Red Dead Redemption 2’s Puppet-Like NPCs Make Its World Feel Less Real

Red Dead Redemption 2’s Puppet-Like NPCs Make Its World Feel Less Real
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Red Dead Redemption 2’s excessively detailed world tries to suggest reality. Fall and you get covered in mud; while covered in mud someone might make a coy comment about how they hope it’s not shit.

The world is full of little flourishes and behaviours that suggest its NPCs are real people with genuine reactions. But the more I play, the more they feel like puppets putting on a show.

Red Dead Redemption 2 wants to draw the player into a sort of simulated (albeit overly romantic) version of ages past when the natural world bore less scars from industrialisation and people always had stories or tall tales to share. The world reacts to the player. Shoot someone in the leg and they might end up with a prosthetic the next time you see them. Leave a carcass by the side of the road and come back a few days to find bones.

The game’s natural world, with its detailed snow and character-affecting temperatures, strives to feel realistic. Even Arthur himself emulates a real person through his need to groom and bathe, while his slow gait seems an attempt to separate him from faster, video-y game contemporaries like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s Kassandra.

On the surface, NPCs aspire to the same level of detail, acting out what seem to be full lives. An angry saloon-goer tosses someone through the window for sleeping with his wife; a clumsy rider stops to calm their horse only to get kicked in the head.

These moments try to suggest the world is full of people going about their lives, but when contrasted with the rest of the game’s level of detail, they are woefully artificial. The seams start to show, and it’s obvious that Red Dead Redemption 2’s people only exist in relation to me, defined by what I can do them.

The game’s interactions are constrained due to its inspirations. Westerns are a complex and problematic genre tied to a violent history that gave rise to the myth of the gun as an egalitarian tool (e.g., the oft-quoted “God made man, Sam Colt made them equal”) and rugged, self-reliant masculinity. As a result, interactions with Red Dead Redemption 2’s NPCs exist within that masculine framework.

Arthur and the player’s actions are expressions of a mythic masculinity. We rescue women and lesser men—after all, better men would be able to fight off bandits and manage their horses – and compete against would-be gunslingers while using unique abilities like Dead-Eye to our advantage. We tip our hat like a proper gentleman, and we kill anyone we want.

The game rewards those masculine impulses. The Western framework leads to only certain kinds of interactions, and those interactions inevitably lead to rewards: outshoot someone in a marksmanship contest and you’ll gain some cash; rescue a man from wolves and he’ll give you a treasure map.

These rewards further stress that, in spite of Red Dead Redemption 2’s meticulous details and animations—created through excess, condemnable hours and strenuous labour – the NPCs just exist for the player’s benefit.

HBO’s Westworld – whose core conceit is that people can attend a theme park of Wild West role-playing android “hosts” who offer unique adventures—mocks this conceit in a scene in which one of the park’s artificial workers falls off his horse.

When a human protagonist, William, comes to his aid, the host tries to entice him with tales of a treasure map and lost riches. William’s companion dismisses the prospective adventure as a transparent park narrative. It’s kiddie stuff, a blatant attempt to pull park guests into side activities and storylines crafted for their amusement.

And yet, in Red Dead Redemption 2, these scenarios play out with little irony. The game’s details are meant to evoke wonder, and these NPC interactions seem meant to suggest a bigger world full of secrets and adventures. But those adventures are constrained, always coming back to rewarding the player. What a deep and rich world, to have such people and such adventures on every ridge and road! Yet they pale in comparison to the game’s other details, which makes them feel even more unreal.

One time, while riding through the plains, I heard a man crying out in fear. He was going to die, dammit. Please won’t someone help him. As it turned out, he was bitten by a snake. I could leave him, I could suck out the venom, or I could give him medicine. I opted for the latter, and we then parted ways.

Nearly five hours later, I heard the man call out to me while I was walking around in the town of Valentine. He was sitting on a shop’s porch with his friend.

Why, wasn’t it wonderful for him to see me, his saviour, again? He was so delighted that he offered to pay for whatever I wanted in the gun shop. I bought a Springfield Rifle and scope; it’s perfect for hunting deer.

This encounter meant to give my actions consequences, but the reward and the scripted nature of our interaction rang false. For all of Red Dead Redemption 2’s attention to detail, this NPC wasn’t an entity who existed before I found him.

He was spawned in as I came near, solely to be rescued by me, and then again to reward me for it. Red Dead’s characters are always leading you somewhere, instead of just being people. Enemies are magically summoned for me to gun down; I’ve watched them blip into existence on my radar during certain events.

NPCs exist in orbit of the player, for the player. As a result, Red Dead Redemption 2’s open world often captures the beauty and detail of real spaces, but it never emulates a functioning society. How can it, when these people exist to serve me and when I can decide to kill them with the single press of a button?

I avoid towns more often than not in the game. I get too distracted by the animatronic people and their play-acting lives. Perhaps I’ve been playing games so long that I can’t help but see the puppeteer’s strings. When I’m out in the forest or riding on the plains, things seem calmer. Red Dead Redemption 2’s detailed environments are intoxicating enough that I forget myself for a time.

But that silence always breaks. Suddenly, there are broken stagecoaches passengers on the side of the road, hillbilly ambushes, or a man caught in a bear trap. The world doesn’t want me to forget all the things I can do it or all the riches its characters want to give me.

There’s so much content out there, all for me, that the game can’t help but summon its theme park actors and crafted set pieces.

After all, the greatest crime I could commit would be to miss them.


  • Would you prefer no encounters? Sounds like you want to just be a part of the world and not actually play the game. Without scripted events the game would be quite boring.

    • I’d prefer a living world but on this scale it’s very hard to do right, R* has been using this “all the world is a stage and everyone but the player is the supporting cast” model and its worked so far just its always a bit hollow.
      A living world where the npc are driven by their own programing (which has been attempted many times) would be better but it will always seem very limited since you can only program so many responses to situations before you run out of dev time. Maybe neural nets and machine learning can step in here?

    • The problem I think the author is trying to highlight is that the scripted events sometimes feel obvious. There are definite times when it’s really obvious that the game is trying to get you to engage with its mechanisms. Wildlife will spawn near you and then run or fly off as you approach, NPCS will suddenly run out of the bushes as you near, always running in a direction that takes them into your line of sight. Voices will always be loud enough that you can hear when someone is a quest giver rather than just a “Filler” NPC. Their dialogue is also often an obvious hint that they have a quest just for you.

      For the most part Rockstar have straddled the line between making it feel organic and making it obvious to the player what is a quest and what is chatter. There are just a number of on the nose moments though where the game goes “Hey look. This is an event. Hey, hey, do this event. No really, dooo eeeett.”

      • It’s a game. There are going to be concessions for the sake of gameplay. Everything in game is for the player to play with. I don’t think the author has any genuine concerns with how content is delivered. Rather I think they just wanted to whinge that the game doesn’t suit their own narrative that they wanted to create. Pinning it to a complaint that applies to just about every game ever made is disingenuous at best.

        • I get that it’s designed to be player centric and maybe I’m filtering it through my own complaints but we still haven’t really gotten away from worlds where everyone is incapable of solving their own problems and need you to solve it for them. RDR2 kind of feels like it was poised to be an example of how games can create a world in which the player can both be the hero and a bystander but it still falls into the trap of everything centering around you.

          Basically, I want to sit there on the side of the road and watch someone fetch their own thingamajig for once.

          • There are games that have tried that and lots of people find it boring. It’s still just scripted sequences except you have nothing to do with them and you probably have no idea it even happened in the first place. It wouldn’t have changed anything Heather mentioned – they’re still just scripted sequences.

      • I think the wildlife, events etc spawning near you are more a technical limitation. It would not be feasible to render the entire map and every animal from bison to mouse the entire time across the entire map and have them living out their lives. I don’t think we are anywhere near that kind of processing power, also I don’t think that it would improve the moment to moment gameplay by all that much.

      • I think you’ve got it right, plus the author’s trying to write in a really poetic ‘wow’ kind of tone and i don’t think it’s really coming across the right way.

  • Ding, ding, ding!!! Who had 5 days from release for the Toxic Masculinity story to be published? Come and get your prize!

    • Damn, I had 3 days. Still got my ticket in for how many articles complaining about the portrayal of certain types of characters in the first month of release though.

      • Young Turks rushed out their “Where are the black people?” video the other day, friggin hilarious…

        Where are they? ALL THROUGH THE GAME!

    • Uh, where’s the toxic part? Crank your detector down a few notches. There’s plenty to argue that RDR2 isn’t toxically masculine. But can it be argued the game doesn’t focus on masculine tropes, abilities, achievements, etc?

      Dude, you should be happy it celebrates how awesome men are!

  • I knew there was too much positivity surrounding this game on kotaku.
    Someone needed to shit on all the fun and good vibes.
    Keep being you, kotaku. Good journalism.

  • This is the weirdest article yet. It’s like it’s written by somebody who’s never even heard of the concept of a videogame and coming across RDR2.

    Of course the NPCs are just puppets with no lives and can only interact with the player. They literally can not exist until the code triggers them.

    • It’s so weird. Its so many words but so little substance. There are interesting parallels and discussions to be made for comparing the actual media and way we interact with it of WestWorld and RDR2 – but to be critical of a game for not being an actual functioning simulation of the universe is so bizarre. I’m just confused at what the writer was trying to get it.

    • Right?! It’s got to be click bait right? I mean surely a games journalist understands this…
      It’s not like westworld where hosts become sentient and act independently.

      I am amazed at the level of NPC activity they have manage to simulate! Better than anything I have ever seen – but I guess it’s still not enough.

  • This comes across as a half-hearted attempt to find fault with the game. Doesn’t read as genuine at all.

    • It’s a troll job, she shoehorns left-wing hysteria into everything to bait clicks from gamers.

      Just don’t click on any more of Heather’s articles. That’s all you can do.

    • you do know that even beloved things can still have faults, just because you dont see them or just because they dont upset you, that doesnt mean they dont exist.

    • Besides if you wanted to find fault with this game you could write an article this long about how Arthur is secretly pro gun control as he tries to unequip all his weapons every opportunity he gets.

  • Yay another armchair expert shitting on other’s hard work AND putting in the toxic masculinity dig to boot. Let’s just dust off the “You must be real fun at parties” line and move on. The contempt I feel for this author ain’t worth the effort of describing it further.

    • Rockstar has a long history of catering to toxic males, GTAV is riddled with it.

      The contempt I feel for this author ain’t worth the effort of describing it further.why on earth would you have contempt for someone just saying how they see things? What are you, 12? Or one of those toxic males, the idea that you cant read something you dont agree and simply shrug your shoulders and move on, says it all. Nah why do that when you can hold CONTEMPT for someone you dont know, based on the words to an article.

      I dont necessarily agree with the article but at least she put forward an intelligent argument, put a theory forward, back it up with proof as she sees, thats way more than what you are offering.

        • how so? I am old enough and capable of reading something I dont agree with, without using words like ‘contempt’ for the author

          • Yeah, when you read something you don’t agree with you just call the author toxic or a child, that’s way better.

      • It’s not an intelligent argument, it’s a load of nonsense. “Games are scripted and toxic masculinity because NPCs don’t act like Westworld hosts” isn’t an intelligent argument. Heather knows full well how games work, and how hard it would be to even create the content for what she suggests – but she’s willing to ignore all that to write some nonsense and work in toxic masculinity because you’re bad for liking games and you should feel bad.

        • and how hard it would be to even create the content for what she suggests

          Amd games developers have been striving for that level of NPC for years. It’s a day dream, a fantasy, it’s like listening to Musk tsk about going to Mars, the human race would never have got anywhere if they didn’t strive for ‘what ifs’. She wasn’t saying the game fails for not having it merely pondering the fact of it the game had how much more dynamic it would have been.

          And dude Rockstar has gone hand to hand with toxic masculinity for years, for as great as GTAV was its view of woman across the board was appalling.

          At least in this game some what has a reason to put its woman in the normal place Rockstar puts them, given the setting, but it was also opportunity for them to raise above and tell interesting female stories as well. It didn’t. Hell on Wheels and Deadwood both managed to do it, while keeping the hard edge feeling of the era.

          • Not everything has to be a social commentary, and Rockstar in particular aren’t great at social commentary beyond stupidly obvious shit. Not every game has to pander to your political perspective or be crucified for not following your views.

            Come on, this article was awful. The author was desperate to write an article about RDR2 and toxic masculinity but knew it wouldn’t go down well – so she worked in some sort of half-arsed complaint about NPCs which makes absolutely no sense beyond first glance. It’s a crap, borderline baseless criticism desperately tacked to a topic that people are sick of hearing about.

            And yes, GTA has had issues with power fantasies and depiction of women in crime, because it’s a caricature of the criminal underworld and didn’t start trying to grow up until GTA 4. But that doesn’t mean I put down the controller and go pimp slap my wife and shoot hookers to get my money back – that argument has been well and truly debunked.

      • Just go back to shilling for destiny mate. Contempt is a word I find rather apt for this discussion and too lightweight for what I think of you, Mr Avon. So unless you, -Mr Word-cop-have a warrant out for me, I’ll choose whatever damn words I like to describe this article thanks.

  • this Article (and many others on Kotaku recently) come across as someone depressed, jaded, and cynical about games. When you say less real – less real than what? Real life? Come on – don’t make me say it.

    Maybe it’s time to take a break from games and find that passion and wonder again, articles written by someone in that frame of mind would be something I’d like to read!

    • Hi Pony, I agree. Feels like its less and less about the video games around here and more and more about “other stuff” most of the time.

  • You make it seem like making a believable 3D dimensional world with sophisticated artificial intelligence that runs on computing power you can buy for a few hundred dollars is really difficult or something..

  • To convey something in the parlance of the day..”what a load of horse shit”. Contrarian hipster stay ahead of the edgelord event horizon reporting. For one there is enough hints, missions,side quests in the game of woman empowerment which are done well and subtlety enough not to be rammed down your throat in the game. There does seem to be a growing edgelord hate something just because it is good and loved going about on the interwebs lol even Jim Stirling who i love is getting in on the act. Superlatives incoming… Iave never felt so immersed and caring in a game for in game characters ie my camp family , it feels good just roleplaying and doing camp stuff and interacting with the camp. They have done a good job of the simulacrum. isnt that what games are after all. The game is fantastic and I also have never in a Rockstar game felt the weight of my random killings hold such weight before such to the degree that I really never do it as it just doesnt feel right and the witness stuff is great.In many ways this is a more mature Rockstar. More of this please. I may try a second evil run through if I play it again. I guess this is just Heathers opinion which is fine but it is rather odd.

    • Unfortunately, it seems my first run through is fast becoming my evil run through. One of many examples: lady calls out for help, I find she is stuck under her (dead?) horse. Ok then, I need to talk to her to help…I press L2… shotgun to the face. Damn, L1, L1, I meant to press L1 damnit!!! Hahaha oops oh well no one saw it. Move along…

  • I’m done with this website and I’m deleting my account. It’s sadly and increasingly full of click-bait pieces written either by trolls or complete morons hired by management to write idiotic, inflammatory drivel for clicks.

    I don’t know which you are, Heather, but it’s a Western game. It’s a tribute to the films and stories set in the time, it’s supposed to tell entertaining stories of isolation, challenge and the good and bad of masculinity. It’s not supposed to be an all-inclusive tale of politically correct emotions set in 2018.

    Writing these kinds of articles just to piss people off for attention is a scummy way to make a living. I’ve said before that working on a games website shoehorning left-wing hysteria into everything purely to agitate young men (and push them to the fringes) is no better than it is to work at Fox News pouring irrational fear into the public discourse.

    Both sides are profiteering off making the world a more divided, agitated place.

    I’m out, you’ll get no more comments from me.

    • What this guy said nails how I feel about this site 100%. Who made the call that Kotaku was to go this way in first place? I should have left when the site no longer had a savvy Scottish writer anymore.

      • The business end of the site. That’s who made the call. Kotaku has devolved intolittle more than a click-bait ad generating soulless machine.

        This is clear by the lack of effort that has gone into this article, I doubt Heather even cares what she writes, its just a money thing at this point.

        • I honestly think that Heather means what she says – I don’t think it’s trolling for the sake of clickbait. It’s sad that she holds such viewpoints. But that doesn’t excuse these long screeds of hangwringing and moralising with a tone of arrogance to match. Kotaku US is becoming progressively worse as it tries desperately to shoe-horn US politics, gender politics, and whatever social justice narrative is the flavour of the day into articles about video games. Even without looking at the authors I can tell when an article is from a AU author or a US author – because the AU authors aren’t constantly trying to tell me that I’m a bad person and problematic because I’m white, male, and like video games.

          I’m basically only here for the Australian news at this point, the US articles are just a never ending parade of ‘This is why you should feel bad about yourself.’

          • Completely agree with what you just said. I usually enjoy the majority of Australian articles except for one particular author who only seems to post cosplay pictures and buzzfeed level content.

        • Probably why Mark left. Saw where all the allure sites were heading and wanted to actually inform and entertain people rather than essentially being a human bot spewing out rubbish.

    • Sad to hear, foggy. Even though I think we probably disagreed more often than not, I still enjoy seeing the opposing views come through in comments sections especially from those who bother to write the more lengthy responses.

      • I’m gonna be straight up and say I’m almost at the same point Foggy is. I’ve been around since 2007 according to my history, I’ve been trying to hang in there lately but the identity politics this site is pushing has become that toxic, it’s really pushing me away. Sucks, but at some point, everyone’s gonna say enough.

        • Tbh I’ll probably stick around anyway because I’m a creature of terrible terrible habit and don’t really have anywhere else to go 😛

          I do rather miss old kotaku.

    • Its the American articles that are mostly trash. I visit sites like io9 and for the last couple of years, all the good writers have left and its all clickbait opinion piece rubbish. It used to be cool science and sci-fi articles.

      Kotaku AU gets a lot of its content from the US site and its in a similar vein.

    • Well said Foggy, won’t be the same around here without you. Add me on Steam if you can, named Weresmurf on there, or PSN, named Weresmurf there too.

    • This blowing of the stack every time someone mentions “masculinity” makes people like you look weak as piss. You’re not the only one in these comments to just see red at the word and make up that the writer was criticising men in any way at all.

      The writer says “rugged, self-reliant masculinity” and “mythic masculinity”. Not “myth of” or “mythical”, just “mythic”. And I don’t reckon you can argue that a Western DOESN’T tell tales about blokes doing bloke things.

      Are you really wound so tight that someone just using the word “masculinity” sets you off? Jesus!

      • Just going to point out here that the article was edited, they replaced the term toxic masculinity with mythical masculinity. It’s not a case of ‘blowing your stack’, you can construe it in any way you want. It’s a case of being tired of seeing Kotaku turned from a gaming website into a site solely concerned with identity politics, where it’s gone from being a culture about games, to being a toxic culture where the readers themselves fight, infight and berate each other over even the most trivial of shit. Just like this. Have a good one friend.

        • Yeah I found that out a few hours later and thought “shall I also edit my post? No that just prolongs the cycle of bulldust…”

          So yeah, I’m not sure I’m done with Kotaku, but I’m definitely done with defending games writers.

          Totally pathetic on their part. Sure, there is an argument that Westerns explore how “vengeance” always messes you up, and how just shooting a man down doesn’t really solve anything because he just gets replaced by the next lawless scumbag etc.

          But yeah I don’t really know what that has to do with pointing out that some of the dynamic sidequests don’t mesh with the world that well.

  • Are you suggesting that there was a ‘developer’ who painstakingly crafted these virtual NPC lives? I refuse to believe such heresay. They are real people damn it!

  • Congratulations Kotaku, you’ve proven once again to write nothing but trash articles.

    Y’all need to remember that people poured their hearts and souls into this game, and the things you write can have an impact on the way people view it. Stop being trash.

    Heather, quit writing, you’re clearly only interested in pushing your left-wing propaganda rubbish.

    I’m with @foggy – I’m done.

  • Yet another piece of trash published by Kotaku. OMG…..heaven forbid a game about a man in the wild west resembling something to do with masculinity or reality.

  • Red Dead’s characters are always leading you somewhere, instead of just being people.Which part of NPC – non-player character – was unclear? You will always, always see the strings if you go looking for them.
    Arthur and the player’s actions are expressions of a mythic masculinity. We rescue women and lesser men—after all, better men would be able to fight off bandits and manage their horses – and compete against would-be gunslingers while using unique abilities like Dead-Eye to our advantage. We tip our hat like a proper gentleman, and we kill anyone we want.I really don’t think this is a good criticism of a game set in 1899. He’s a stagecoach stealin, train robbin outlaw in a lawless land. Seems pretty characterful to me.

    • I really don’t think this is a good criticism of a game set in 1899.

      How is it a criticism? It’s just a description of what the game is. It’s a Western so the hero has to be “better” than everyone else in some way. The best shooter, the most loyal, the most something, following a deeper truth, righting a great wrong. Whatever. He’s the centre of the universe. It is what it is, and it explains WHY the random encounters don’t mesh as seamlessly into the world as the much more basic encounters of GTA V do.

      In GTA V there was a sense that you were just a dude (well, several dudes) in a big city. The city didn’t care if you lived or died, only YOU (and your friends) knew you were really a badass thief etc. The point is that RDR2 is a world where opportunities to be a Great Man pop up as if by magic…

      …and that’s fine for a Western but it does make the world seem more contrived than some other open world games.

      Look, it’s all random number generators at the end of the day right? We know this going in, so the game designer’s job is to fool us into forgetting that the random encounter we just did was random.

      The best – well, certainly the most epic – random encounter I ever had in a game was in X3. I had read about a thousand forum posts explaining how to play the damn thing, and I’d decided to do an Argon Trader start, nice and easy. Go to the Ore Belt, they said, and shuffle resources around the stations there until you make your first 100 million then buy sector traders blah blah etc…

      …and so I was happily delivering silicon wafers or something, when this absolutely gigantic Khaak fleet zapped into the system and proceeded to destroy every single structure and ship in the place. This was max three hours into my playthrough. I hid in the corner of the map and watched this huge cloud of red munch its way through what was supposed to be a low-threat, high-security inner system.

      When the Khaak finally left there was nothing, not a single station. (The game respawns them over time.). I was sitting there with my load of silicon wafers thinking “now what?”

      It was awesome. At no point did I think “well that’s dumb if the algo can generate such a huge fleet so early in the game”. All I thought was wow yeah those Khaak sure are a threat, as I restarted…

      It gave me a false sense of confidence though. Next game I fronted up to a couple of weedy little pirate ships… but I turned out I misread the scanner and there was a Carrack there as well, with extremely large guns. It went badly.

  • Well here it is.. We all knew it was coming yeah? The click-bait article in which Kotaku try and push an agenda into a game and find fault for faults sake . This one is perhaps the most lazy and insane one yet, we have a half assed attempt to push anti-masculinity in the middle of what appears to be a stoner like reflection of video games ‘ohhhhh shhhhhiiiiit the NPCs in this game only exist because I do”

    I’m disappointed Kotaku, even your click-bait articles are so lazy these days.

  • I can sorta understand where the writer is coming from, I do find slight annoyance when a random event NPC appears nearby when I’m doing something else, but it’s fleeting at best.

    Last night it was some turnip getting killed by his horse while I was trying to hunt deer, or the guy getting attacked by wolves while I was trying to finally sell my stolen items to a fence.
    Either way those interactions are eclipsed by the more interesting and fluid interactions and it’s a hell of a ride overall.

  • his slow gait seems an attempt to separate him from faster, video-y game contemporaries like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s Kassandra.
    This was funny to read because playing through Odyssey I felt Kassandra moved painfully slow and like that was an attempt by the devs to make her seem more real and less video gamey. It’s hard to imagine walking around even slower than that.

  • Article doesn’t go far enough. It mentions ‘problematic’ and has several instances of ‘masculinity’ but shies away from spelling it out (toxic masculinity). In current year this is gutless behaviour and hopefully Polygon/Vox/Buzzfeed/Marysue will stand up for the oppressed and gives us the righteous signal we can proudly boost.

  • Wow, this has to be the worst piece of “gaming” journalism I have ever read.

    Heather, I suggest you get a grip on what a Video Game actually is before writing your next article.

    Of course it can’t be the same as “real life” it’s always going to be the way it is now, a video game is a piece of code with things triggered by other pieces of code interacting with one another.

    The game world obviously wouldn’t exist without the player character, so why on earth would it continue to function without the player.

    Go get an education.

  • I was prepared to give Kotaku another chance, but seeing as my original comment on this article is still within the depths of moderation hell after 3 hours, I am on the Boycott Bandwagon. I seriously hope there are major staff changes at Kotaku after this, and will be glad to come back when I read about it on other outlets.

  • all the NPC encounters I have seen are shallow, I can greet someone, or rob or annoy. Thats it, I am yet to see one interaction with any character (that is not quest related) beyond that.

    All the random encounters I have witnessed have all been interesting but momentary things. No further on conversations, no further on quests. (Slight spoilers) A dad buildign a cabin with his two sons, who screw something up, nothing further happens, I cant help the man build his house, hell I cant even talk to the kids. A guy asks me to wait by his broken cart, saying he will be right back, no interesting plot twist, nothing.

    There is this constant feeling of something more is about to happen, and yet it never seems to appear. I do like the game but I was expecting more from random encounters.

    Save a prisoner, save a girl, stop an abusive husband, its all the same, still nothing. Not a thing ever seems to happen, no further world building from the instant ‘event’

    • I had an interesting encounter (not even ‘random’, as I had caused it to occur):

      I stopped a wagon with two dudes on it. One put his hand over his revolver and asked if there was going to be a problem. I drew my gun and told them to hand over their money. The driver started to fumble in his pockets but the dude with the gun objected and drew his gun. I shot him in the head, the driver screamed “NO!” and went to jump off the wagon but I shot him too.

      I was partway through rummaging through their belongings when a rider approached. He looked at the bodies, then at me, and said “… you did this?”
      I said “this aint your business, move along.” (threaten)
      he put his hand on his revolver, paused, then sighed and said “this is why I hate people. Aint worth my trouble” and rode off.

      Yes, you have a limited number of options – Callout, rob, greet, antagonise, defuse, aim weapon… But you can do so much with those options, and whilst these NPCs will cease to exist once you move a certain distance away, they provide you with the opportunity for some pretty amazing / hilarious outcomes, even if nothing further amounts from it.

      And there are definitely some encounters where you will encounter the same NPCs later on who will react/acknowledge what occurred initially. Not all of them, but they’re definitely out there.

      • Okay so basically you’re RPing a road-agent who is a backshooter, yeah? IE the absolute lowest of the lowest scum third-tier henchman of the Big Bad in a classic Western, the guy who gets blown away beside the pianola in the opening rounds of the big climactic gunfight at the end?

        Which means, in the story of Wild Bill Hickok, you’re Jack McCall, yeah? When it comes to Tombstone and the Gunfight at the OK Corral, you’re Frank Stilwell, who shot Morgan Earp in the back from ambush, right?

        (I say backshooter because you said the other guy was running away when you shot him, I dunno maybe he was facing you at the time, but he hadn’t drawn is the important part.)

        Not saying this is an invalid way to play or anything, I’m just not sure how interesting I’d find it? To shoot men in the back? To have other men say they don’t want to fight you?

  • Kotaku AU – it’s time for an official response. Is anything likely to change here based on the overwhelmingly negative comments you are receiving from readers? Or do we need to stage a mass walkout? Your house is burning down around you.

    • what rubbish, a bunch of men who find it impossible to read an article they disagree with, especially when it is written by a woman (in which a lot of articles like this are). Especially when it involves the great and glorious Rockstar and Red Dead.

      you are all acting like this article is attacking them game, when its merely a gamer about a short coming they find. I bet if you were to publish an article about a shortcoming you found in a game, it might be laughed aside.

      Here’s the thing look at all these comments, they are all attack Kotaku or the author, not a single one of them read the article and thought ‘I disagree, so let me put forward an intelligent argument of my own, to counter it’.

      I may not agree with the author but at least she is showing some level of analytical thought and some use of English and comprehension to craft a series of words into an idea. and at leas i am capable of reading it, understanding it, and respect the authors opinion. That is more than any of this Red Dead is awesome, Kotaku sucks, circle jerk has done.

          • Whilst he may have missed the point, you’re assuming we’re all having a go at the writer because we’re all misogynistic pigs, or some crap.

            You couldn’t be more wrong.

            I for one was having a go at the writer because she’s annoyed a video game isn’t perfectly realistic.

          • she’s annoyed a video game isn’t perfectly realistic

            she didnt sound annoyed to me, she sounded like a person who was saying ‘this is kinda good, but wouldnt it be great if the game could be like THIS’, just using the most recent game to highlight what she meant.

            if people stopped asking ‘what if’ the whole entire gaming culture would cease to evolve. In fact the positives of this games only exist is because some devs said ‘what if’. that is all she was doing with this story, just asking ‘what if’. Sadly she seriously overestimated the maturity and comprehension and the reader base here.

          • True, but it seems to be mostly the same group of people doing it over and over again to every one of blakeavon’s comments.

      • Look I get what you are trying to say blakeavon but the article trys to shoehorn in toxic masculinity and nonsensical arguments about npc,s into a video game to make a point. Once you add toxic masculinty into the mix it is suggesting that their should be a sense of shame that we should feel enjoying this. I think people are just happy to have really wonderful game to enjoy without yet another games journalist shoehorning in another toxic masculinty trope. choose your battles, all this type of stuff is just going to push more and more centre people and yes even left people to the right and god knows we dont need that.keep up the good fight blakeavon.

        • there is nothing here about toxic masculinity (the only reference to tht is from the readers, who are reading into that) what she is talking about is the inherent concept that Westerns are all based around the concept of masculinity. There is no debating that, that is inherently true. And has been since Westerns were ‘invented’ by hollywood many, many decades ago. Once again, that is just a historical fact.

          These days society has moved away from such juvenile ideas that Westerns are just for men. Hell on Wheels and Deadwood, even Unforgiven (to a lesser degree) all have shown that Westerns are a playground for inciting and interesting females tales as well. This game, sadly, like GTAV, forgets (or doesnt realise) this advancement in society, people want far more nuanced storytelling, from all aspects, including females. Rockstar make their games for men who think at juvenile levels, when there is a much broader market out there.

          I am loving this game but like GTAV it is almost stubbornly a male fantasy when other things like Hell on Wheels and Deadwood have proven Westerns dont need to be. None of what I have said, or what the article says, has anything to do with toxicity masculinity, in the modern sense.

        • The phrase “toxic masculinity” is never mention in the article, thought. In fact, the only time the word toxic appears is as a compliment to the game:

          Red Dead Redemption 2’s detailed environments are intoxicating enough that I forget myself for a time

          Yes, the article discusses masculinity. You’d be lying to yourself if you said this game didn’t revel in masculine tropes, I think it’s a perfectly reasonable thing to point out. But the article never says you shouldn’t enjoy the game because of it, and it certainly never says you should feel bad for enjoying it, and it definitely doesn’t attack anyone for being male.

          It just points out that this masculine framework—the way you are the gruff hero and everything thing exists on parade for you—creates some pitfalls that prevent the world from feeling truly realsitic. I think a lot of gamers want exactly what this game delivers, not everyone wants a world that is indifferent to the player’s existence. However, Heather was just pointing out that open world games like this, that show off all these fancy minutiae in the name of unparalleled realism, might be letting their vision of absolute realism down by these player centric menchanics. Sure, we’re not at a point where we can necessarily achieve that yet, but it’s interesting to discuss, isn’t it?

          • Unfortunately the article has been rather cowardly edited from its initial release yesterday.

            ‘toxic masculinity’ has been replaced by ‘mythic masculinity’

            So all the comments from yesterday referring to it are correct, unfortunately you’ve come across it once either Heather or the Kotaku editors have backtracked a little.

          • Even if it did use that specific term, the point still stands. I don’t think it’s a stretch to call cowboy bandits a reflection of toxic masculinity – they murdered, robbed, and womanised. But the article still doesn’t say you shouldn’t enjoy the game or that you’re a bad person if you do. It only theorised on ways to make an open world more believable. People are far too quick to take any critique of toxic masculinity as a personal attack.

          • “even if they did” huh. Wow they backtracked didnt know. Says a lot really. My points still hold and yes I am discussing it. I think depictions of woman should be something that is looked at and addressed but the way the article and many others that have appeared on Kotaku has been not helpful to their cause to say the least.

          • I still don’t understand what you perceive to be unhelpful. Your initial post said that Heather was shoehorning the concept of toxic masculinity into her critique of the game to impose a ‘sense of shame’ on those that are enjoying it. Could you highlight the part that you believe shames people for enjoying this game?

            As far as I can see, it just uses the framework of toxic masculinity to discuss how narrative structure and open world NPC interactions can be seen as predictable when framed from the angle of the antihero cowboy.

          • Replying here as it wont let me reply to your reply mogwai. Framing it as she did initially through the lens of toxic masculinity is so loaded politically. Its not a good start and as has been said they changed the wording to mythic masculinity, freudian slip perhaps. The use of those two words has been overplayed, particularly within the games journalism sphere. They do actually mean something. yes there are and is a lot of toxic masculinity and generally a lot of toxicity on the internet in general but until we get a lot more honesty of how we all are as humans, men and woman we aint going to do shit to clean up the worlds problems. The more divided we are the more likely we are to vote in despots and facists. yes it may seem like im drawing a long bow and you can think that all you like but its happening and its scary. There is not one gender fucking this world up there is two. Words like toxic masculinity when applied to things like this are not helpful, truly. Anyways stop making me type I want to get back to red dead which has the most amazing npc interactions that I have ever seen in a game hmmmmm you wondered why I thought she was being contrarian and shoehorning.

          • Oh hey @zorastin, sorry, I didn’t get a notification. Thanks for replying though, and sorry to keep taking you away from the game! I think this is a differing sticking point – I don’t think the word has been overplayed and I think it sums up the concept quite accurately. People are quick to get super defensive about the topic, but I think that’s less about the word and more about how people feel about the topic in general. You could call it anything and men would feel targeted.

            I don’t think it’s divisive language at it’s core, I’d even suggest that it’s inclusive language, because it seeks to unite everyone against the problems of toxic masculinity because it affects both women and men negatively. When people bring up toxic masculinity it’s not shorthand for “all men are toxic, and therefore all men are bad”, it’s a way of addressing long held societal/social structures which are damaging and oppressive. People talk about shoehorning topics of identity and gender politics into everything, but I think it’s more about highlighting that traces of these concepts exist in so many places that we are blind to them. That’s what I think, at least.

            Anyway, that’s extrapolating on/off the topic pretty far. Go on, enjoy Red Dead, I wish I could be doing the same right now.

          • Thank you for your considered responses mogwai. Ive had a big think overnight and a little more soul searching and thinking about this thing. I actually do think about this stuff a lot and for a long time. I guess it was the initial use of of term toxic masculinty which got me so triggered. It has been used a lot in media for things that it shouldnt be and for things that are not quite honest about where the total blame lies. I think if we are going to solve this conundrum we are going to have to need to work together and find common ground where we see each other as humans and not some weird toxic other, see im doing it again Also a dawning realisation that i consume a lot media over many different types of persuasions. Im not a good writer because of it i think so im trying to put it as clearly as i can. So i realised even for someone who has been the biggest lefty in the past i have started to veer right like someone said earlier maybe even you. I might have strayed into conservative territory, how did this happen, getting older perhaps but even scarily to get all fancy wordish the overton window is shifting scarily to the right. This does not bode well for the average Joe or Jill. The words we use are important(he says with his ramble) and i really think part of the way out is to tell the stories of non toxic masculinity and the different ways that men are and have always been decent acting human beings. Doesnt make for fun video games though lol, . This is absent in a lot of the discourse . Anyways I appreciate you responses and points taken, soul searched, made me think damn you.I may have been a little knee jerkish…sigh.

        • And the whole people getting polarised to the right because of a light critique in an opinion piece of a video game on a gaming website is not really a thing, hey. If people claim they were polarised by that kind of thing they’re either being overly dramatic or looking for an excuse to make their opinions public, but either way they probably held some pretty conservative beliefs deep down the whole time.

          • Oh hey @Simocrates and @m2d2, I was beginning to think you weren’t going to down vote my posts because you were too paralysed by outrage to make it to the second page of comments.

        • But where is she actually talking about toxic masculinity though? She says ‘interactions with Red Dead Redemption 2’s NPCs exist within [a] masculine framework’, and the options available to the player are constrained as a result of that, making it easier to see the puppet strings. She also says that the hyper masculinity is consistent with how the wild west was at the time. Nothing overtly negative about masculinity, just that it exists in the game.

          But the comments section is chockers full of people making the ‘toxic masculinity’ complaint about this article and Heather’s writing more generally. Why does the comments section blow up like this every time she writes anything at all? Why the defensiveness from the block-downvote brigade – if people don’t like her writing, i don’t understand why they continue to read all of her articles.

    • Or you know, the fact the author is being completely unprofessional on Twitter.

      For a transgender person, I find it deplorable that you would use the derogatory term “faggot” Heather.

  • Also done with Kotaku, this was the final straw, majority of sane reasoned user comments on this piece nail how I have felt for a while. Heather, please get off your high horse (pun very much intended)

  • I feel like people are wilfully misinterpreting what Heather has said here. All I drew from the article was that it would make for a more believable world if things didn’t so obviously happen so obviously for you to be involved it. The shooting gallery of social interaction, if you will (but judging from the opinions here, you probably won’t).

    Lots of people obviously like feeling like the centre of the game’s universe and have everything happen at you, and that’s fine. Heather appears to want a game that’s more oblivious to the players presence and have things happen around you, and that’s also fine. This is an opinion piece.

    Saying “oh that’s just how NPCs work” is doing a disservice to the medium of gaming. Games were linear left to right adventures with no player choice for decades, and to imagine anything else would have seem ludicrously fanciful. Heather is imagining a future where NPCs are more lifelike and independent. I think that’s an interesting future, and there’s no reason why we won’t get there.

    Exams can’t finish soon enough. I need to get to playing this game, and soon, otherwise the fan base are going to absolutely sour it for me.

    • She took it down the toxic masculinity path. The narrative has been planted throughout articles and continues. It’s thematic. People are picking up on what has been consitently put forward.
      I didn’t check the author name, started reading, and realised “Oh, this is a Heather article” at a certain point.

      Some of it may be nitpicking. Other parts of it are more about the introduced themes put forward by a third party, not actually involved in the development of the game. People don’t like article writers saying “This actually means this even though that wasn’t the developer’s intention and it’s bad for equality” etc.

      • I think these things just haven’t been discussed in the past as much as they are now because no one has been paying attention. This stuff has existed all along, and it’s only because people are taking the time to highlight it now that it feels like a “narrative”.

        I’ve got 10+ hours of the game under my belt now (squeezing in between exams) and I can say that, while maybe not to the degree that Heather feels, I definitely have had some eyeroll/sigh moments at the way this game shoves chances for you to be a saviour under you nose to stroke that hero ego. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve really loving this game and I wish I could check out of daily life for a week or two to just play it. I’m just seeing the seams of some of the narrative design—a design that is born from the masculine hero tropes that Heather discusses. It doesn’t matter if the producers of a game didn’t intentionally design it or intend it, it is still a valid opinion. And it doesn’t make the game bad (it’s still the most impressive game I think I’ve ever played), it just makes it a little predictable at times. But you don’t have to agree, that’s what opinion pieces are about.

  • This is a prime example of nitpicking at its finest. Rockstar sets the standard for open world games and Red Dead Redemption 2 is a masterpiece, a product of a company that put quality over quantity. Witcher 3 reinvented open world gaming, blurring the lines between side quests and main quests, Rockstar have set the bar high once again. This is great for the video game industry that feels bloated with boring open world games with little substance or depth.

  • Heather never backs herself with the community. She never interacts with us here, addresses her statements, or shows any form of wanting to be a part of a community surrounding Kotaku.
    She pulls the pin, throws the grenade down the hall, and then walks away with the explosion going off behind her (like in movies).

    And it’s weak. It is EXACTLY the same as internet trolling, only she gets some form of financial benefit from it.
    If you believe in your convictions this strongly, continue the narrative with your audience. Otherwise it’s not really an audience, is it? It’s a crowd of onlookers.

    I am sorry that toxic masculinity exists and has existed. And I am sorry we can’t go back to the 1800’s and make them aware of the paywage gap etc.
    But I am not sorry that there are men out there aware of the issue who get better at it a little more each day. We won’t see the benefits completely in our generation. A lot of us still have hyper masculine fathers that see women as a means to get housework done, and we’ve spent our existence questioning what we are going to do differently. This backseat driver mentality hidden in article format sets us all backwards.
    Change comes from doing, not saying.

    • Heather is a US Kotaku writer, isn’t she? I could be wrong but I don’t think any of the US staff engage with the Australian comments section. I always kinda felt like it was just the Australian editorial staff selecting articles from the US site to repost here. I haven’t actually frequented the US site enough to know whether there’s writer interaction in their comment sections.

      But beyond that, I’d say the writers job is to write articles. They’re not paid to sift through comment sections. That kind of engagement take a lot of time and effort, and it would be extremely difficult to “log out” of your job, so to speak.

      • With opinions and convictions like these, I feel you back them up with discussion. It’s responsible to do so.
        There is a reason why the Kotaku brand takes a hit each year and failure to address grievances could kill a site we all love despite its current lack of democracy and representation of the culture.

        I do believe Kotaku strives to make the culture more transparent and equal, but at the cost of its own credibility and with a dr I strayed lack of respect for readers that keep them relevant.

        The net be thick with Kotaku criticism. Nobody here wants that. It needs reform!

        • Personally, I’d forgive any writer that was reticent to engage in the comments sections like this one. I don’t think their presence would make people any less vitriolic. It would be an exercise in frustration and exhaustion. They don’t owe us anything, it’s our choice to read the article. I don’t think responsibility or democracy come into it.

          What I do think needs reform is reader entitlement. You can’t expect everything written on a website to align to your personal opinions. Nine times out of ten, you can tell from a title that an article is not going to appeal to you. It’s not that hard to just scroll past it. Yet it’s the same ol’ suspects saying time and time again that “this is the last straw”, but they still stick around and complain on the articles they disagree with (and sprinkle downvotes around like confetti at a wedding). They don’t realise that their persistence to complain and hound these articles makes Kotaku’s click-throughs skyrocket, which means their advertising revenue goes up. Or they do realise, yet they just want to engage in some self-gratifying outrage, which is the more likely reason.

          At some point you’ve just got to accept that this is the type of editorial that Kotaku is going to publish, and it’s certainly not going to change when there is this amount of traffic. Maybe this isn’t the website for the kind of people that hate this content. I personally hope it doesn’t change. I think opinion pieces like this are interesting and important, even if I don’t always agree 100%.

  • And Alex, can you please take me off moderation? It’s been nearly a week.
    The downvote thing doesn’t work. See how people agreeing with Heather are actually going to be punished for agreeing with a point Kotaku put forward?
    Not very democratic.

  • I am getting ready for all the gushing praise that Heather will heap on TLOU2 – it’s going to very over the top

    “Why the extreme violence is fully justified!”
    “Why straight white men can’t get over a lesbian kiss”
    “Everything TLOU2 gets right about LGBTI+ relationships”
    “Why the combat in TLOU2 is not the problem, you are”
    “Why TLOU2 NPC’s are SO REALISTIC”

  • Well that was predictable. The same knee-jerk comment pile-on by the usual suspects… If you think it’s going to be click-bait, don’t click it…

    Good article. As games get more complex, the uncanny valley approaches not just in facial animation but in the way the world works, and the risk of immersion breakage increases. Hoping for more emergent behaviour in NPCs and less scripting for background interactions as games evolve over the next few years.

  • Seriously, plenty of people here need to learn the difference between “critique” and “criticism”.

    The point the author is trying to be made can be easily illustrated with GTA V. GTA V also has these random encounters that spawn dynamically as the player passes by.

    But in GTA V, you’re driving along and you see someone snatch a purse. You see the cops chasing someone. You see a fist fight. Or whatever. The implication in all those things is that if you do nothing (which I usually do) that person’s life and situation will continue – someone else will deal with it. Even if the actually computer program part simply erases them from the world once you get 200 metres away (or whatever), the suspension of disbelief is such that you don’t notice it.

    The encounters that this author finds jarring in RDR2 are the ones where it seems like the NPC has no reason to exist except to offer you a reward. In a city like Los Santos, the probability of seeing someone getting mugged as you walk past, is pretty high. In RDR2, you’re way out in the wilderness all alone and then suddenly there’s a snakebit dude there.

    Where did he come from? Where was he going? Why was he there? How did he get snakebit? In the words of Red Letter Media: you might not have asked these questions… but your brain did.

    A secret pleasure of this otherwise fairly biased PC gamer, is Animal Crossing. I love how in that game, the other residents seem to have their own lives that will go on whether the player interacts with them or not. It’s the only game I’ve ever played where I find out that I was invited to a party two days ago but just didn’t check my mail to get the invitation and now the mouse is vaguely offended. I also like how sometimes a resident will say “Grrr don’t talk to me I’m in too bad a mood today” and then go off fishing.

    Animal Crossing taught my then five year old son how to process his best friend Pedro moving away even though my son asked him to stay. Note to non players: the game does not explicitly label anyone as your best friend – my son decided Pedro (a blue dog) was his best friend and used to just follow him around watching what he did.

    Rockstar are amazing artisans, crafters of intricate clockwork-like miniature worlds. Their writing has always been… let’s say like that weird kid in year 11 with the 600 page novel about angels who are also demons.

  • For anyone coming into this article and going over the comments wondering “wtf is up with everyone?” – The article has been heavily edited from its initial offering and now all those comments don’t quite make anymore sense.

    Just understand that if you’re reading this now (after 29th Oct) its not close to the same article anymore due to the amounts of edits they made quietly.

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