Image taken from reddit.com

Red Dead Redemption 2: the conspiracy theorists chasing storms across a virtual Wild West

Red Dead Redemption 2 is stuffed with content and collectables. And, like any open-world leviathan, it has glitches and wrinkles, too. But what if those disembodied voices and dead-end plots aren’t mistakes? What if “the truth” really is out there?

Chasing storms. Hunting royalty. Battling the occult. Entire game worlds are dedicated to these pursuits. Yet in the Old West of Red Dead Redemption 2 (RDR2), they are little more than unconfirmed or unintended curiosities.

Enter the legion of virtual detectives who call Reddit’s r/​RedDeadMysteries home. The community has over 100,000 members who post about their personal conspiracy crusades. That’s more players than many video games could ever hope to attract. 

RDR2 begins with a botched ferry heist and sets protagonist Arthur Morgan and his friends on a collision course with the Pinkerton Detective Agency in 1899. Throughout, Arthur’s mentor and father figure, Dutch van der Linde, chases a dream of one last big score, a final fairytale ending for his family”.

While the majority of players who contributed to the game’s 31 million sales will have set their controllers aside at their culmination of Arthur’s journey (the game has multiple endings), some never stopped chasing dreams.

u/​IncertRandomNameHere tracked thunderstorms across the colossal map from New Hanover and Lemoyne in the east to New Austin in the west, recording and screenshotting each lightning strike. Is there a pattern, they wondered? Does lightning truly strike twice?

Others have obsessed over the IKZ Mystery: the in-game disappearance of Princess Isabeau Katharina Zinsmeister of Luxembourg. The story goes that she vanished 15 years before the ferry heist, during a royal visit to America. Players can uncover a newspaper article and $100 reward poster during their adventure.

The community has pieced together all they can about IKZ: she was five years old, had blonde hair and a series of birthmarks on her face and hand. She’s mentioned by at least three non-player characters, including a camper near the Elysian Pool who claims to have spent seven years looking for her. Arthur can even find luggage inscribed with IKZ” and the Luxembourg coat of arms at the Van Horn Trading Post.

Late last year, modders discovered a model of IKZ buried deep in the game files. But to date, neither IKZ nor her body has surfaced in RDR2.

It’s fair to say many of the theories on the community board are far-fetched. Like Dutch’s own obsession with a happy ending, they seem more fanciful with each passing twist. But other mysteries offer fresh insight into a game which has dominated critical and commercial charts since its 2018 release. And all the posts speak to a broader love of Rockstar’s Wild West recreation.

So who are the detectives and IKZ truthers digging up the bodies beneath the surface of the van der Linde gang’s adventure? And what keeps them motivated to spend hundreds of hours following leads and dead ends? After all, we’re hardly short of stellar open-world titles right now.

The subreddit itself was born from another head-scratcher five years prior: the Mount Chiliad Mystery from Rockstar’s other franchise, Grand Theft Auto V. Strange markings found near that peak’s summit hinted at Illuminati involvement. Even today there’s debate whether Mount Chiliad has truly been solved.

r/​RedDeadMysteries moderator u/​DariusFontaine, a long-standing Mount Chiliad investigator, launched the RDR2 subreddit to preempt a similar enigma in the Old West. 

I just assumed Rockstar would include some mysteries or Easter eggs that would be fun to uncover together as a community,” DariusFontaine says. I wanted a place where people could discuss the more esoteric elements of the game without it being cluttered with screenshots and memes like most video game subs.”

Fellow mod u/​Kaineferu says: We didn’t anticipate the amount of users we’d receive or how much attention it would garner. Rockstar knows their mystery hunter community very well. They know that mysteries garner more players and data miners, bringing more attention to their games.

Personally, one of my favourite unsolved mysteries is the pentagram at Butcher’s Creek. It appears under a building at 4am and disappears after 5am. We’ve seen a couple of users kill a goat over it, and distinctively hear a chime, but it’s led nowhere.”

So why are Rockstar titles luring mystery hunters in a way not seen with other open-world games? 

That’s the biggest mystery of them all,” says u/​DariusFontaine. The games tend to be so realistic and made with such care that people will focus all their attention on things that seem out of place or unfinished. I’ve never seen glitches or arbitrary textures analysed as closely as they are in these subs.”

While some mystery hunters dig up glitches, others try to find hidden patterns. u/IncertRandomNameHere’s storm chase is one of the top-ranked posts in the community with more than 4,000 likes and screeds of debate.

It was when I was trying to get struck by lightning in Roanoke Ridge that the realisation struck me: not only were there three styles of lightning in the game, one of them had a vague pattern.”

I think for many there is an intense desire to be the one who discovers something nobody has seen before. Whether it is in the pursuit of internet fame or just personal glory, they want to be the one who solves the mystery.”

IncertRandomNameHere breaks electrical storms down into chain lightning” confined to the generated clouds; weak lightning”, which does little more than light up the landscape; and strong lightning”, which explodes on impact. Those were the bolts they tracked.

I joined the community really late in the game, to be honest. By the time I had hit the scene, most of the obvious mysteries had been solved. But with a world as massive as Red Dead Redemption 2, there are bound to be some serious mysteries left.”

Another of r/​RedDeadMysteries’ moderators, u/​Kaimeera, says: If it takes more than a paragraph to explain, it’s probably not a true Easter egg but a reverse connection to fit their narrative.” 

In short – some posters are clutching at straws.

There’s a thrill in finding an Easter egg. Whether it’s found in the game files, the game code, action scripts or by good-ole-fashioned playing, the hide-and-seek game Rockstar has been playing fuels the hunt.”

DariusFontaine adds: I think for many there is an intense desire to be the one who discovers something nobody has seen before. Whether it is in the pursuit of internet fame or just personal glory, they want to be the one who solves the mystery. Me? I just enjoy the community these mysteries create.” 

The Red Dead Mystery board is a detective agency to rival the Pinkertons, a love letter to one of the defining games of this console generation. But more than that, it’s proof that no matter how big the billion-dollar business of video games becomes, it’s players who make a game.

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