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Some spoilers for a sidequest in Red Dead Redemption 2

Butch:

So you know the other day when we were wondering about the repossessed house and the fact people were there during the quest? Remember me saying I found this little graveyard and couldn’t figure it out?

Well, got a stranger quest last night and now I have answers.

And I really hope you do, too, cuz it was a fucking powerhouse of a quest and I wanna talk about it. I really, really want to talk about it.

Feminina:

Do you mean the guy who asks you to go find his journal and stuff at his old house that we almost burned down before?

Yeah, I didn’t want to mention that before, although it somewhat informed my speculation about squatters answering the door.

That was certainly a thing, wasn’t it?

Unless you’re talking about something else, in which case, I don’t think I did it because that’s the only thing I remember that had to do with that house.

Butch:

That’s the one. Nice job being coy.

Wasn’t that just a thing? It’s certainly a thing that I have been turning around in my head far more than any other quest I’ve played in a while.

Because…well…on one hand, yes, I’m glad that he isn’t hunting slaves any more. Arthur is exactly right that some jobs should end (now, we could, and likely will, ponder the fact that maybe a job that involves robbing trains and killing people should end, too), and he’s right that some legacies should be pissed on (again….pot kettle, here, right?). But that said…..

Even though what he was doing is unjustifiably evil, he was a product of his time. He was doing a job to support his family. There may well be a time, soon, where we look back at the harm that fossil fuels, say, have done to the world and have the same disgust for people who made their fortunes drilling oil and mining coal. And he doesn’t lament the end of his job, per se. He isn’t hankering to go back to catching slaves. He laments the end of his lifestyle, sure. His home, his marriage, etc, but there was no drooling, growling, “I wish I could chain up them slaves again” evil from him.

Also, we talked in the past about Arthur maybe finding another less awful line of work. This guy, he DID try that! We see letters where he did get jobs at mining companies and railroads and all that! He just wasn’t cut out for them. He tried to adapt to a changing world, and couldn’t.

There are a lot of people in the country today who are fearful of winding up just like this guy. Unable to adapt.

Which is why the ending was so powerful. Arthur is an angry man. He’s, at times, cruel. He was angry and mean to this guy, too. If you were like me, you didn’t mind him being mean here as much as you’ve minded him being mean elsewhere, but is that really justified? Or is that just our elitism, our “well, your way of life sucked, and if you can’t adapt to the future fuck you” liberalism?

The three best words of the whole thing were the best line I’ve seen in a video game in many, many moons: Him, on his knees, in the dirt, crying, saying “I still exist.” Not “I’m still alive” or “I’ll come back, you’ll see!” or “How could you?” or anything. I still EXIST. And saying it in a way that he was half trying to convince himself of that fact.

When it was over, I didn’t know if I pitied him or not. The fact I even had to wonder made me do some real thinking, and, after that thinking, I don’t know if I should have pitied him or not.

But what I didn’t do was shoot him. Usually, we shoot slavers in games, right? But I left him there, crying in the dirt. But here’s the thing: I left him alive to let him suffer. I figured, he deserved that.

And if he’s a metaphor for people facing that fear today, people poorer and less educated than I am, what does THAT say about me?

Feminina:

Yeah, there was a lot there, and it was a bit more complicated than just “he was a filthy slavecatcher so screw him.”

I mean…he WAS a filthy slavecatcher, and the system he’s lamenting, the one that gave him all this prestige and standing in society, totally deserved to fall. Zero sympathy for anyone pining for the days when slavecatching was a valued profession.

But it’s also true that he didn’t build the system, he was just surviving in it, doing a job SOMEONE was going to do because the demand/money was there, and it’s not really his fault that the skills of the terrible service that system paid him to provide don’t transfer well to a slightly more just world.

He’s not wrong about this much: he’s lost a lot, and it’s only human to mourn your losses.

On the other hand, it was always an option for him, as a human being, to recognize that the service he provided was a terrible one. It was always an option for a human being to choose NOT to dedicate his professional life to hunting down other human beings and returning them to lives of slavery. Maybe he wouldn’t have made as much money or had as many ‘friends’ among the gentry, but he could have chosen to forgo that. Doing that job was a choice he made, and one he seems not to regret at all, and we can and should judge that choice.

And, you’re absolutely right, we also can and should judge Arthur’s choice to continue with his career of robbing and murdering people.

So yeah…I don’t blame that dude for mourning, necessarily. He feels, correctly, that he’s suffered a lot with the coming of the new order. I think he kind of sums up a lot of the partially-legitimate grievances around race. I mean, it’s not necessarily incorrect for white people to feel that they’ve lost out on an advantage by having to compete with free black people for jobs now, or whatever.

It’s literally true: they have lost an advantage that they had, and they are worse off for it.

It was a monstrously unfair advantage…but losing it probably still sucks for that person. So, you know, sympathy for the sense of loss, and sorry these peoples’ lives are genuinely more difficult than they would have been in the old system. One doesn’t really rejoice in the fact that someone else’s life has gotten harder. (I mean, unless one really dislikes that person.)

But…one is probably not sorry enough to think that we should just go ahead and reinstate the old system that will monstrously unfairly disadvantage everyone else to make those relatively few people’ lives easier again.

So, genuine sympathy, I guess, but also, life is tough, and as tough as it is for people who’ve recently lost a big advantage, it was ALWAYS that tough (or worse) for the people who didn’t have that advantage in the first place, so…we’re all going to have to deal.

Giant social changes are hard, but they happen anyway, whether we like it or not and whether they’re morally justified or not. The march of civilization across the west, ‘changes in the labor laws’…it’s all part of the story.

I personally might not have taken such grim pleasure in burning the guy’s notebook, because whatever, he seems to have sunk low enough without me taunting him, but I think maybe Arthur’s kind of taking out his feelings about his own job there? He has talked about how the gang is going to have to pay for their sins, etc., so maybe he’s taking some satisfaction in seeing someone else paying for his as well.

Butch:

Right, though, he was SURVIVING. When I first met him, I thought “Oh, here we go. Old plantation owner. Used to be rich, blah blah blah.” But he wasn’t. He just had a little homestead, a barn we burned down, that was about it. He was just a middle class employee of the system. I got the sense the prestige he talked about losing was overblown, that the REAL southern gentlemen wouldn’t have thought he was a gentleman at all. Did you catch that the family picture (did you really think I’d try to spell daguerreotype? HA! Did it! Totally didn’t look it up. Ahem) was a gift from someone who employed him? He didn’t have it taken himself. He likely couldn’t afford it.

And, yes, his job was despicable, but it was legal and in demand, which is more than we can say for anything Arthur has ever done ever. Yet, there, at the end, Arthur is taking the high ground, pissing on Jerimiah’s legacy, and we’re rooting him on. You go Arthur! Yeah! Down with evil racists and up with….uh….moving on!

Though what do you make of the fact that it turned out he didn’t have much of a choice? He DID try to make it in other fields, but failed. He kept losing jobs. You said before about Arthur: we don’t know if he has skills that would translate to homesteading or growing apples or whatever the fuck. He certainly doesn’t think he has skills. We, with our advanced degrees, can blithely say “Pfft! Just do something else!” but it’s not always as easy as all that for people that don’t have, like, masters degrees. This guy did try to choose. It turned out the options he had were illusions. It’s pretty harsh to say “Well, you could always just choose to sleep on a bench, and you probably should.” It’s also rather uppity of us, as we will never have to have that be a choice.

And, well, no, of course we don’t want to reinstate the old system to help sad guys like this. That said, there’s also a degree of no one really CAN reinstate the old ways. The future marches on. Even today, coal mining, say, is going to become a relic. There’s nothing coal miners can do. The price of gas is too low, robots will make human miners obsolete, solar will get more popular. There’s nothing anyone can do about that. The future is going to happen.

It is all part of the march of history….but here’s us, all elite and shit, so it’s easy for us to say. The changes in time always affect the little guy, or at least the middle class guy. “Labor Laws” aside, the guy who paid for that daguerreotype probably did not end up sleeping on a bench.

I think Arthur is taking satisfaction, yeah. He also REALLLLLLLLLLY seems to hate racism. He took great joy in killing Klansmen, too. I wonder if that’s there to placate our modern sensibilities or not.

Feminina:

Wait, you thought the guy was trying to get other jobs BEFORE the war? I assumed he was trying to get those other jobs only once he lost his first job. In which case, yes, I respect that he did try other things (as Arthur will not), and it’s certainly more laudable than if he just sat around whining about how he was too good to work on the railroad or something, but considering he only did that when he was forced to, I don’t think he gets any morality points.

He kept catching slaves as long as there were slaves to catch. I mean, if he’d experienced a conversion like the “Amazing Grace” guy and decided in the middle of a hunt that he wasn’t going to do this horrible job anymore!–yeah, major props, good on you. But I don’t think that’s what happened.

I definitely agree, though, that’s he’s probably overstating (or glorifying in memory) his own prestige in the old days. Pretty sure a slavecatcher, while a necessary position, was not going to be attending debutante balls on the plantation or anything. But still, he had SOMETHING, he was known and appreciated, which in comparison to the nothing and the scorn he now has, is pretty great.

And it’s definitely easy for me to say “people have to just suck it up” from my position in a comfortable middle class (for now) job. (Librarians are looking at automated replacements too, in various ways. Our future, like all futures, is uncertain. It’s nice to assume we’ll never have to decide whether or not to sleep on a bench, but the middle class is shrinking, and we’re unlikely to be immune in the long run.)

It’s certainly easy for me to say “people gotta deal with change” when I’m not the one dealing with it at this particular moment.

Buuuuuut…it’s also true. People DO gotta deal with change. And I’m not without sympathy, and if you want to get into “we should help those people get new jobs!” or whatever, I’m all about figuring out how we as a society can help support transitions into the future (whatever it may be).

We should have followed through with Reconstruction! Coal miners should have job training!

I don’t mean “people gotta deal” in a “people gotta sink or swim, and if they sink, hell with ’em” way, although that’s often how it plays out in history. But however much we try to mitigate the ill-effects, or don’t, things are going to change, and historically it’s going to be good for some people, and bad for others, and it’s almost the luck of the draw where you wind up on that line.

Butch:

Oh, no, I think he kept catching slaves so long as there were slaves to catch, but at least he didn’t cling to it when there weren’t (unlike, say, the raiders, in their way). I see the lack of morality points.

Though what do you make of the fact that he calls his ledger his “legacy?” He doesn’t want it to remember his glory days, if you buy “legacy.” He wants it to be remembered BY. That’s what a legacy is, right? Something you can say “Hey, future people, look what I did! Ain’t it great?” He still thinks that people will be proud of him, that he’ll not only “exist,” but continue to exist in the minds of future people (in a good way). One wonders who he thinks his legacy is for. The slave trade is already long gone, we get a sense his wife has divorced him, his son has disowned him. There’s no one to look upon his “legacy” at all, and yet that’s how he looks at all of the rewards for the people he captured.

The luck of the draw… Is it though? Maybe. But it sure seems like the deck is stacked in favor of some and not others. Even in this game, we’ve talked a lot about how, in their scramble for survival, the poor are eating each other. Desperate schmucks preying on other desperate schmucks. The Leviticus Cornwalls of the world never need luck. Never will.

Feminina:

I think maybe his ledger was, to him, the only solid proof that he actually existed (as you said in the beginning, his final wail is “I exist!”), that he actually did stuff that was recognized by others. It’s the record of his work, even though that work is no longer respected–I think he’s not so much planning to save it in a “hey, look how many slaves I caught!” way, as in a “look, I did work that was valued” way. I think he’s more interested in the record of him having meant something, than in the specifics of what he did. (Again as you said, he doesn’t seem particularly fixated on the work itself. He’s not talking about the good old days when he used to be able to run people down and chain them in his basement, and that was so much fun or so satisfying or whatever. I get the sense that those things are just details to him: the big picture he’s missing is the good old days when he MATTERED.)

And it is absolutely true that being rich and connected before the big social change gives one a nice leg up on doing OK afterwards. The people who are just getting by are way more likely to get hurt way worse. But in terms of those people, if you’re the classic buggy whip manufacturer, the advent of automobiles hurts you, whereas if happen to live near the Ford factory where you can get a job maybe you feel pretty good about cars…in that sense, there’s a lot of luck.

Butch:

Though…after googling something else (specifically, what was with that bourbon bottle you could pick up and look at, couldn’t find the answer) I learned something interesting: If you DO kill him, shoot him in cold blood while he is wailing there after the quest ends, you GAIN honor. It’s unclear if that’s because he’s awful and enjoyed it all and kill awful racists or if you’re putting a man who will never matter, never be happy, out of his misery. After all, I let him live to let him suffer. Interesting, and wonderfully ambiguous, as to what the game wants you to do and why.

Feminina:

What WAS with that bourbon bottle? I wondered too. Just to make sure you didn’t miss that he’d become a drunk? I kind of got that before, game.

Interesting that you gained honor from shooting him. Maybe the game DOES think he’s just that evil. I don’t know. I mean, as I said, he made his choices to aid and abet an evil system, and I judge him for that. That was an evil decision that he made cheerfully, stuck with for years, and even now doesn’t regret. That’s on him.

But he’s pretty well suffering for it already. I don’t know if I think he deserves death for it–or at least, I don’t know if Arthur is the one to decide that he does.

If one of the people he once captured and dragged back to slavery were to come along and say “I’m going to shoot you, dude,” I wouldn’t have stopped him or her. Those are people who are in a position to decide. Not that, in a civilized society, I favor allowing the victims to set the penalty for everything. We have impartial laws for that (in theory). But is another outlaw really the person to be taking revenge for all those people’s suffering? Is that his place?

As you say, it might also be, instead, that the game finds it honorable to put a wretched loser out of his misery, but…that seems like a very slippery moral slope to go down.

“You’re hopeless and miserable, death would be a mercy!”
Not that far a step to “you’re hopelessly useless to society and SHOULD be miserable about that, death would be a mercy!”

I figure the dude himself is the one to decide if death is preferable. I mean, after all, he’s still got booze.

Butch:

Wait a minute though……

Every video game in the history of ever has given the protagonist the ability, nay, the right to decide who lives and who dies. Why would this be any different?

Feminina:

No way, dude. Every video game (with combat) gives us the ability to kill a bunch of random dudes, sure, but we only “decide whether they live or die” in the sense that we decide whether or not to play the game. Once we’re playing the game, the decision is made in-game FOR the character.

Lara Croft doesn’t weigh the options and decide that this specific random dude needs to die, she understands that getting out of this level requires killing this dude.

Anyway, combat is different. If that guy had come at me, sure, I would have killed him with barely a second thought, but he was just slouching there weeping. That’s not combat, that’s execution (or, alternatively, cold-blooded murder), and not every video game makes us choose whether or not to execute people. And when games do, we talk about it. (Like Junior!)

It’s different, and I stand by that.

Butch:

C’mon, man. Been too damn long since you played a role playing game if that’s your take.

Shit, Mafia 3 let you walk away from Sal fucking Marcano if you wanted to.

Feminina:

Sure, sure.

And true, we didn’t talk that much about it, although I think that’s because it was right near the end and kind of got lost in the flood of all-the-other-stuff-we-needed-to-talk-about. We COULD have talked about it. And we would have noted, if we’re going to talk about it in terms of “does this character have the right to decide this,” that Sal Marcano had Lincoln”s entire family killed, so, yeah, he kind of has the right to make that call (within the morality of the game). Lincoln was taking HIS OWN revenge.

The slavecatcher never did anything to Arthur personally. Arthur would be taking revenge on behalf of a bunch of grievously wronged people he’s never met, whose opinions on the matter he knows nothing about (and who may themselves not share a single opinion, if we could even find them and ask them).

It’s different. I continue to stand by that.

This will actually come up again on a future quest…we can continue the conversation then.

Butch:

Or I could just point out the bounty with the woman you could choose to free instead of taking her back to be hanged (which, for some reason, came back to mind just now…) Or any other bounty, or any other side quest in this game or any other game ever…..

But I’m tired so I won’t.

Feminina:

You’re not deciding whether she lives or dies: the law will decide that. You’re just taking her back to face justice. Probably she’ll hang, yeah, but we’re not on the jury, we don’t know.

Taking someone to jail is different from shooting them point blank while they sit at their wretched campfire. I stand by this.

Butch:

For someone who’s hobby involves slaughtering countless people in ghastly ways, you sure do like to distance yourself from violence.

Feminina:

I am in no way distancing myself from violence that I actually COMMIT.

Also, as a technical point, I’m not sure we really could have actually freed her. Yes, there’s an option to ‘release’ when you’ve got someone tied up (her, or anyone else), but is that going to end the quest, or are you then just going to be confronted with “recapture the prisoner” as your quest objective, and you have to either do it or give up and load a previous save from before you went after her in the first place?

I didn’t test it, but in this game, I would bet on the latter. I’m doubtful that “OK, you let her go and she wanders off and is never seen again, feel free to check that quest off as an incomplete” is going to be an option. That’s just not how this game handles missions.

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