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Red Dead Redemption 2 fans’ hunt for the real John Marston

One of gaming’s most recognizable faces is changing

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Red Dead Redemption 2 - John Marston with a pistol. Image: Rockstar Games

When most players turn on Red Dead Redemption 2, they load into Rockstar’s latest version of the open-world western. Not Trevor Cole, though. Cole is a diehard fan who believes that the first version of the game, as it existed before almost two years of patches and updates, is the best rendition of the title.

1.0 has better visuals and lighting, Cole says. It loads faster, he claims. Speaking to Polygon over email, he also suggests that the original version of the game has more characters inhabiting towns, more animals roaming the wilderness, and fewer glitches overall.

Mostly, though, Cole refuses to get with the times because of a single character.

“The main reason I play 1.00 is for the near perfect John Marston,” Cole says.

Since his introduction in 2010’s Red Dead Redemption, John Marston has become one of gaming’s most iconic faces, right up there with giants like Master Chief and Mario. Rob Wiethoff’s gruff, weary performance, along with the game’s poignant ending, have crystallized the franchise’s position in the annals of interactive entertainment.

All of this to say: People feel strongly about John Marston’s depiction. And according to hardcore devotees who have been playing Red Dead Redemption 2 since launch, the game has slowly but surely started to change what Marston looks like.

The changes are subtle, based on pictures shared with Polygon, but they’re definitely there. Perhaps the most noticeable difference between the original Red Dead Redemption 2 John Marston and the latest John Marston comes down to the smaller nose, though there are also tweaks to the character’s ears and his general facial structure.

The original RDR2 John Marston on the left, versus the latest iteration on the right.
Image: Rockstar Games via Trevor Cole

It sounds like a conspiracy theory, but the consensus among fans who care about this is that John Marston has morphed to resemble protagonist Arthur Morgan. Much of this comes down to Marston’s unkempt hair, which appears as it should during the course of the game, only to transform into Morgan’s ‘do during the Red Dead Redemption 2 epilogue. But it’s not the only change, as you can see below.

John Marston in RDR2.
John Marston as an NPC during RDR2 on the left, versus what he looks like during the epilogue on the right.
Image: Rockstar Games via Trevor Cole

Cole shared a variety of other screenshots, which purport minuscule changes that may escape the average player, such as newly enlarged gloves and holsters. Some textures, like Marston’s beard, have also reportedly been “downgraded.”

“John has always been slightly skinnier and less bulkier than Arthur,” Cole says. “But after the day-one patch, that’s not the case. John just uses Arthur’s body now.”

In the face of other potential issues with the game — like the litany of hackers ruining everyone’s online experience — these concerns may seem unimportant. These aesthetic worries certainly don’t represent the views of the vast majority of Red Dead Redemption 2 fans, who probably have no idea anything has changed. Even so, a vocal minority in a player base that encompasses 29 million people can still be noticeable. To wit, a video showcasing a mod that “restores” John Marston has been viewed on YouTube 200,000 times. This may also explain why the movement has spawned a hashtag, #FIXRDR2, which is bound to appear as a comment under any announcement that Rockstar makes, even if it’s the same few people banging the drum.

Arguably, Rockstar helped create this monster in the first place. It’s not just that the game has committed the ultimate sin of messing with one of the most recognizable faces in the medium. Prior to release, the New York-based developer loved to highlight high-resolution screenshots that focused on granular things, like gun textures. The “Fix Read Dead Redemption 2” fandom has merely followed followed the path laid before them. In this world, the crease of a vest matters just as much as how you run and shoot.

“Rockstar prided itself in advertising the game as ultra-realistic,” Cole says. The developer paid “attention to the smallest of details, such as horse testicles shrinking in the snow, volumetric clouds and correct star formations,” he continued.

A Rockstar representative tells Polygon that they are looking into the issue, but had no information to share beyond that.

The John Marston phenomenon ultimately reflects a wider gaming anxiety blossoming in the aftermath of games-as-services. Despite our memories, the games we play change. The title you boot up today will look very different in a year, if it’s still around at all. Sometimes, that’s for the better: Patches generally aim to improve the experience, not fundamentally alter it. But even when things get better, fans mourn for what once was — even if it’s just some facial stubble.

Correction: An earlier version of this story listed the subject’s name as Trevor Phillips based on his social media presence. We’ve updated to reflect his real name.

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