In Red Dead Online (RD:O), players who take on the role of black characters find themselves the frequent target of racial slurs. This is hardly news to most of us. The toxicity of the gaming community is nothing of not notorious; a known gateway drug to more noxious forms of bigotry. Gamers either dive headfirst into the racist zealotry of the KKK or deny racism exists. Years ago, when I pointed out racial blindspots in popular games, gamers attempted to disprove this by threatening me with death and I was called some variation of fascist.

Patricia Hernandez spoke to several players of RD:O, who spoke of a particular nasty aspect to the game – that it attempts to recreate a historical setting with the n-word was common and slavery an actual threat.

“Fans can customize their own black characters, which is an exciting option for many players — that is, until they actually go out into the world and interact with other people. According to many fans I’ve spoken to, Red Dead Redemption 2 fosters a particularly hostile environment for black characters. When Red Dead Online launched, I saw tweets remarking that black players couldn’t do anything without being called the n-word by players controlling white characters, or they were being hunted down for the crime of having dark skin. While some players found this phenomenon funny or unremarkable, others find the racism jarring…”

Gamers love using the excuse of “historical accuracy” to justify their slurs and conduct. Yet, this is a game where the main character often treats women with respect, doesn’t use a single racial slur himself and indeed gets angry at racists; this is also a game where a scientist makes a robot that comes to life and where horses hit by trains can be healed with magic potion. Furthermore, when saying “historical accuracy”, why side with the racists? What about those who aided people of colour or viewed them as people? Whenever someone uses the excuse of historical accuracy, they

  • Don’t know the history and/or
  • Are picking a particular part of that history that happen to align with bigotry, when they could just… not, and/or
  • Are being inconsistent given it’s a video game usually with some fantastical elements that undermines any call for accuracy.

However, it’s also important to note that “historical accuracy” is an aesthetic property, not a one-hundred percent pure property appealing to every aspect. Authenticity is not perfect recreation, but an attempt to capture the detail of a specific time and place. No one will be thrown out of believing the detail that this is a Wild West because there’s a, say, brick that would never have been designed in such a way in the early 19th century.

Historical accuracy is an aesthetic quality, not goal.