In October of 2018, Rockstar released arguably one of the greatest action adventure games of all time. A prelude (to yet another) critically acclaimed game that follows a brigade of miscreants headed by a silver-tongued anti-conformist as they find themselves on the run from the Pinkertons. Through the eyes of gunslinger Arthur Morgan, the player takes on an experience of robbery, treachery, loss, and tragedy. Easily one of my favorite games of all time you wouldn’t have to look far to find praise for this title. Honestly, anything Rockstar has produced with the Red Dead title has been a massive success, and though I could rant endlessly about the joys of hunting muskrats for three hours I wanted to do something a little different with this.
I wrote a little earlier about Puzo’s brilliant novel The Godfather (here) a short and not very thought-out analysis of the novel’s impact on American culture. Specifically the shift in modern media from the core Americana cowboy to the urban crime Mafiosi.
But that hardly meant westerns were dead, far from it. In 1993 Tombstone, the overly exaggerated tale of Wyatt Earp sweep through the country becoming one of the greatest pieces of cinema in history. What Tombstone failed to do however is flip the perspective. It was every bit of the white hat black hat, Earp was the heroic badge-wielding hero of the film whereas, in real life, he was a bit of a piece of shit. If we go back in time some years to 1985 a novel was published that put the Western idea through a different lens. Cormac McCarthy’s intense Blood Meridian tells the story of someone just known as the Kid and his adventure (if you want to call it that) within a group of the worst people to ever live known as the Glanton Gang.
Arguably his most haunting novel the readers get to see the revolting side of frontier life, scenes of genocide, rape, and debauchery. Consider a great American Novel what McCarthy was able to paint with Blood Meridian was a scene that could make any person’s stomach turn, which is equally the beauty of the book but also the downside. The novel isn’t palatable in most cases. I feel the same about it as I do Lolita, it is a complex book that can’t really be sat down and read without proper context of what the author is trying to do. My dad loves Westerns both in film and books but I would never recommend or see him reading Blood Meridian because of that. So where does this ranting and rambling lead me? Well to Red Dead, naturally.
What I think the game was able to do is show that western ethos can not only exist within modernization but thrive. Even modern Western films such as 3:10 to Yuma or Django Unchained it is some variation of cops good bandits bad or a sheer showing of human rights violations (that may be relevant to the time) and often riddled with a dialect that doesn’t really work in today’s time. One of my favorite all-time shows and also a Western Deadwood is another case in this. Though the dialect is hypnotic (which honestly just goes to show how well-written Deadwood actually is) it is still riddled with fucks cocksuckers and whatever racially discriminatory term describes the situation. But when it comes to Red Dead, the interactions and the general world casts neither of these tropes. Instead leaning more on the legend of Robin Hood, painting the frontier as the last line of defense against the horde that is capitalism.
The game does this through a couple of different techniques, the first being the obvious band of thieves. Life-long bandit is all Arthur Morgan knows. Being raised by the charismatic leader, Dutch, Arthur comes off as a simple man of simple means. Not a good man, a thug, a murderer through and through but it is cut in a way of circumstance. This, of course, can change drastically on how the player decides to choose the actions of Arthur but even outside the honor system, some things are apparent. Arthur is by no means simple. Though saying it many times there are just as equal moments he finds himself in philosophical positions, sometimes even questioning his own mortality, pondering on why he lets an old love still string him along. Then as we look at his temperance Arthur rarely ire, though blunt with most of the gang he can be equally joking, not rising to jeers that others like John Marston quickly flair over. This maturity comes more apparent in Arthur’s ability to work with Micha even though he clearly and audibly loathes him.
It is this soft-spoken protagonist the rest of the series revolves around. The gang, full of people from different races and creeds has equally different temperaments. As mentioned Marston is a bit of a hot head, quick to a fight while Lenny is more jovial. Bill is the cranky drunk while Hosea, the co-founder of the gang is more of a guiding hand. Dutch, always well dressed and sharp with his tongue instills this group with undying loyalty. The loyalty he repays with coin, comradery, and the promise of safety. The game isn’t really afraid to dip into the politics either, a quest having Arthur retrieve a slavers heirloom just for him to chastise the man for his pre-civil war employment. The KKK can also be seen around, making usual fools of themselves all the while Arthur can march for women’s suffrage.
What Rockstar did with a series that already held its own weight was show that Cowboy Westerns of old can still work in modern terms. Well, not just work but thrive. Telling a story as old as time through a lens of a dying breed of outlaw, but still full of love, respect, and relevance that still holds up in 2023. If you have never played any of the Red Dead series I can not recommend it enough. It is truly a work of art and though Redemption 2 is a prelude, it does not require the first game to play. I will be working on more book/anime-related stuff here soon. I have a couple of books I’ve recently finished as well as I want to write about the absolute ride that was Gundam Witch Of Mercury. I also have two non-fiction books I’m going to attempt to talk about. One is way too smart for me but I will give it a go anyways.
On a more personal note, I’ve been having a fit with seasonal depression and general ire with my professional life that has kept me from working on my blog as much as I would like. This really isn’t an excuse just more of an FYI. I’ve been in IT for a decade at this point and I’m quite over it but as these things go once you are attached to a profession it’s hard to leave. Either way, I plan on being more active so we shall see. As always thanks for the read!