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Riding with Red Dead Online’s most notorious gang, and more from Speedrun

We embedded with the Reaper Lords to see just how secretive their posse is.

Graphic grid featuring images from four different video games and portraits of the two host of Polygon’s Quibi show “Speedrun” Graphic: James Bareham/Polygon
Mike Mahardy leads game criticism and curation at Polygon as senior editor, reviews. He has been covering entertainment professionally for more than 10 years.

Despite being the label for one of video games’ formative genres, the phrase “role-playing game” has lost much of its meaning over the last decade. We’ve assigned it to shooters, fighting games, and open-world romps alike — anything with a modicum of progression systems or character building, really. It’s less a genre now than it is a feature.

But actual role-playing still continues elsewhere. Not just in tabletop-inspired adventures like Disco Elysium or Divinity: Original Sin 2, but in the sandboxes of Rockstar Games as well. This week on Speedrun, we devoted most of our focus to the latter.

On Monday, we revisited Grand Theft Auto Online with comedians Anthony Atamanuik and John Gemberling. The episode was a crash course in the cooperative art of improv, showcasing the duo’s skills as they fleshed out an unlikely pair of characters in their delusional version of Los Santos. The journey was as chaotic as it was precise. You can get a glimpse of it below.

On Wednesday, Speedrun took a decidedly more serious turn when we met up with the Reaper Lords, the most notorious posse in Red Dead Online. Known for their impressive horse-riding shows and dramatic reenactments, the Lords — who began as a motorcycle club in GTA Online — have developed a reputation for exclusivity and secrecy among their ranks. According to the gang, only one percent of applicants actually make the cut. In this episode, we got a rare glimpse of that rigorous tryout process, before delving into the more endearing side of the gang’s tight knit community.

And finally, to wrap our week on role-playing, we brought on WWE superstar Xavier Woods to start his new game plus in Final Fantasy 7 Remake. Not only is Woods a member of one of the most prolific tag teams in wrestling history — a feat that requires no small amount of role-playing — he also happens to be working toward a PhD in psychology. So, the conversation was both showy and cerebral, as he touched on everything from his history with Final Fantasy to the joys of developing a character, both in the ring and out.

When we began our scripting for the week, we expected obstacles in our search for role-playing purists. But what we found was quite the opposite. Role-playing is flourishing, if you know where to look. The act of creating, inhabiting, and evolving a character is just as appealing as ever, with Twitch streams and YouTube channels alike devoted to that specific sort of escape. It can be challenging and nourishing in equal parts. Our subjects this week were a testament to that.

On Monday, we’re taking a few left turns with Speedrun. To start, we’re bringing on none other than action/comedy star Terry Crews (and his son Isaiah) to play Mortal Kombat 11 and wax poetic about his history with violent entertainment. As for the rest, well — I’ll get you caught up next week. See you then.