Skip to Content

Viewing the West as an Outsider in ‘Red Dead Redemption’

Viewing the West as an Outsider in ‘Red Dead Redemption’


Red Dead Redemption
Rockstar San Diego
Rockstar Games
PS3, Xbox 360

Please note that this article contains spoilers.

I’ve got to be honest, I’m a sucker for westerns. The lone cowboy and his trusty horse roaming the open and untamed land is admittedly romantic, but I also find it incredibly thrilling. A time filled with endless possibilities and complex stories that go beyond the good guy/bad guy dynamic. After all, the good guys don’t always have to wear white.

So naturally, I fell in love with Red Dead Redemption, glitches and all. The narrative lens used to portray John Martson’s story won me over in a matter of seconds. Marston’s history is written with the scars on his face and the weary look in his eyes. A troubled past, an attempt to start fresh, a dying breed, and government blackmail. Let me saddle up and grab my Winchester, I’m all in.

Red Dead Redemption uses time wisely, and weaves elements of Marston’s story throughout the game rather than overloading you with information all at once. The game does this by taking advantage of numerous modes of transportation. Players are occasionally given the option to skip a scene, but doing so means that you miss out on some great dialogue, as well as the gorgeous American frontier landscape.


We begin with a simple train ride where Marston is located in the center of two very different conversations. One concerns the government’s role in civilizing the West, and the other deals with the spread of religious beliefs. Marston remains silent on both topics. The simple act of placing Marston in the middle visually shows players that he is trapped between two very different ideas. Following the government’s orders, and following a moral code.

This conflict is seen again and again as Marston is forced to team up with the likes of Nigel West Dickens, Seth, Irish, and most notably when Marston travels to Mexico. Marston is uncomfortable helping the Mexican Army, but does so in order to get to Bill Williamson, a former friend and colleague from Marston’s “Robin Hood” days. Once Williamson is captured or killed, Marston will be released from his contract with the government and his family will be safe.

Residing in the notorious grey area also provides players with the opportunity to pick their own path, fame or infamy.  In the end though, no matter how many nights you spend in jail or how many people depend on you to save them, it is clear that every action taken is meant to protect Marston’s family from harm.

red-dead-redemption 2

Marston’s “job” also places him as an outsider in the remnants of the Wild West. People throughout the West continually question his connection with the government. After a while players might want to shoot characters to prove that Marston isn’t a government stooge, however Marston begins to laugh at suggestion and reassures everyone that he’ll be gone as soon as his job is complete. Although Marston knows what Williamson is capable of, he’d rather work outside the government than for it.

Again Marston is caught between two differing ideals. That of the big city life and the life of a cowboy.


As Marston’s story comes to a close, players sense that there is no happy ending for him. Suspicions are confirmed once soldiers appear at Marston’s farm. Valiant until the end, Marston sacrifices his life so that his family can escape. Of course, Rockstar can’t end the game on such an unsatisfying note.

It is up to young Jack Marston to bring players closure. And out of all the individuals that you gun down, no one is more satisfying to kill than Edgar Ross, the man responsible for John Marston’s death.

What really allows Red Dead Redemption’s story to flourish is that Marston and the players are viewing the West as an outsider. Marston was a part of the Western mythos in the past, but left in order to change his future. Leaving has erased Marston’s credibility, leading many characters in game to question his credibility. Players have only ever seen the West through the lens of Hollywood and come in with a set of expectations, and therefore lacking credibility as well. Forcing Marston to play an outsider alongside players creates a deeper emotional connection as opposed to making Marston someone who never left the West. For example, I often found myself thinking “What are we going to do?” rather than “What am I going to do?” We tend to let our guns do the talking.

Red Dead Redemption stands out amongst the countless shooters due to its unique setting and compelling narrative, which is why we are able to over look the flying bird people.