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Red Dead Recapitulation

By Tim Eisen on November 21, 2018 | Columns | Comments

Red Dead Recapitulation

(To skip the build up and head right to the zipper skip to paragraph 5.) I've never played a lot of games. What I mean is I've never been a variety gamer, at least not since Blockbuster was cool. (Pours libations for the smell of a Blockbuster that happened to have a Pizza place next door.) While I don't play a variety of games, the ones I do play I adore. I don't just adore them, I crawl into them like Tom Hanks in Castaway and let them live in my head - rent free.

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It's not that I wouldn't love to play a wide array of games, it’s that I lack time. My strategy for entertainment is simple, make my minutes count. I call it my Wolverine Origins rule. I lost the time I invested in that movie and I swore, going forward, I'd never let that happen again!

To give you an idea of what I quantify as maximizing my minutes here are the games I've lived in over the last several years; Skyrim, Witcher 3, Super Mario Odyssey, Zelda Breath of the Wild, Saints Row IV and a variety of MMORPG's and Shooters that were fun but didn't stick. That's the long way of saying I look for quality over quantity and I make that decision through so much effort that I'd likely be better off just playing a variety of games to suss the quality ones.

Through grad paper levels of research, I determined Red Dead Redemption II might be one of those games. The problem I had with committing was two-fold. Despite understanding their elite quality I've never been especially fond of the Grand Theft Auto games, and the same can be said for Red Dead Redemption. It also failed my Jedi rule. Past experiences have dictated that any game with Jedi in it - Star Wars Galaxies for Example, or any game that allows me to easily imagine I'm a Jedi - Skyrim for example, better retains my attention and returns my investment.

Countering my logic was my gut. (Truthiness?) I'm a fan of Spaghetti Westerns, mountains, Unforgiven, hunting, Jeremiah Johnson, lever action guns, the Ballad of Arthur Scruggs, whiskey and most importantly, western text tones. My decision was made not of logic, but of love and, while I'm only about 25% into the main story, it's looking like Red Dead 2 will make my exclusive list. I dare say it might even knock the mighty Skyrim from its perch at number two!

The thing about Red Dead that most impresses me isn't something that can be described, its something you have to play to understand. I'm now going to attempt describing it. Its the moments between the moments. To show you how good this game is at putting you in the role, that is exactly how I describe the satisfaction I get from the outdoors. You listen for the noise between the noise in nature and in this game. If you go in to plow through content, pile up unlocks and check all the completionist junk developers tack on to appease the modern gamer crowd you will find plenty of it in this game, but you will also miss the point.

Never before has a game gone to such great lengths to force the player to slow down and observe the art. Hailing from a world where dopamine is one quick click away it was a helluva adjustment. Once I stopped pushing against what the Developers intended I saw the genius behind the slow. Maybe the easiest example is how you walk in camp. You can run anywhere in the game but in your own gang's camp, you are restricted to a slow or medium walk.

In the beginning, I avoided the camp altogether. I couldn't stand moving through mud and the residents are a bunch of low life slackers and grifters living off my hard work! As I often do when I play a game, I asked myself how this got through testing. Why would developers allow for what was surely flagged as torturous to its players? So I stopped, and I looked, and I listened. That is when I got it. They did it to force me to hear to the beautiful sounds, to see the beautiful sights and to take in the well-written characters that make up my gang of social outcasts. Red Dead didn’t just master the obvious, it mastered a thousand tiny details that combine to create an imersion rarely seen among its peers!

I wondered if they applied this same concept to other aspects of the game. As I engaged other mechanics and used the same mindset this game elevated itself. Rather than rush through camp for the quick bonus’s, I specifically set up camp on a cliff overlooking a small pond. As dusk hit the ducks and geese flew in to roost and the audio that followed combined with the beauty of my surroundings was transformative. How do I know? Because when I'm not an indoors dark basement dwelling introvert, I spend time outdoors as a dark sky fireside dwelling introvert! Like a good painting, words can’t do it justice. (Especially your words.)

Red Dead Redemption II is the first game I can recall that made me slow down and appreciate everything the studio built without the desire to skip content. It does this by looking beautiful, sounding beautiful and being beautifully written. Despite its quality, I nearly missed it because I went in with the modern dopamine riddled mindset. It wasn't until I stopped resisting and gave myself to the will of the developers that I slowed down and got immersed in a way that few games ever have.

Tim Eisen / I roleplay a wordsmith that writes about the technological and social evolution within the game industry