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The Red Dead Redemption mission that made me question my humanity

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The dangers of believing myths

Rockstar Games | Illustration by James Bareham/Polygon

A mixture of serious, macabre and goofy, the Undead Nightmare expansion brought horror and myth to Red Dead Redemption’s straightforward Old West world. Hunting down hordes of zombies and the Four Horses of the Apocalypse was a fun change of pace. But Undead Nightmare succeeded on another level: It made me question my own humanity.

The expansion delivered a unique single-player campaign that followed John Marston as he looked for the cure to a zombie plague that was sweeping the frontier. In one of its early side missions, “Birth of the Conservation Movement,” John runs across a frontiersman screaming wildly as he shoots his rifle into the trees. When John confronts him, the man explains that he saved a young woman by firing at a Sasquatch hiding in the forest.

But the frontiersman soon goes from boastful to anxious. He warns John that the hills are infested with these creatures; they’d even eaten a little girl. It’s a short and shocking revelation that led me straight into a mission to hunt them all down. The directions for me were pretty clear: I must go into the woods and kill six Sasquatches to keep everyone safe.

After trotting through the trees for a few moments, I came across the first Sasquatch sulking about. As I pulled out his weapon, the creature quickly lumbered away, but I chased and hunted it down. It oddly didn’t put up a fight. I expected more from these legendary monsters, but before I could think about it, the onscreen directions made it clear that there were five more to take care of.

I put an end to the next two before they could try to fight back. I caught two more by surprise. They’d hardly turned around before I pulled the trigger. I discovered the very last creature sitting down by a tree. While the others were easy enough to take out, this one had to be the simplest — it had no defenses, as if it had already surrendered.

But instead of picking it off quickly and celebrating my “mission complete,” I watched John Marston actually have a conversation with the creature. I expected the Sasquatch to grunt to me in a language that was anything but human. That wasn’t the case: It spoke English, through deep, mournful tears. Someone had been stalking the countryside murdering these gentle creatures, it explained. The Sasquatches didn’t eat babies; they ate berries. Instead of threatening to kill me, the creature begged to be put out of its misery. Someone had murdered all of its kind, and this Sasquatch was now left to die alone.

Someone? It was talking about me.

A Sasquatch asks for relief in Undead Nightmare.
The lone surviving Sasquatch begs for relief.
Rockstar San Diego/Rockstar Games

Much of Red Dead Redemption and its expansion is straightforward: Kill the bad guys before they hurt anyone. This mission challenged that. I expected a fight. I anticipated fending off a small horde of dangerous beasts. But with just one scene, the game argued that sometimes, we’re the monsters.

In games where violence is the main way you interact with the world, we often forget to think about why we’re fighting. In Undead Nightmare, it was a given that I’d hunt down all sorts of monsters and evil creatures. What I also got was a direct confrontation with the dangers of mythmaking, born of an “us vs. them” mentality built upon rumors and the unknown.

It only took those six Sasquatches to show me that fear can turn anything into a monster — even the good guys.