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The Dastardly Achievement

If you have to draw the line concerning virtual misdeeds somewhere, I guess mine is at the railroad tracks.

Like you, I had heard about the “Dastardly” Achievement, and I thought that it was all kinds of clever. I mean, even the name of the achievement is great.

Of course, how I heard it (several times mind you) was that you unlocked an achievement for tying up a woman in Red Dead Redemption and placing her on railroad tracks.

Horrible? Sure. Over the top? It is Rockstar we're talking about here.

And like all Rockstar titles, why would I expect these guys to skimp on sending up classic Western motifs (in this case, more specifically a motif of the melodrama), especially something so overtly misogynistic, and finding a way to work it into their game?

So, after I had played the game for a few hours, I turned to my wife and pointed at a nun. “Railroad tracks?” I grinned. “No,” she snarled back, which I couldn't disagree with. I needed a more deserving victim.

A few more hours in and I found my gal. A woman cried plaintively near a stagecoach for help, a woman serving voluntarily as bait for what were essentially a turn of the century version of carjackers. She was attempting to lure my unsuspecting gunslinger into the crosshairs of a group of bandits hiding behind the coach. After dispatching them, I swooped in, hogtied the woman, and deposited her on the back of my horse, and I was off to find a convenient set of tracks.

Having set her down, I waited for my achievement to unlock, which, of course, it didn't.

Then it dawned on me. I was going to need to wait for a train.

I cut her loose. It wasn't funny anymore.

Now I have done some very bad things in games, usually in the name of moving the plot forward or in experimenting to see what is possible in a game world. In particular, I have done so in Rockstar games (which I still am undeniably a fan of). I can usually chalk such moments up to the lack of reality of pixelated violence and generally shrug that sort of thing off. It is fictional and comically absurd, like a Tarantino film. Sure, I'm complicit in a way that I am not when watching a movie, but pixels still have merely representational value. I am not still feeling guilty about all of the assassinations I perpetrated as a 10-year-old ninja, for instance.

However, I am not one of those, “hire a hooker, do the deed, beat her to death, take back your money” kind of guys. It just pushes the envelope of good taste for me personally. I think that it is interesting that Grand Theft Auto has such consistent logic within its world. However, that doesn't mean that I want to or need to follow all optional activities to their logical conclusions in open world games, especially if they are ones that really fundamentally bother me. Watching a woman die under the wheels of a train is one of those activities.

These moments in games always bring me back to acknowledging the power of representation and its relation to the real -- that representational moments signal and illustrate actual consequential actions and activities. While it is just digital justice and injustice that we play around with, play allows us to consider these actions through representation and acknowledge the gravity and weight of them. Sure, it's a game, but it still means something. Games that make me make decisions of moral weight still make me really reflect on what I think about consequence. As much as some folks decried the “No Russian” sequence in Modern Warfare 2 as so much salaciousness for the sake of salaciousness, I think that the representational struggle that the player is embroiled in during that segment of the game is still an interesting and useful one ("Uniforms Are Relics: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2", PopMatters, 18 November 2009). For me, sometimes the most compelling moments in a game come in choosing to not to do something, rather than to do something. If there is to be an ethical criticism in video games studies, let it at least be a self reflective one on the part of the player.

Hearing about the Dastardly achievement initially conjured images of Snidely Whiplash and Dudley Doright, which sounded fun and funny, but upon realizing what I needed to do to gain this “achievement,” I realized that a blonde haired, blue eyed handsome hero with gleaming teeth was not about to show up in this scene. I don't think that I ever really thought out the rather dire threat that “if you don't give me the deed to the ranch, I'll tie you to the railroad tracks” really is. I can appreciate the absurd melodrama of the vision of the classic sequence and the suspense that it conjures for the sake of such over the top theatrics. The horror of such a reality, even a digitized version, is a bit much for me.

I love the gritty realism of Rockstar's games coupled with cartoonish satire, but in this case, I guess the joke is really on me. I figured out rather quickly that I want the original image out of the melodrama, not some kind of experience of the “real” consequences of the Old West.

This achievement is very simply not one that I need, so I'll opt out. I kind of appreciate Rockstar putting me in the position of having to decide whether or not an achievement is worth it, though. If you have to draw the line concerning virtual misdeeds somewhere, I guess mine is at the railroad tracks.

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