- Games, Toys, and Hobbies
John Marston is the most overrated video game character.
Sometimes the public opinion on something is wrong and you just know it. This happens to me from time to time and it definitely happened to me regarding the game Red Dead Redemption. It wasn't the perception of the game itself, because when it comes to how I feel about the game and how the public feels, we both agree that it's incredible. Where I disagree is the strength of the main character; John Marston. I hear constant praise about this character, about how well developed he is, how neutral he is (which is untrue) and every other praise that could levy towards a fictional character. Well I'm here to say that most of that is false. Sure he may have a large backstory, interesting motives and a unique personality, but any mystery about this character to develop is not there.
From the get-go he's so vocal about his intentions, his backstory, his opinions, etc. that there's really no surprise in seeing him develop. It would be like if you took Darth Vader and had him, in the first 15 minutes of Star Wars say: I do horrible things, yet I'm conflicted over it, I'm the father of the main protagonist and I'm going to end up redeeming myself by the end of the franchise. Sure he's a fully developed character on paper, but there's no depth to his development because it's all laid bare early on. Yes there are twists in the game, but really these are twists that only further progress toward a goal we already know about or add details to a character that we already have a lot of details of.
The Rockstar screenwriters also have a serious script problem with how these details are revealed. It's all exposition. Often times you'll be riding around with friends or strangers and from there you'll have a conversation with the person. Rather than having actions define who John Marston is, like a great movie would; you have John Marston ramble on and on about his family, his values, his past and what he hopes for his future. This is a game where you make moral choices (Whether to be a good guy, or a bad guy in the game) so why did they get a guy so clear cut on his morality. In fact that's a huge mistake that Rockstar made.
I often hear about how neutral John Marston is. I think he's only neutral if you happen to be liberal. If you're more Conservative like I am, you'll see that he's far from neutral. Throughout the game he offers his half baked philosophies on morality and justice. Here's a guy who is trying to turn over a new leaf and start a good life with his family, yet goes on and on about the code of honor of being a criminal and how morality is what you make of it. For a guy trying to leave his criminal past behind him, he sure does look fondly upon it. An example of a bad guy turned good story done right is "The Unforgiven" Starring Clint Eastwood. In that movie Clint Eastwood's character was many years removed from his criminal past, yet it still haunted him. When going back to his life of crime, he could barely bring himself to kill another human being, even when his family's well being depended on it. Living the good life was hard for him because, in his criminal past he would just get easy money; whereas now, he has to work hard for it. Contrast that to John Marston where in true Red Dead form we have exposition about how his past catches up to him, but other than that, there are no consequences when it come to his character. He jumps right into being good while still justifying the times he was bad. The Unforgiven is a movie where the lead character is written well and manages to not be cliche'. In fact I'm sure many people credit John Marston from Red Dead as not being cliche'. The thing is, yes John Marston isn't a cliched Western character, but I'd take 20 cliched John Wayne ripoffs over one John Marston any day. It's better to be cliched and compelling than to be free from cliches and boring. Unforgiven proved that you can defy conventions and be entertaining. John Marston is far from that standard.
Back to the point that he doesn't keep his mouth shut. I feel like Rockstar is too in love with their own creation, at the detriment of the player. They love that they have this fully crafted character and they want to explore him as much as possible. But being a Wild West setting and playing as an outlaw, the average player doesn't want to play as a morally self righteous, high road sort of character, developed as he may be. They want to play as a mysterious loner, who is a man of few words and lets his gun do the talking. They want a guy who doesn't rationalize everything to every person he meets. They want a guy who does what he feels he has to do to get the job done. John Wayne never rambled on about how and why people are justified into being criminals and that it's being poor that makes it okay to steal and murder. He just did what was right, which usually meant there were a trail of bodies left in the name of ends justifying the means.
In a Western you can be one of two types of characters. You can be the goody two shoes, who only shoots the bad guys in order to protect the good guys, or you can be the outlaw who knows he's bad and doesn't care. Where Red Dead makes the mistake is that you've got a character who despite trying to lead a good life, is still convinced about the glory of being an outlaw. He tries to act like his past makes him a goody two shoes. It's seeing an evil man justify his ways. I don't like that. I'm fine with going on a journey with an evil man as long as he knows he's evil. I don't like to be preached at from an evil man telling me that his way is moral and that my morals are just different. This does not make a good character. It just comes off as preachy.
The final nail in the coffin for this game is how John Marston goes through his story. This part a lot of reviewers agree wasn't done that well, but its worth mentioning. For a guy so opinionated and apparently set in his ways, he sure isn't very proactive in moving his story along. Most of the time he's doing what a particular character wants him to do, whether its directly correlated to the story or not. He gets thrown about doing different things for different people all at the wills of everyone, but himself. Since he is such a weak character in my mind, I only find this aspect of the game fitting. How he's treated in the game, is basically a lackey of sorts which is exactly the level of respect I give this character.
I give the character of John Marston a 1 out of 10 in a 10 out of 10 game. So in short you know why I think that he's overrated, so tell me in the comments; Do you feel that he's overrated? If not which video game character do you feel is most overrated?