RDR2, weight games, and feelings

Amidst the Rockstar Studios work crunch ethic worries highlighting the importance of unionizing game developers and studios, and The New York Time’s apparent interest in claiming the outdated ‘did u kno video games are art’ opinion article that made any game that wasn’t a triple A one redundant. All the while asserting that the only way a video game could be considered art is if it was comparable to an old western film, I bought Red Dead Redemption 2. Especially after reading Jason Schreier’s wonderful Kotaku piece on Rockstar’s crunch culture and learning that boycotting the game might cause more harm than good for the developers.

Starting Red Dead Redemption 2’s tutorial section, we’re shown the games mechanics from riding horses, the protagonist Arthur Morgan’s movement controls, and the mini map. Then, the at-first daunting stamina and health cores, one set for you and the other for your horse. Exploring more of the hidden features the game keeps track of, the pause menu’s ‘character’ tab includes a compressed view of Arthur’s overall well-being and core conditions.

Under the ‘general’ box, we’ve got weight, temperature, and the game’s calculated honor rank. I didn’t think much of these features in the beginning and assumed weight related to my health bar and temperature meant I could either put a coat on Arthur or not depending on the terrain I had him in.

Now, I’m a fairly casual player so I’m able to play chunks of the game when I can, & at the time of this post I was only 51% into the game. I’ve grown fond of Arthur, Dutch, and the entire gang made up of very different yet similarly morally grey outcasts seeking their freedom. The interactions the characters have with each other and those randomly triggered stranger and NPC interactions feel and play out both naturally and are reminiscent of GTAV’s side missions. The writing in the game and the delivery of the voice actors is impeccable, and I can’t deny how much fun I’m having collecting outfits and herbs.

The amount of things you can do in-game seemed overwhelming at first but since they’re all optional and there’s no wrong way to play, I’ve come up with my own little plan for Arthur’s life. I try to have him sleep at the camp every two or three days; I think I’ve gotten used to FFXV’s day EXP mechanic and I’ve tried carrying that over here, but I’m not sure there’s a penalty if I never let him sleep, I’m just assuming his health may deteriorate. I only ever camp at time specific side missions, and I try to talk to everyone at camp at least once a day until I’m hit with Arthur’s, “Well, I guess I’ll shut up now” attitude. I’m being a good samaritan, so I always try greeting passerby, although I tend to accidentally shoot some. Additionally, I’ve made my Arthur a carnivore, I made it my goal to have him be nicotine free. I was doing really well till I regretfully found out that some cutscenes have Arthur pull out cigarettes and smoke them in between talking. Finally, I try to keep Arthur and my Horse Grape (who I’m proud to say is the first horse I’ve had since the beginning!) clean and fed. Fed.

The weight mechanic in-game is probably the one I’ve had the most difficulty with. As a person who struggles with their body image, anything weight related always has me hyper aware of what being overweight entails on how people may perceive you. Although Red Dead Redemption 2 isn’t the first game to introduce weight mechanics and surely won’t be the last, I just found myself caring so much for Arthur that I made sure he’d eat something, anything, at least twice a day.

Pearson’s stew, deer meat, porridge, and even canned peaches, my Arthur would be well fed. But obsessively checking the weight stat always kept him at ‘underweight’. This drew painfully close to my own daily weigh-ins. I cared for Arthur’s well-being more than my own for a while and that made me stop playing for a week. This was my way of self-care and understanding how even the littlest of things may provoke a reaction even though it wasn’t the game’s intention.

Searching the RDR2 reddit pages, more people seem to have the same problem with trying to make Arthur gain weight. It’s either buggy, extremely tedious, or obvious. I mean, it’s the 1800s and Arthur is a middle aged man always on the go and Rockstar just happened to make this game unbelievably real.

On November 10th Polygon uploaded a video titled ‘Preparing for Big Boy Season in Red Dead Redemption 2’. In it they attempt to make Arthur gain weight by trying different methods yet still fail. Although it is light hearted and had Polygon’s known cathartic yet emotionally charged charm, twitter user Jackson (@headfallsoff) from abnormal mapping tweeted a valid opinion soon after that had me question the intent of the video and in general reminded me of how fat people are sometimes treated as the butt of a joke.

(j a c k s o n, @headfallsoff, twitter.)

Weight mechanics in games are executed in different ways, The Sims allows you to modify a Sims body while creating it and can have you gain or lose weight. Nintendo’s Miis can be scrolled to be made a certain body size, and there’s games like Fat Princess, a ‘capture the flag’ type strategy game where the goal is to retrieve the princess despite the other team making it difficult to do so by feeding her and making her heavier to carry. While searching for more games that include weight mechanics, a forum called ‘Weight Gaming’ dominated the searches. The forum acts as a ‘community for supporting expansion and fat themed game development’. Although it presents itself as a NSFW fetish based forum, the website is civil and expects their users to be the same. The FAQ page states that even though they don’t have rigid rules, they abide by their own judgements and hope to keep the space open for discussion and skill shares.

One of the games posted on the forum is “Gaining Perspective”, a text based fetish game about extreme weight gain nearing immobility. In contrast, while searching for weight gain games, I found a page describing a design document called “Super Weight Gain RPG”, a project plan for a mobile game that revolves around an underweight person trying to gain weight and stay at a ‘healthy’ size by having the game police their behaviors and rewarding them when they’ve been ‘healthy’ and punishing them if they haven’t. Both games present themselves in different ways but still revolve around other people dictating what makes someone attractive in other people’s eyes.

The gamification of weight depends on what the mechanic is used for. Games like Red Dead Redemption 2 have it as an integral part of the gameplay and can be altered, Nintendo’s Miis has this feature to make your avatar reflect you, if that’s what you want, Fat Princess uses it to make it difficult for your enemy, and the games on Weight Gaming exist for entertainment and fetishism. It feels weird, that’s the best I can do at explaining how I feel about this, weird. My body is my body, but seeing the media I consume present it as a game mechanic, although sometimes done well, the difference in the intent behind it changes how I feel about it.

I understand how insignificant this may seem to some, as there are games that don’t include food at all, and that weight shouldn’t be that deep, people’s bodies are their own and no one should police someone on their weight. Although, knowing the stigma against people who are overweight or obese, and knowing my own relationship with my own body, it’s hard not to think about. For now, I’m feeding my Arthur the same as I have, making it an active choice to not check his weight as often as I did before. To be fair, advancing the story just made it easier to avoid. I want to collect more herbs.

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Leen Said

Leen Said

i write about video games. sussex uni journalism graduate. arab. vegetarian. she/her.