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John Marston is the most overrated video game character.

Updated on March 17, 2012

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?


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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Wow, what a stupid thing to say, Charles.

      People have opinions, for and against things. Sometimes those things are beloved, and sometimes that makes people want to address it more. And it doesn't matter what that thing is, or where the critic stands, politically.

      People express their opinions, and that's all there is to it. Grow up.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Big surprise that you're a conservative. Lol. Only a conservative could be so cynical to go to the trouble of writing an article on the internet tearing down one of the most beloved characters in gaming.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      I don't like him because he's not a believable character. His views are too modern and out of place for the time period and the type of environment he grew up in. He doesn't view women as property or lesser than men, he doesn't have any prejudices towards other ethnicities, he is not superstitious or religious in the least. The only thing believable about his character and that fits for that time frame and social class is that he distrusts the government and authority.

      I get why they did that, however. I understand that they thought he wouldn't be a likeable character if they made him any other way, so they went back to old, tired cliches: The reluctant hero and the robin hood-esque outlaw, both Rockstar staples that have infected every main character since gta san andreas. I really wish they would have the balls to move away from that. Scorcese didn't need to give Travis Bickle any likeable traits to make him a great protagonist...

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I completely agree on this subject of him being way overrated and his inablity to shut the **** up about his morality and politics. What's strange is that I felt like he was on the side of republicans or more specifically the "old" republicans that are closer to libertarians, and not liberals. As a liberal with some center leanings, he still pissed me off quite often and pretty much ruined the game for me. Protagonists should be silent if they aren't giving us the option to speak for them.

    • DonkeyKongKiller profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Texas

      It's not what he did, it's his reasoning all throughout the game. Winning his family back was noble, but always giving his opinions on morality which basically boiled down to, right and wrong is what you make of it, annoyed me. I wanted to play as a neutral character. He just shared the views of morality that the developers at Rockstar happened to have. Okay so he's not evil. He's not a good man either. He was a criminal. He killed people. You can argue all you want about whether the ones he killed deserved it, but he's doesn't seem all that haunted by his past. He reminisces of it and puts a moral spin on the whole thing. I'd rather play as a good guy, or a bad guy. I don't want to play as this guy who thinks there's no wrong or right and he can justify himself. Unforgiven did it well. Clint Eastwood doesn't romanticize his past. He realizes he was at fault and he moves from there. John Marston seems immature in this respect. He says, I'm not a good man from your viewpoint, but from my viewpoint of wishy washy morality, I'm perfectly okay so I can feel free to justify my actions.

    • Sean Valjean profile image

      Marcus Stewart 

      6 years ago from Fort Lauderdale, Florida

      I completely disagree. In fact, I'd argue that John Marston is one of the greatest video game characters ever.

      Marston is a man who had a very shady past but never shys away from it. He never pretended that he didn't do the things he did, but tried to redeem himself and keep the people he cared about away from that life.

      He's not perfect by any means, and yes he did at times fall prey to his old tendencies, but he's only human. It only showed how much he cared about his family and if it meant playing errand boy for crooked government officials (which, by the way, he had no choice in doing since they were holding his family). He's flawed and only did what he thought he had to to set things right.

      And then, in one of the most brilliant endings I can remember, he did managed to fix things and enjoy a moment of peace with his family on their ranch. No more shoot outs, no more danger-just a simple life raising his son and tending to the ranch. Until his deeds finally caught up with him, illustrating that no matter how hard he tried to be good, he was doomed from the get go. But he was a good person all along. He made a lot of mistakes, but he was never an evil person at all. I'll take a cowboy with depth over the cliché John Wayne-type any day.

      So no, John Marston is not overrated at all. He's a fantastic character who learned the hard way that it's hell trying to get to heaven.


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