It's hard to remember the last time a piece of fiction made me feel something. It must have been at least five years. During this time I haven't played more than a couple of games a year and, despite spending nearly a fourth of my lifetime studying film, haven't seen that many movies. Sometimes it seems that it's hard to be moved by fiction as an adult. But then came Red Dead Redemption 2 and affected me in a way that not a single story had before.
I have been fortunate enough to have lived to my mid-twenties without suffering the loss of someone close. I haven't felt the sorrow of loss. Not really. That changed in the early hours of April 6th. For the first time in my life I felt something that I could only describe as grief. My friend Arthur Morgan died.
I spent nearly eighty hours together with Arthur. We made some new friends and said goodbye to some old ones. We explored mountains, forests, swamps and towns. We saw the humorous, the horrifying and the tragic parts of life in the old west. I approached Red Dead Redemption 2 as a role playing game. It just came natural. I bought clothes that I thought Arthur would buy and took baths when I thought Arthur would take one. I stuck to a single horse, only changing it a fourth through the game when a friend accidentally played my savegame and killed it. There were even a few times when I encountered a breathtaking landscape and had Arthur take a picture of himself on its background, as it just felt like something he would do.
Arthur's death wasn't a surprise. During the latter half of the game's story his health started to rapidly deteriorate. Tuberculosis. But somehow I thought that the ending he'd receive would be if not a peaceful one, then at least a calm one. I had a feeling that some part of the game would take place in an area that was featured in the previous Red Dead Redemption, and a thought had entered my head that maybe Arthur would spend his last days working on a farm there. Instead he died on a mountain while trying to help John Marston escape pursuing gunmen and start a new life with his family.
I was sad, but I wasn't grieving. Not yet. Arthur passed and the game switched to a new playable character - John Marston. The story caught up with him a few years later with John and his family living under false identities and looking for work in a remote part of the map. I finished the first mission as Marston and went to bed.
It hit me the next morning. Yes, my mind raced through memories of my adventures with Arthur. Yes, they were overshadowed by the thought that there would be no more. But that wasn't it. What really clenched my heart, and what in my mind sets Red Dead Redemption 2 apart from any other piece of fiction where the main character dies - life went on. I had spent eighty hours with Arthur and he is now gone, but the game continues in its full extent, not just as a shell. Story missions, side missions, random events, hunting, fishing, everything is still there. I can visit all the same mountains, forests, swamps and towns. John even continues to write in Arthur's journal. The only thing missing is Arthur. I'm now in the early parts of the epilogue where John is working as a farmhand, and I'm disappointed that Arthur isn't in his place. I'm not disappointment in the script. I'm disappointed that my friend isn't here.
I cried a bit that morning.
What bothers me about the way I feel is that I don't have anyone to talk to. My wife understands me being emotionally affected by a fictional story, but she doesn't feel the way I do. My best friend has a similar taste in games as me, but doesn't own a platform this game is available on. I can't really lend him the Xbox One I'm playing on, because it's not mine. I've considered gifting him an Xbox One S and a copy of the game, so I could converse with someone who might feel something similar to what I'm experiencing. I can't really afford that, but the thought hasn't left my mind.
Today I remembered a real life event that occurred a few hours before I played the last mission with Arthur, and caught myself thinking, "Arthur was still alive then", because to me, Arthur Morgan died in the early hours of April 6th.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is an amazing game, a flawed one, even in some fundamental ways, but nonetheless a spectacular experience. I loved it from the very start, but I never would have thought that a game would touch me the way it did.
I miss my friend Arthur.