Tuesday August 16, 2022

So it looks like Grand Theft Auto is finally getting its first playable female protagonist – a Latina woman who will apparently be one half of a ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ style criminal duo in GTA 6. If we’re to be really technical, you could argue that the original GTA back in 1997 let you choose from one of a whopping four female protagonists, but this was essentially just picking a portrait, and didn’t even so much as change your appearance in-game.

That’s great news and everything, especially if it’s going to feed into a ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ that sounds like it could move away from the typical ‘criminal enterprise’ story that has shaped so many previous GTA games. What’s a little frustrating about this, however, is that Rockstar already had a prime candidate for a compelling playable female character in Red Dead Redemption 2, and like so many things in that game, didn’t seize the opportunity.

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The character in question is Sadie Adler – a key member of the Van der Linde gang after they rescue her from the O’Driscolls early in the game. Quickly evolving from widowed wife to vengeful, sharp-shooting outlaw, she’s one of the more honourable members of the gang (even if she’s among the most reckless), while at the same time clearly being wounded by the horrors of her past. She’s a complex character whose complexities never really get explored, which is understandable given the tough world she lives in.

See, before she’s taken in by Dutch’s gang, Sadie’s was a contented housewife whose whole family was murdered by the O’Driscoll Gang; the trauma the event left her with makes Sadie extremely untrusting. Despite her evolving into a sharp-witted and valuable member of the gang, she always keeps a distance from the group. She’s neither quite one of the guys nor one of the gals, neither getting involved in everyday camp maintenance chores along with the women, nor drinking or getting pally with the men.

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Even in the epilogue, when John, Uncle, and Charles – the good eggs of the old gang – reunite to build themselves a homestead, Sadie chooses not to join them despite the obvious security that would offer, and continues her work as a wayfaring bounty hunter, occasionally pulling John along for her missions. Sadie’s fearless, but that fearlessness is a byproduct of her having no attachments and nothing to live for except revenge. She’s glib, almost cheery, in her disposition towards death, but again that relates back to her tragic past.

Elusive yet engaging character that she is, Sadie would’ve been a perfect story DLC accompaniment to Red Dead Redemption 2, which could’ve offered some insights and vulnerabilities that she was clearly never going to reveal to other members of the van der Linde gang (with the possible exception of Arthur).

With seven years between the ending of the main game and the epilogue when Sadie reappears, we were left wondering what she got up to in that time: friends? Travel companions? Fleeting lovers? Did Sadie get close to anyone in that time? It would seem viable, for example, that after admitting to Arthur that he ‘was the only man she trusted,’ perhaps some of those deep-seated trust issues would’ve alleviated just enough that in the intervening years between Arthur’s death and the epilogue she opened up to someone before some other major traumatic event occurred that battened down her emotional hatches for good, leading to the lonesome but still sharp-tongued bounty hunter that John later meets.

Something else that we never got to see of Sadie was how she coped while riding solo in what very much was a man’s world of the American West at the turn of the 20th century. 

Sure, Sadie was as tough as they came, and one of the perks of living on the edges of civilisation was that men and women alike could forge new identities for themselves free from traditions and societal constraints. But after years of being a housewife followed by years under the collective protection of the van der Linde gang, to be truly alone would’ve been a new kind of challenge for Ms. Adler; how did people regard a gunslinging woman like her? How did she overcome her physical deficits in relation to men? What prejudices and hurdles did she have to overcome to become one of the most respected bounty hunters in the West?

Sadie was a fascinating character who wore a mask throughout Red Dead Redemption 2 – a product of trauma and wanting to pass in a brutal world that required her to match its brutality. She suppressed who she was – her past, her desires, her vulnerabilities – to become one of Rockstar’s most badass characters, and her unique position of being a woman doing ‘man’s work’ at the turn of the 20th century would’ve made her a strong female icon for Rockstar, and gaming.

The fact that Red Dead Redemption 2 never got any kind of single-player story DLC, let alone a Sadie Adler one, is indicative of Rockstar’s shifting priorities, with the ‘Online’ portions of their recent games being the main focus for post-release content. Not only that, but with Rockstar’s recent announcement that it wouldn’t be supporting Red Dead Online any more, it’s clear that GTA trumps all in Rockstar’s books, because that’s where the serious money is at for them.

The Latina heroine of GTA 6 may yet prove to be a great character, but the Red Dead games have always had stronger characterisation than GTA’s more poppy protagonists, and it’ll take something special for her to top Sadie Adler – Rockstar’s unsung female hero, and the most dangerous woman in the West.

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