Please note: this article discusses a major plot point of Red Dead Redemption 2
For players of Red Dead Redemption 2, the blockbuster Western action-adventure game developed and published by Rockstar Games, the tuberculosis (TB) diagnosis and slow, tragic death of main character Arthur Morgan has come as a shock.
The game takes place in 1899, when TB, or “consumption” as it was then called, was the leading cause death worldwide. What many players might not know is that more than a century later, TB is the leading infectious cause of death, killing 1.6 million people every year. Largely abated in many Western countries, TB disproportionately affects the poorest of the poor.
Watch: The Game Theorists Explain Tuberculosis in Red Dead Redemption 2
TB is an airborne disease that can be spread by coughing or sneezing – so though it is often considered a disease of poverty, anyone who breathes is at risk.
Today many people can fortunately be treated with a six-month course of four antibiotics. However, in many countries with high burdens of TB, those most in need of better, faster-acting and affordable TB cures are often the most difficult to reach. There is also growing drug-resistance to available treatments, which means the disease is becoming more deadly and more difficult to treat. There were over half a million cases of drug-resistant TB in 2017 alone.
There was no hope of a cure for TB in 1899 when Arthur Morgan contracts the disease – the world’s first antibiotic, penicillin, was discovered in 1928, and the first TB drug, streptomycin was discovered in 1943. But even one drug is not enough; because TB is such a resilient disease, it requires combinations of multiple drugs to treat effectively.
Today, we face tragic outcomes for those with the most drug-resistant forms of TB, with success rates of about 34% even after years of treatment with any available drugs. Currently available TB medicines are increasingly inadequate to take on the global TB crisis.
Scientific innovation is part of the solution. New treatments that are faster, simpler and affordable are desperately needed. Thanks to the support of our donors, we are advancing new treatments that have the potential to make a difference. You can learn more about our projects through our online research pipeline.
We spoke with Austin Hourigan, video creator at The Game Theorists, about his motivation for spreading the word about TB.
“I was embarrassed, because I had thought of TB as a small force in the world,” said Hourigan. “I knew about drug-resistant strains, and even multidrug-resistant strains, but I thought the impact of the disease was low still, because I literally never hear about it from media.”
He made the decision to fill that information gap for his audience of science and math-minded gamers, and his video now has over 1 million views on YouTube.
“Everything I read about tuberculosis was exceptional to western audiences,” adds Hourigan. “From its method of action to its impact on human society, to the fact that it's one of the oldest infections we've had to deal with; all of that was exceptional and upsetting. I thought I could use an evocative moment in a game, where the protagonist succumbs to his tuberculosis infection, as a way to more or less piggyback ride a broader conversation.”
Photo credit: Rockstar Games