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Red Dead Never Shies From Sensitive Subjects, and Rockstar Always Handles Them With Tact

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Rockstar tackles realism with tact.

Social media can in many cases be a telling sign of interest in a product, and the gaming community recently received a perfect example of this. Red Dead Redemption 2 excitement has swept the world by storm with its reveal trailer. Theories and guesses are already flooding the internet, as fans dissect the just over minute long clip.

However, not all of this interest in Red Dead Redemption 2 is shed in a positive light. A small portion of the community is questioning a far more negative theme found in the Red Dead series — racism.


A topic synonymous of the time, racial stereotyping has always been present to some degree in Rockstar’s old west franchise. Throughout the games, women opinions matter less to male counterparts, and sometimes tensions even go as far as beatings. African American characters in many cases receive similar treatment from white males, and the timelines proximity to the American Civil War provides many of the series’ biased characters.

Although the subject’s involvement in video games does tend to be controversial, the developers didn’t include it by accident. The introduction of this sensitive topic has a purpose in Rockstar’s vision of the old west. Like many large game development companies, they try to recreate a world that mirrors the one of non-fiction. The creative minds behind the biggest projects in gaming use a multitude of different techniques to draw the audience into their world. One straightforward method for accomplishing this is through realism, both positive and negative.

Though not every title needs photo realistic environments, many still use this as a way to connect with a consumer. When a player can relate what they see on screen with what they have experienced in real life, stronger immersion can form. A player who becomes personally invested in the well-being of the characters in a game has an even better chance of enjoying the narrative laid out by its creators. This ability to relate, especially through the lens of pain, helps companies looking to appeal not only to a wider audience, but those seeking immersive storytelling.

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The Red Dead series has always been a staple for pursuing realism in its installments. Painting a picture of life more than a century ago is no easy task, and takes countless man hours to meticulously reproduce in the virtual realm. Character models must walk and talk as would be expected of them, a goal accomplished through careful examination of the west’s societal norms. From gangsters in bowler hats wielding 19th century revolvers, to horses as a primary means of transportation, these norms have helped bring the world of Red Dead to life.

Negative societal norms nonetheless find their place in this snapshot of American history. These negative tones bring the realistic and gritty aspects of frontier life we have come to expect, and contrast the lighter side of the wild west.

Rockstar’s approach to the subject of racism is no less meticulous. In an effort to provide the community with a realistic world of outlaws and villains, they have left no detail out of the everyday workings of the time, and approach these moments with tact. Attributes of prejudice and stereotyping are presented in the game’s antagonists, painting a picture of the caliber of person willing to throw carry these negative themes, connecting them innately with evil. Additionally, the characteristics of understanding and tolerance oftentimes find themselves lined up with the protagonist. These methods of portraying what is wrong and right, alongside the commitment to realism, don’t make light of a serious subject.

Given the company’s history, we can expect to see a continuation of reverence and tactfulness seen in previous installments in Rockstar’s upcoming title. With Red Dead Redemption 2 still at least a year away, fans will have to wait and see if this imperative expectation can be met.

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