and found it fairly interesting to watch. Although by the way they would routinely forget the rather cool names of Eagle Flies and Rains Fall, I don't think they cared all too much.
As far as I'm aware, my parents believed that Arthur would survive his TB up until very late in the chapter, where it was clear that Arthur had resigned himself to an eventual death and his coughs continued to get worse.
My parents did not see a redemption for Arthur, to them he had simply killed too much and had done way too much wrong to redeem himself now, even the final money-lending missions did not change their view on Arthur, despite their choices to help the families. I think by this point however my dad had also switched to playing Arthur as his high-honour version.
By the final mission of the game, my parents assumed Arthur would kill Dutch and leave the camp in the care of Sadie, to then pass away peacefully of his illness. Unsurprisingly, this did not happen.
My mum was alittle upset by the passing of Arthurs horse (what she didn't know, however, was that while I was running side missions alone the damn train mission ran over the old horse, so I had to get an identical new one and quickly get it's bond level to 3 for the cutscene). Both my parents chose to go with John, and watched silently as I played though the final minutes of the mission.
I think my mum was much more invested in Arthurs story than my dad was, so as Arthur died facing the sunset my mum was deeply touched by the ending. My dad did comment how he found the ending to be very well executed.
That's as far as we've gotten so far. I played for maybe an hour after as John, but my parents wondered where the story could possibly be going from there. We haven't touched it since but my mum has shown some interest in rounding out the whole story despite not knowing much about John or what his story is. There may be a follow-up post in the future if we do end up finishing it.
I think they enjoyed it. It did give them enough to do until TV series started coming out again so it did it's job on that front. They were definitely blown away by how far games technology has come in the last few years but I think it was difficult to see the medium as anything more than mindless entertainment. My mum specifically is quite an open person and in the end she watched 100% of the main story content, while my dad was probably more at 50-60%. This experience also goes along with me introducing them to the concept of E-sports- the idea of watching a game instead of playing it seemed very weird and alien to them but I think they've come around.
I left out alot of details for the sake of brevity, so if you'd like to ask about certain moments that happened in the game or decisions they made (They saw everything for the main story, so keep it within there) be sure to leave a comment! I'll get back to you asap 🙂
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