That's Not My Arthur Morgan

Here’s a thing I’ve noticed while watching other people play Red Dead Redemption 2: there’s an Arthur Morgan on the screen, who looks like Arthur Morgan and sounds like Arthur Morgan, but isn’t my Arthur Morgan.

I know it’s the same character, but it’s also not, and that never sits right with me. I call it the Geralt-Morgan Effect.

That’s because I get the same feeling watching people play The Witcher 3. There can be a Geralt on the screen doing the same things mine did, knockin’boots and rubbin’ oils, but something feels off about it because that’s not what my Geralt looked like.

It’s as though I was watching Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Only instead of aliens swooping in and replacing everyone in my town with off-putting clones, it was my friends and colleagues giving Geralt stupid haircuts that, to me and my understanding/love of the character, he would never dream of.

Both Red Dead Redemption 2 and The Witcher 3 exist in this strange space where you’re given a pre-written, pre-voiced character whose base appearance can’t be changed. Everyone’s Arthur Morgan sounds like Roger Clark, they’ve got the same steely eyes and the same weathered face.

Why would anyone do this why

So there’s a shared experience there. Like Lara Croft, or Master Chief, Arthur Morgan has a name, a voice and a story. We’re not building our own hero here, we’re taking charge of one that had already been made and just pushing him through a storyline.

What’s more, his character is written so as to account for almost any action you take in this game: whether you play like a rogue or a gentleman, you’ll still be forced to both save and murder people, and so no matter your actions Arthur Morgan’s story will be the same for everyone.

Yet outside of these core parameters, and unlike Lara Croft or Master Chief, we can still make significant changes. We can give Arthur haircuts, shave his facial hair and dress him up in a wide variety of clothes.

This might seem superficial, trivial even, but I’ve found it has a huge impact on how we perceive these characters.

My Arthur Morgan, gruff and practical but also grudgingly accepting of the onset of the modern age, is reliably basic. He wears a white shirt with suspenders, plain spurs and boots and a tattered old hat. He sports a moustache that is rarely kept clean-shaven, and a slicked-back haircut that’s more about practicality than style.

For reasons beyond just the name, but also the personality and time period, my Arthur Morgan skews pretty close to Peaky Blinders’ Arthur Shelby

I dress him like that because that’s what I think he’s like. Arthur isn’t my character, so whenever it comes time to select clothes in the game I find myself picking what I think Arthur would pick, not what I’d opt for if given a blank slate.

And Arthur doesn’t seem like a guy who would willingly opt for a fancy suit, or extravagant sideburns.

This is dumb, I know, but I’m a singleplayer obsessive who once immersed in an adventure is immersed. There’s an odd kind of compromise at play here, where a character I didn’t create is still somehow becoming mine through the way I customise them.

While loads of games let you customise existing characters, I think there’s a set of circumstances that you only find in these two games that allow for this sensation.

Both are exceptionally long, dense games, meaning we get to spend a lot of time with these guys. Both characters are exceptionally well-written and acted, which helps us relate to them and makes them start to feel a little more “real”. And both give us the means to customise the character’s appearance without changing stuff like body shape and skin colour.

So while Rockstar’s own Grand Theft Auto V let you edit the character’s appearance, their lack of depth, and the way the game had you jumping between each star, meant we never really got to know them, so those changes didn’t mean much. And while Assassin’s Creed Odyssey might seemingly meet all the criteria I just listed, the fact you can’t customise Kassandra’s (or Alexios’) face and hair keeps them looking the same - albeit with some wardrobe disagreements—across everyone’s experience.

I’m not saying this is a problem. Unless it’s maybe a problem for me, someone who reading back over this realises I might just be a little too into these big singleplayer adventures. And I’m fully aware that just as I’m finding someone else’s Arthur Morgan looking strange, they’d just as likely look at mine and think, no, this isn’t right either.

I just find it interesting that we’re at a point now with some video games where you can grow to know and love a character so much that even the slightest changes to their physical appearance, as much as any decisions you might make during gameplay, can have a big impact on the way that character is perceived.


Comments

    Yeah I can understand this, it's pretty amazing how clothing and varying lengths of head and facial hair can create such diverse variations across players.
    I tried shaving my Arthur after a save and noticed my clothing choices made clean shaven Arthur look like an idiot while I've seen other players look fine in their getup.

    I massively dislike the character, so much so, it creates this feeling of disinterest. Its like I like the idea of the game more than the playing it.

    In Witcher 3 at pretty much every turn you are given a choice in how you want Geralt to respond. So while there are clear cut boundaries to his character there is enough wiggle room in deciding whether to be an ass to someone or not. The character feels your own. There is never a point in the whole game when I am not loving his characterization.

    There is so many times in RDR2 when Arthur says something or does something and I am thinking 'what the hell', that is not the character I am playing. So many interactions when he hits people or hurts people or just plan rude them in nasty ways, when at no point was a given a choice. As a result there is a rarely a time when I feel ownership of the character.

    Yes there are choices along the way but honestly most of them seem like they are the illusion of choice. Even if I choose the polite option, he is still being a jerk.

      Like the GTA series it’s still a predominately linear story with a predefined character that you inhabit. It isn’t supposed to be a self-insert. If you feel uncomfortable and hate him that’s probably a good thing, because he’s an outlaw.

      I can relate. Early on in the game I wanted to be nice as pie to everyone, but Arthur was a tenacious jerk to John and Kieren. There were also a couple of scripted interactions in missions that seemed too mean-spirited. Due to these moments, I found myself being hella nice to virtually everyone, just to balance things out.

      After Chapter 3, he seems to mellow a bit, which helps, and reading through his journal and having quiet sit downs with the ladies at camp has often resulted in real character revelations. He’s basically been fashioned into a shithead by the cowboy life, and it’s tearing him apart.

      Maybe my relentless niceness is giving arthur a midlife crisis lol

      You have basic interaction choices within a narrative, it's not a branching story line.
      I don't see how it's an illusion of choice when it's very apparent that the options are the same positive/negative response system that R* has been using for a while and in no way reflects actual moral or immoral behaviours, it only defines interactions.
      (A threatening stance is positive when the other option is a bullet in the head.)

      I do get what your saying, I'm just not sure when RDR2 ever claimed to be an open world defined by your choices, at least beyond the systems they make clear to the player.
      (I'm pretty sure the first time it shows your morality bar it explains that it's how NPC's perceive you and nothing more, basically the difference between "welcome back" and "we don't want no trouble" when you enter a store for example)

      I make him pay for his iniquities by feeding him only offal and candy, as well as never bathing and growing his beard extra long so it itches like hell.

      Take that, fictional character on my screen!

    I agree. Watching videos of other people’s Arthur is a little odd. Mine has an epic moustache and mutton chops, and his dress sense ranges from shifty, black-hearted gambler to Kurt Russel in The Hateful Eight :)

    100% agree. It's not only that though, I grew to know the mannerisms *my* Arthur would display in certain situations. I came to know he would give that 'dumbass' look to people, that because I was playing a guy who at the start, had veered towards evil (his bar was 2/3rds of the way to the left) then near the end, had almost redeemed himself (bar 2/3 of the way to the right by then), he would always be a bit tolerant but at times a bit snarky. That's why when I see almost 'angelic' Arthur from people who have it all the way to the right, or heinously evil Arthur, I always feel "I don't know that man"...

    It's a weird feeling.

    I never changed my Arthur's outfit, I always kept him in the default, brown/tan-leather gunslinger jacket, blue shirt and his signature worn, black leather hat. In terms of hair and facial hair, I usually gave him short-ish to medium hair, and I let his beard grow to the maximum. Well, not the absolute maximum, but the highest it can go without the aid of that item to further increase the beard's length.

    My Arthur also had maximum honour by the end of the game, and without spoiling anything, the way my Arthur looked, plus his honour, felt just right to me.

    So I'm in chapter 4 of this now, and the further I get into it, the less I understand why Arthur (or someone else, say Hosea or John) doesn't just put a bullet in Dutch's head. Every single thing that happens to the gang can be blamed on Dutch being an idiot and I'm rapidly losing any desire to continue the game because of this huge problem.

      Most of the issues can, but that's the point, is that the people blindly follow their leader, a sense of blind loyalty to him keeps them coming back despite the abuse. Dutch is a master manipulator right up until the end, when he messed with John's head (RDR1 not part 2). So in that sense, that had to make him out to be quite the manipulator.

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