I’ve got spurs, that jingle jangle jingle.
One could probably make a case that John Marston, the star of Red Dead Redemption and the (hopefully) non-canon DLC, Undead Nightmare, is a Chaotic-Evil character since it’s entirely possible to play through the game and murder everyone you come across. After all, that’s a part of what makes Rockstar Games’ open-world games so enticing to play; the freedom to go on rampages every now and then.
However, a large part of what makes Rockstar’s games so good is the complexity of the characters, and the quality of the narrative. With the one possible exception of Trevor from Grand Theft Auto V. But we aren’t talking about GTA, are we?
Just like many other characters throughout Rockstar’s catalog of titles, John Marston is a complicated person, and to properly classify his alignment requires a deeper look at not what horrific acts the player can make him carry out, but what his convictions, thoughts, and morals are.
Not The Typical Bandit
If there’s anything that sets John apart from the rest of the characters from Red Dead Redemption, it’s that he’s a man outside of his time. His days of being a bandit are long gone by the time the game starts, probably because he just wants to settle down with his family and have a simple life as a rancher. It’s his past that comes back to haunt him and prevents him from attaining that dream. Despite his desire to move on from his past, he’s stuck with the task of hunting down and neutralizing his former gang members, on the order of the Federal government’s agents.
This is partly why I feel that John Marston, despite having the capability of being a murderous thug, is actually a True Neutral character. The fact that at any point, John could just kill the agents keeping him on a short leash and run away with his family, or simply leave it all behind, shows that he is neither Chaotic or Evil. He desperately wants to be with his family again, and to leave his actions in the past. He also regularly reminds the player through dialogue spoken to others and to himself, that he abides by self-imposed rules and abhors many actions of others.
For instance, during missions to help Nigel West Dickens the snake oil salesman, John regularly derides him for his behavior and his lack of remorse for selling his “miracle tonic” to unsuspecting strangers. John also often shows disgust when dealing with Seth Briars, a grave robber, for his grave robbing… Go figure.
Further along, he also has contact with several men in power, including a rebel by the name of Abraham Reyes. Abraham enlists John to help him wrest Mexico from the grips of its current leaders in exchange for his help in locating John’s targets, but John quickly realizes Abraham’s lack of morals. John shows disdain for Abraham’s hypocrisy, and his lack of faithfulness to Luisa, a young woman who loves Abraham and believe’s wholeheartedly in his cause.
Still, John doesn’t show a particular interest in following every law of the land, or abiding by cultural norms. He loathes those who display overt racism and respects his wife even in the face of others who don’t share the same convictions. Again, even though it’s possible to play through Red Dead Redemption as a heartless murderer, doing so contradicts John’s ethics. For example, he shows the utmost respect to all women, not just his own wife, referring to many including Bonnie MacFarlane as “Miss”, and refuses to cheat on his wife with prostitutes.
He’s a man that doesn’t live by the letter of the law, but also doesn’t go out of his way to break it when it isn’t warranted. His convictions are defined not by a desire to redeem himself to society, but to gain back what was taken from him through any means possible. While he doesn’t kill on a whim (unless the player wants to be a sociopath), he also isn’t afraid to kill, and shows little to no remorse for his previous actions. If anything, the only thing that makes him regret his past is that what he cares about was taken from him, implying that if the government hadn’t coerced him to eliminate his former comrades, he wouldn’t have regrets at all.
I feel it’s this complexity, and John’s honesty about himself and society as a whole, that makes him such an interesting character. Instead of being a murderous psychopath who takes whatever he wants, he holds a motivation to make something of his life in the wake of the acts he carried out when he was younger. Even so, he believed that what he did during his time as a Wild West bandit was right, and doesn’t desire to repent for his past. His attachments are personal, not to the rule of law or pure self interest, and while he’s honest with himself and others, he isn’t afraid to bend or break the truth if it suits him.
So yes, John Marston is a True Neutral character. Though if you choose to account for the actions of the player, you could probably consider him to be Chaotic-Evil.
Admit it, you tied a woman to the railroad tracks and watched her get hit by a train. All for an Achievement, you monster.
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