The Best Cowboys In Video Games

The word cowboy has a very clear definition: someone that wrangles cattle. However, over the years it has come to be shorthand for anyone in the wild west that could be considered an outlaw, criminal, ne’er-do-well, or person that chooses to live outside settled civilized society. Nowadays, when we think of cowboys, these are the people that come to mind.

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Video games have been obsessed with these people that lived on the edge of the frontier for decades. From 1975’s Gun Fight to Red Dead Redemption 2, video games love nothing more than a gunslinging, smoldering, rootin’ tootin’ cowboy. Some of these people are gruff gentlemen, some of them dastardly villains, and one of them is a cute robot. These are the best cowboys in video games.

Updated on December 25, 2023 by Grant Burton:The cowboy is one of the most identifiable character types in the media. Everyone knows what a cowboy is, and what one looks like. There are a lot of great cowboys in video games, so this update adds several new additions to the list that were originally omitted.

13 Colton White – Gun

Colton White with a woman and his gun in 'Gun'

  • Voiced by Thomas Jane.
  • An Apache boy who is later adopted by a white hunter.
  • Goes on a quest to discover his true origins.

Voiced by actor Thomas Jane, Colton White was an Apache adopted by hunter, Ned White. He learned to hunt and survive, to shoot, and he developed a strong moral standing. After an attack in which Ned sacrifices himself, Colton goes on a journey of discovery.

A revenge-seeking cowboy protagonist, he’s designed primarily to be cool, but unlike some of the cowboys in video games, he does have a deeper, more sympathetic backstory, which is key to the adventure he goes on.

12 Red Harlow – Red Dead Revolver

Red Harlow in Red Dead Revolver

  • Seeks revenge for the murder of his parents.
  • Becomes a bounty hunter.
  • Has similar scars across his face to later series protagonist, John Marston.

The Red Dead series has an often-forgotten about original game, entitled Red Dead Revolver. The main character in it is named Red Harlow. He’s the son of a prospector and a Native American woman, who seeks vengeance for their murders.

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In later years, he becomes a bounty hunter, mercilessly slaying his targets. He and his allies traverse the west in search of the man who betrayed his parents, as well as those who killed them. Red might not be the most nuanced character ever conceived, but he is a pretty cool cowboy.

11 John Cooper – Desperados (Series)

John Cooper in artwork for Desperados 3

  • A bounty hunter seeking revenge.
  • Prefers stealth to combat.
  • Quick at traversal, and a good shooter too.

John Cooper is the primary protagonist of the Desperados series. He’s a bounty hunter in search of a bandit responsible for the death of John’s father. What separates John from many of the other cowboys on this list is the gameplay style.

The Desperados games are isometric, stealth, and strategy games. John is a character who prefers to sneak around, stealth attack, and distract enemies with coins. On top of that, he is quick at traversing, and this somewhat separates him from the archetypes he’s based upon.

10 Cole Cassidy – Overwatch 2

Overwatch 2 Cole Cassidy

  • Voiced by Matthew Mercer
  • A disavowed member of Blackwatch.
  • Uses a Peacekeeper revolver.
  • Formerly known as Jesse McCree, as a pseudonym to escape his past.

Cole Cassidy is certainly one of the most recognizable cowboys in video games, and he also has one of the most memorable voices (courtesy of Matthew Mercer). However, nobody likes him. Most of the other characters in Overwatch have their own good reasons to distrust this disavowed member of Blackwatch. The villains feel like he abandoned them and the heroes still don’t trust him.

What’s more, your teammates probably also won’t like him being on the team, considering the strange place he has found himself in after years of new characters being added to Overwatch. Once Ashe the Sheriff was added to the game, Cole instantly became the second best at everything he was once the best at. He now feels like a man out of time, struggling to find his place in this world. How fitting.

9 Basically Everyone – Mad Dog McCree And Mad Dog McCree 2: The Lost Gold

Mad Dog McCree 2

  • This was the first ever live-action laserdisc video game.
  • You play as a nameless gunslinger called ‘Stranger.’

Yes, the titular Mad Dog himself could have gone here, but if you have played this 1990 FMV lightgun game (or its Wii port) then you will know that almost everyone in this game is secretly an outlaw. Like most lightgun games, each screen sees you take aim at baddies as they appear onscreen, the difference being that, in Mad Dog McCree, instead of actors running on screen, most of them are just hanging around waiting for the right moment to pull their piece on you.

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Men trying to fix their broken wagon? They’ll try to shoot you. Well-dressed aristocrat at the bar? He has a gun ready to draw on you. A lady running for her life? Surprise! She had a gun in her stockings. And in classic FMV fashion, if you shoot any of these people too early, then you will get an instant game over. Fun!

8 The Wanderer – Live A Live

The Wanderer and Mad Dog - Live A Live

  • The plot of this chapter in Live a Live is heavily inspired by the movie, The Magnificent Seven, and Seven Samurai, before that.
  • You, a nameless cowboy, team up with your rivals to take down a bigger threat.
  • The chapter has three potential endings.

One of the best chapters in the anthology RPG Live A Live sees you taking control of a mysterious cowboy and teaming up with your rival Mad Dog (yup, video games in the ’90s loved the name Mad Dog). The two of you will put your hatred for each other aside briefly to protect a town about to be besieged by the Crazy Bunch Gang.

This chapter is great because it plays out like a mixture of The Magnificant Seven and Home Alone, as you, Mad Dog, and the townsfolk prepare boobytraps for the encroaching gang. The chapter ends with a showdown between you and Mad, and the gang leader, O. Dio. After this you can either finally face off against Mad Dog, or try to avoid conflict. Sadly, however, even if you do flee the first battle with Mad Dog, that ain’t the life the Wanderer signed up to.

7 Lucky Luke

Lucky Luke in The New Adventures of Lucky Luke Tv show

  • First video games came out in the ’80s.
  • Many of his games are exclusive to Europe.
  • A more comedic take on the cowboy.
  • Began life as a comic book character.

Lucky Luke began life as a comic book character in the 1940s. He was conceived as a somewhat cocky, sarcastic individual, a gunslinger who could shoot faster than his shadow. He and his horse, Jolly Jumper, traverse the American west in various comedic adventures, sometimes against real historical figures.

Lucky Luke wasn’t just in comic books though. He later went on to appear in several animated TV shows, and live action films. He first started appearing in video games in the ’80s, many of which were exclusive to Europe. While he might not have the reach or fame of some video game cowboys, he’s certainly iconic and unique among the crowd.

6 Erron Black – Mortal Kombat

Mortal Kombat - Erron Black Looking Off Camera With His Pistol In MK11

  • Erron is a former member of the Black Dragon.
  • He was first introduced in the Mortal Kombat X comic book series. He then made his way into the games.
  • Erron’s scars and accent change from each video game depiction, for unknown reasons.

Cowboys just seem like the perfect fit for fighting games. You have ninjas, samurai, martial artists, soldiers, and every other costume you could find at a Halloween shop in these games acting as skilled warriors. Of course, it would make sense to include a wild west frontiersman. Erron Black is your typical, bad-to-the-bone mercenary who has no qualms about chucking Earth-realm under the bus for a quick bit of coin.

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The best thing about Black though, is how well NetherRealm managed to translate a gunslinger into a Mortal Kombat game. In a series where people are usually beating up each other at close range, how do you not make a guy with a six-shooter and a rifle overpowered? Well, you don’t, and as a result, Erron has been a top-tier competitive pick for years. Yes, he is powerful and sleazy as hell, but that’s all part of the charm.

5 Sadie Adler – Red Dead Redemption 2

Sadie Adler - Red Dead Redemption 2

  • Sadie is rescued by the Dutch van der Linde gang after a robbery that slew her husband.
  • Her time with the gang hardens her. She becomes strong-willed, gun-totting, and extremely capable.
  • She eventually becomes a bounty hunter.

Sadie is maybe the most resilient character on this list. Having moved north with her husband, Jake, they soon find themselves being robbed by the O’Driscolls. During Red Dead Redemption 2’s opening, you will come across her still hiding in the aftermath of the O’Driscolls’ raid, where the gang murdered her husband. Despite a less-than-pleasant introduction to the Van der Linde Gang courtesy of Micah, she chooses to stay with the group after most of her life has already been destroyed.

As the chapters slowly go on, Sadie evolves from a woman drowning in sadness to the strongest-willed member of the party and an extremely capable cowboy in her own right. By the time the final chapter comes around, she and Arthur Morgan seem to be some of the few characters aware of how doomed the gang is, and she plays a pivotal role in helping Abigail Marston and her son escape the gang and start a new life.

4 Rusty – Steamworld Dig

Rusty - Steamworld dig

  • A miner, visually styled to match old western characters.
  • He trades the frontiers of Earth for those of space.

Rusty is less of a cowboy and more of a miner, but just look at his cute hat and bandana; he’s a little cowboy at heart. Besides, he is living on the frontier too, but instead of those frontiers pushing outwards into the west, he’s traveling down through his uncle’s mines.

Steamworld Dig 2 sees his friend Dorothy McCrank looking for him after his disappearance years after the first game. That game ends with Steambot’s version of Earth being destroyed and him, Dorothy, and Fren traveling to space hoping to tame the wildest frontier of them all.

3 The Stranger – Oddworld: Stranger’s Wraith

The Stranger - Oddworld Stranger's Wrath

  • The Stranger is an homage to classic western movie characeturs.
  • He is skilled in a variety of weapons and guns.
  • He harbours a mysterious secret about his past.

Despite being set in the strange and peculiar universe of Oddworld, The Stranger has everything that makes a cowboy iconic. His tattered hat and poncho, gruff attitude, skill with weapons, mysterious past, and — most importantly — his dangerous secret. If you haven’t played Strangers Wraith, this is a reveal you should really discover for yourself. Even all these years later, it is still a brilliant moment.

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Oddworld might be very different from our universe, but this gunslinger is unmistakably one of video games’ best cowboys. Much like classic westerns, the frontier in Stranger’s Wraith feels untamed and dangerous, but The Stranger himself always seemed unfazed by this.

2 John Marston – Red Dead Redemption

John Marston from Red Dead Redemption 

  • Earned his scars from an attack by wolves.
  • Was raised in part in an orphanage.
  • At age 12, John joined the van der Linde gang.

As the face of one of the most memorable pieces of box art in video games, it is hard to argue John’s place on this list. The protagonist of the first Red Dead Redemption and the heart of Arthur Morgan’s moral conflict in RDR2, he is one of the most fleshed-out characters in games, period.

From his love-hate relationship with Bill Williamson, his unending love for his wife and child, and his journey across the West and into Mexico, John has seen it all. That is even before talking about his brief, non-canonical stint as a zombie slayer. John is a man who can’t escape his past and can’t avoid the future hurtling towards him, as tragic as he is iconic.

1 Arthur Morgan – Red Dead Redemption 2

Arthur Morgan in the sunset light

  • The main enforcer of the Dutch van der Linde gang.
  • When illness strikes, he begins to question past decisions, as well as his future.
  • He was once a father, but his son died in a robbery.

Is it unfair to have three Red Dead Redemption characters on this list? Maybe, but when they are this well-characterized, it would be unfair not to recognize them. Arthur Morgan isn’t a good man — he might very well be a bad man in your playthrough — but he wants to be better. The sheer regret and pain etched into every word he mutters towards the end of Red Dead Redemption 2 paint a picture of a man truly out of time.

The West is ending, and he is the last of a dying breed — his gang is falling apart, and his body is failing him. Having spent years following Dutch, Arthur realizes what anyone playing the game could have told him from the start: his time is over, and it’s time to move on. Arthur Morgan isn’t just the best cowboy in video games, he epitomizes everything that westerns stand for.

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