Role-playing is about freedom, and the joy that comes with taking the place of a cool wizard or roguish anti-hero. But on Red Dead Online private servers, a group of players are indulging in an entirely different experience. These cowboys are voluntarily putting themselves in jail for committing cowboy crimes. Once behind bars, they can experience genuine remorse—or break out via treachery and dynamite.
Wild West RP is a private Red Dead Online server that plays very differently from the main game. The players are using Rockstar’s assets to basically create their own experience with new tools like shovels, axes, and covered wagons. There’s also a community code of conduct to make sure everyone’s in character as a rootin’, tootin’ cowboy.
The community hosts players across four servers, where everyone is constantly in-character. Many of these players are law enforcement on the streets of St. Denis, or bounty hunters across the western plains. They can be dispatched to find a player who has committed crimes. With ongoing server events like herding valuable cattle, and the staff granting specific players persistent in-game property and goods, players are highly incentivized to take up roles as bank robbers or lawless mercenaries. After all, the more players build, the more there is to steal.
The server staff decided that law and order deserves a little more flavor, so they recovered assets from the Red Dead Redemption 2 single-player campaign. Arthur drops by Sisika Penitentiary for a little cowboy justice in the main game, and the Red Dead Online protagonist hears about the jail here and there during their campaign. Wild West RP has the whole institute back up and running, according to Tiberione, the player who owns the server. In-game, he’s William “The Babe” Hayes.
“Luckily we are able to load in the whole prison—it’s pretty cool, actually. There’s even a small underground crypts type thing (it’s fairly small, but interesting),” he says. “There’s not many interiors available, but all of the buildings inside the prison are fully rendered in.”
If players are caught, they can take a sentence of 180 months in prison. Each month is represented by a minute, so players can actually escape jail without having to serve too much hard time. Everyone who is sent to the jail server gets a trial, conviction, uniform, and number.
But some players perform acts so reprehensible that three hours just won’t cut it. “The second option is what we call ‘enhanced sentencing,” says Tiberione, explaining that the player and the staff cut a deal. A convict might spend fourteen “years” (real-world days) in prison, where they can attend parole hearings, mingle with other prisoners, and await potential help from uncaptured allies.
Staff will help players set up jailbreak events, where every prisoner and inmate on the server is controlled by a real person. The prison guards have to try to corral the fleeing inmates, while the inmates need to get to the escape vehicle and flee the long arm of the law.
For the more peaceable and remorseful prisoners, there are downtime activities that can help them along on the path of rehabilitation, like community service and probation. There’s also always the chance things can go sideways. “There’s folks planning on breaking in to Sisika, to take revenge on one of the inmates serving time there currently,” says Tiberione.
It may seem odd that a game about freedom and the American West can have a fully operational and staffed role-play prison, but these cowboys have committed the absolute worst crimes. This is part of their story, and it wouldn’t be quite complete if they weren’t counting the days until they were once again set free unto the frontier.