I achieved 100% completion in Red Dead Redemption in just over 43 hours, and nothing else I’ve played this year has come close to equalling that gaming experience. I normally avoid 100% completion—I would like to think I have better things to do, and I believe my friends and family tend to agree. In this case, however, the experience was enjoyable, motivated, and most importantly the tasks made sense within the gameworld. One of my complaints about Grand Theft Auto IV‘s completion stats is that there are many things in that game that I do not believe Niko would normally do—the online dating side-missions in particular run at odds with the Kate McReary subplot. That was not the case in RDR.
Once I bought into the necessity of hunting and gathering for cash within the game, most of the tasks came naturally. You play a cowboy; cowboys seek fame, fortune and money. Most things you do for fame and fortune in Red Dead gain you completion percentages. By the time I completed the story I had already reached 97% completion. That last 3% of game gave me just enough time to begin to tell my own story within the gameworld, creating the start of a new chapter in the lives of the Marstons. That experience provided me more narrative closure than did the game itself.
Red Dead Redemption is like that—I played the game on its own terms, but with my own personal style. A few weeks after the credits rolled, I had a conversation with my brother about the final storyline event. During that confrontation, my brother chose to use the Cattleman Revoler, the starting weapon of the game. He selected that weapon because he believed it was John Marston’s old gun, which he believed would mean more to your character than any of the weapons you purchase or find during the rest of the game. To him, the cattleman revolver was the symbol of Marston’s journey, and the only tool that could truly close the last chapter. By way of contrast, I chose a modern pistol—not for its stopping power, but because it had been given to Marston by the very forces he fought so hard against. I wanted to use my enemy’s own weapons to exact my revenge.
These were roleplaying decisions. They were driven by our interpretations of the characters, not any game mechanics. We had played all the same missions, but in the end, we didn’t choose our weapons based on power or flexibility. In most shooters the choice of weapon is clear—what has the most ammunition, or the most power? It is a rare game that can make you choose for emotional reasons. We chose based on our interpretations of the character we inhabited, and how we had reacted to the events we had been through together. I think that says more about how captivated we were by Red Dead Redemption than any broad generalizations ever could.