Saving Arthur Morgan: Red Dead Redemption 2 as a site of bereavement and grief-work

The relationship between death and digital games is strangely paradoxical. While death is considered to be a ubiquitous and pervasive feature of videogames, it rarely carries the same finality that exists in the offline world. However, this has also allowed digital games to become an interesting site for the discussion and exploration of death and mortality. The genre of Roguelikes, for instance, distinguishes itself by incorporating the permanence of death (i.e. perma-death) as an integral gameplay feature. In other cases, games such as A Mortician’s Tale and That Dragon Cancer center on death as a central theme in the game’s narrative. This article seeks to contribute to current knowledge by exploring player experiences of death in games through the case of Red Dead Redemption 2 by Rockstar Games, and the death of the game’s protagonist Arthur Morgan. Concretely, this article explores how the game’s epilogue emulates grief-work and bereavement by intermittently engaging players in both loss- and restoration-oriented activities. Aside from providing a discussion of how the game’s epilogue emulates grief-work, the article draws upon Alexander Galloway’s model of gamic action to discuss the various ways in which digital games strive to enforce death, and the strategies that players employ to resist it. However, concluding the article, I note how despite a range of creative strategies to resist death, players are caught up in a paratextual web of playthroughs, highlighting how there is no escaping the death of Red Dead Redemption 2’s protagonist, Arthur Morgan. Please note this article has images of diagrams that you can access via the PDF.

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