After twenty hours of Red Dead Redemption 2, I have yet to have lassoed and dragged a Klansman behind my horse. Which isn’t to say I haven’t pulled the past behind me, heavy and refusing to die. I still get the point. I have went to the woods, in search of a gathering not meant for me or with me specifically in mind and came up with nothing but the crack of branches under my feet. Perhaps this is the true meaning of being an outlaw, to be in search of many things and still be content to end up with nothing at all except the remembrance that you are part of a large world that is constantly filling itself. I began the journey as most players do. In the snow, in the frigid season, much farther north than I want to be. You are among family, none of them blood, even less of them chosen.
To enjoy this game, the world and its charms, woods and their snakes, is to enjoy the lonely banality of existing. I run the stamina dry on my horse getting to another town, somewhat like the town I just left. I love the trail as the sky loves the clouds that honor its modesty. Sure, I might need to visit a butcher or spend an evening in a hotel, scrubbing the frontier from my legs, but what I do more than anything is travel between those points. And if each Non-Playable Character is a universe unto itself, then isn’t what we’re really doing is traveling between worlds more than we are living in them? Aren’t we just burning one world at a time because we know so many more are out there?
I, Arthur Morgan, I outlaw, I who have learned to draw on man to defuse a situation with a bullet, makes a camp because I have been on horseback for hours. Or held the controller in my hands for forty-minutes. I rotate Arthur during a conversation and realize his beard is thick as caked mud on new spurs. I had shaved only hours ago. Or days ago. I’m unsure. It is November and I pull at the strays of my own beard. I don’t know where the time has gone there, either. I could visit the barber again, in this paradise of dirt called Strawberry. I could ask for the pomade to be forcibly pushed into my hair like the last slug of a sawed-off shotgun until I heard the familiar click on my scalp. But there is more land out there with no one it.
I, Arthur Morgan, I lonely gunslinger and a horse with a braided mane. I make another camp because I have come to grips with how empty the world is and not flinched when the fire showed me the same vastness in me. I, the relic knows the world is filling with things not of my choosing. This the fire has told me about myself as well. Lonely, is a discipline really. It is the impulse against raising a repeater rifle at an innocent passerby just because I haven’t shot anything in twenty minutes. I have a long way to go now, coming down from the mountains where a trapper gave me eight dollars for a perfectly dead dear. But my horse trots, the legs so tuned to the terrain, they look as perfect as a real horse if that real horse weren’t real at all. I, Arthur Morgan, shifts in the saddle, throws his weight to one side when he happens upon a drop in the trail. There is still blood on the back of my mare from the kill. There is still blood on my hands from taking the kill apart.
We’re it so easy to see where the blood comes from. Arthur has a speckle on his vest and I remember it was the O’Driscoll that tried to ambush me on the road. I put the game down and my daughter is still mad about something I didn’t let her have two days ago. It’s hard to keep track of the darlings you’ve killed when you’re no longer in-game. Were I to be all things at once, and an honor meter to keep me honest. The horse does this too, arbiter of honesty, that is. The country is enough to take in alone, but not truly alone, not without a horse. A horse died on me once, left its body at my feet and traveled somewhere I wasn’t yet ready to follow. I walked for a while. Too long though and now, I honorable Arthur Morgan, have contemplated robbing another man for his horse. Because I can take the loneliness, but not the waiting. Not the duration of suns and moons and stars if its not on my terms. To be clear, loneliness didn’t make me a murder, at rancher’s home that I trespassed on. Being alone did. Surely, that distinction is important to someone.
I, Arthur Morgan, I just figuring out I won’t make it out alive, once had a bounty to collect for a Black man, living in the mines. They wanted him alive and I was thankful. Mercy is where you find it, even at the business end of a bolt-action Springfield. I brought him in alive, hogtied that Black man as if he were a Black man to the back of my horse. You can’t arrive at the prison without passing the gallows. And then I finally got the joke. What difference does dead make without witnesses? How can you extinguish a Black fugitive if no one got to see the fire? A mob will gather, surely. So I mount the horse and head back out to the nothing.
Forgive me Arthur Morgan, for I have taken you fishing in the deep lake, saw your enthusiasm while bating a hook and pulling 4 pounds of gold from the water, then brought you back to shore to murder more. I have taken you into town and ignored the White supremacist because I had other missions in the swamp. I do not know much of the Bayou, except that Black folks emerge resilient from its mouth. That the willows carry the names of those hung from thicker stalks. I, Arthur Morgan, I a slow volcano, find myself here often, in the shadow of Saint Denis, but rarely in the city itself. The electricity and trolleys all look like the end.
Have I made mention of the plantations? Have I told you of the houses erected in the middle of labor with more land than any man or any 3/5 of a man can handle? I take a letter from one vulture to his beloved. Progressive White woman as she is, tells me a fate worst than death would be her being shipped away to Ohio for a forbidden love. I smile, from my Ohio home, my forbidden love of being Black and learned and unwilling to shame my state. But shame is the love language of those who have not become what they intend to be yet. Arthur is a man who is fully himself and still nowhere near what he needs to be. If I could but measure my shame by my willingness to ride my horse through the plantations like Arthur, who once listened to a man confess to caging natives and still offered him whiskey. Who once drove a wagon of women for a protest and left before the speech concluded. Tell me again of the escape fantasy of games, or at least, clarify to me who’s fantasy we are referring to.
I, Arthur Morgan, I victim of the untreated wound, began the game as a bad man. I was a thief and worse. I have had to earn the honor. Possibly, Arthur knows what is to be Black, where one person’s sea level is an invitation to your drowning. Where each action slides your public morality east or west. Can you imagine how exhausting that must be? Can you see why one would spend their time worshiping the trees instead of patrons?
I, Arthur Morgan, I ghost before pressing start, knows how this will end. I will die, furiously or off camera. Or be forgotten. Which, in the wild, is much the same thing. But the willows will remember the way we passed between the worlds, softly on a braided mare. Because who wants to be truly alone while passing into legend?