Rockstar Games Negative Reinforcement Experiment.
I heard that the game Red Dead Redemption was really fun. It was basically Grand Theft Auto only in the wild west. My favorite game ever is probably Grand Theft Auto 4, so if someone could take that and make it into a wild west game, I couldn’t see how they could have gone wrong. I decided to go out and find a new copy of the game and try it out myself. To my surprise there were still new copies being sold in the local Walmart. The game was made by Rockstar Games, who also made Grand Theft Auto 4. I picked one up and went home, dying of anticipation. I popped the game into my PS3 and let the game install. Once that was all over, the show started. The opening cutscene played as it should have. John Marston, the protagonist, arrived by train to Armadillo. Then the first mission began, and I took control of Marston, and rode by horse to the Fort. I was getting a taste of the Rockstar signature dialogue, the beautiful graphics, and of course the violence.
Once the first mission was over I was free to explore and do whatever I wanted. Undoubtedly this meant killing any random person I could find. But soon I realized that every time I killed an innocent bystander, a honor meter would appear at the bottom of the screen, and begin to decrease. The game was aware I was not acting very civil, but I didn’t care. I didn’t get this game to be educated on morality, I bought it to have fun. And fun I had: I killed at least 30 people before running out of ammunition. I’d “accidently” killed the gun shop owner, which meant I couldn’t get more ammo for a few days. I decided to call it a night at that point and turn off the game, but not before checking out that honor meter again. I’d reached the first level of negative honor, I was the “unstable type.” I laughed at this. Who would honestly try to be a good guy in a game where you can be an outlaw? In any case, I turned the game off until the next day.
I got off work the next day and eagerly returned home to play more Red Dead Redemption. When I got into the game, everything seemed normal. I went outside of the safe house and went to the horse stable. To my dismay, the horse that I’d been using to trample people and drag them through the dirt at high speeds the night before, lied dead where I’d left him. I thought it was just an accident and in an open world game stuff like this was probably common. I found a new horse and rode off into the countryside. I hadn’t gone far until I heard a strange sound come from the game. I hadn’t heard in the night before, and the ambient music hadn’t kicked in yet, so it couldn’t have been that. Very quickly I heard it again. It sounded like a long winded sigh. I looked around me to see if there were any people in the vicinity, but It was only me and my new horse. I angled the camera to try and look at John Marston’s face. I have a large HDTV and could clearly make out John’s features. He looked sad, as if he’d just lost someone he loved. I didn’t think he could have made a connection with a horse in 30 minutes while being more so focused on killing random pedestrians. Then I heard the sound again. I could see John’s mouth open while the sound was occurring, so I inferred it had to be coming from him.
I tried ignoring it. It was tough because the ambient music didn’t kick in for another 10 minutes, and the entire time I just could hear John sighing to himself. I found a populous area and began killing as many people as I could. I soon got a wanted level, and had to escape. I had to kill about 7 cops to shake them, but one of the cops made me think for a second. Right as I unloaded my revolver into once of the cops, he said in his last dying breath “Tell my family I love them.” I’d heard this phrase many times in games, but not usually from a random NPC. The reason I bring this up is because a few minutes after I’d lost the wanted level, and John was on his own again, I heard someone say, “He had a family and I just killed him.” There’s a button you can press to make John speak to people in the game, but that’s only when others are around. John was all alone at this point, and I knew I hadn’t pressed the button. It was so strange, why was John regretting his decisions. If the game was going to implement the honor system, you’d think the more evil you chose to be, the more evil John would be. But this John just a depressed wimp. That thought made me look again to the honor meter. I’d reached the next level of evil, which was “highwayman.” I thought I’d play again the next day, but if John doesn’t grow a pair, I’m going back to GTA 4.
So I went to work the next day, came home and turned on the PS3 and Red Dead Redemption. The game loaded and I discovered I was in the game’s prison. I was being charged for 20 counts of murder, 33 counts of assault, and many more crimes I’d committed the day before. The weird part was that I hadn’t been arrested before turning off the game the night before, I shouldn’t have been there. I was about to reset the console and hope it was just a glitch when John was released from prison. The game put up a message stating “Since you turned yourself in, your fines will be cut in half.” Turned myself in? What was the game talking about? I started to think someone else played my game and turned John in, but no one else lived with me. I was so confused. John immediately began talking to himself again. This time he said “That didn’t help, I deserve way worse,” and he began the incessant sighs again. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, did the developers make John a pussy when he acts evil on purpose to teach a moral lesson? I thought that that was a ridiculous assumption. A company like Rockstar trying to teach people about acting humane when they made a game like Manhunt? Absurd. But this still weirded me out. If it wasn’t me, and couldn’t have been anyone else that turned John in, who else could it be?
I went back onto my killing spree. This time it was the largest scale massacre I’d ever embarked on in any game I’ve played. I went to 3 locations in the game: Armadillo, Thieves’ Landing, and the MacFarlane ranch and killed every person in those areas. Every. Single. Person. I didn’t hold back, I used explosives, knifes, and especially bullets. The law resisted me, and fighting them off was tough, but eventually I had every location cleared of human life. It was tranquil actually, to see the towns purged of citizens, and just sitting there in ambience. Once I’d finished off the final person in the MacFarlane ranch, the honor meter reached maximum evil. I was a Desperado, a rightful one. I was proud of my handiwork, but John Marston wasn’t. He kept mumbling to himself constantly. He wouldn’t run anymore, no matter how hard I pressed the sprint button. He wouldn’t take out his guns anymore. And whenever I passed a dead body, he’d turn his head away and an invisible barrier would prevent me from approaching further. Eventually this got on my nerves and I yelled at the television: “Fine, be a pussy, see what I care!” And I turned off the console. I felt silly for yelling at a video game, but got over it quickly. I was about ready to take the game out of the console and sell it to a pawn shop or something. But then I thought for a second, every time that I reached a new level of evil, something happened to John when I turned the game on again. As much as I never wanted to see the pussybitch again, I turned the console back on and gave Marston one last chance.
When the game loaded, I saw John was in a barn. There were carcasses of dead animals and people all around him. All the people were ones I distinctly remember killing: the owner of the gun shop, the police officer who had had a family, and all sorts of others. I could see the gaping stab wounds of those I had knifed, and could almost feel the black, leathery flesh of those I had burned alive. Everything that I had done to those people was put on display, and all I could do was gawk at the sheer mass of people that fit inside the barn. But at the center of everything was a small open spot where no bodies lied. There within hung a noose. Out of my control, John walked toward the noose, glancing occasionally at the dead bodies. When he reached the noose he tied it around his neck. I started mashing my controller in an effort to get John to stop. All John said was “The things I’ve done can never be forgiven,” And just like that he let loose, and snapped his neck on the noose. And that was it. John just hung there. Nothing I did changed it. I didn’t get a “wasted” screen, I didn’t get a game over screen, I just got John hanging there. Eventually a box of text appeared. It read “try again?” and gave me a yes and no option. What was there to try again? Was this part of the game? Was there a way of talking John out of suicide? I chose yes. A new box of text appeared. This one read “In life, you don’t get to try again. Your choices are permanent, and you must learn to live with them, or attempt to escape them.”
I turned off my console in disgust. Was that it? Did I purchase a test of some sort on accident? Who were Rockstar to tell me how to play their games. I had a right as the consumer to play however I wanted. I took the copy to Gamestop the next day. It could be someone else’s problem. A few weeks later I went through and deleted the game’s files. I noticed one that was different from the others. It had the Red Dead logo, and was in the Red Dead folder, but the file was named “Rockstar Games Negative Reinforcement Experiment.”
I selected the file, and it gave me the option to open it in the PS3’s web browser. I waited for it to load, and soon text appeared. The first line was “Subject: PS3-244.” PS3-244 was the randomly generated name that identifies the console on the internet. It meant that I was the subject. The next line was the date the game was last accessed and total playing time. The next line was the honor meter, which was of course fully evil. The next line read “result,” my result was “fail.”