In May, 2010, Rockstar Games released upon the world what was critically acclaimed to be not only the greatest wild west inspired game of all time, but also one of the best games in recent memory. The game is highly lauded as having an in-depth and intuitive control scheme, fantastic audio and visuals, an excellent story, and is about as close to living in a world of mercenaries, gunslingers, and train robbers as gamers are likely to experience in their lifetimes.
Technical and artistic merits aside, in a nutshell, Red Dead Redemption is an extremely large open-world action adventure title, bearing many similarities to Rockstar's flagship franchise, Grand Theft Auto. What GTA has that RDR did not, however, is a large, flowing, spilling network of people and cities. It is for this fact alone that I would much rather get lost in a world of Auto Theft.
This is a bit of a sob story. Well, more like a pity party. I'm really going to yank on your emotions. Okay, honestly, it isn't that bad of a story, so you can let me continue without the need for you to drag out a box full of tissues.
In the last month, I have lost my long-term relationship, been laid off much earlier than I was told I would be, realized all of my friends were miles and miles away, and to top it all off, I still haven't gotten my college tuition money yet. To summarize, I'm alone and stressed out to the max.
Turns out that Red Dead Redemption was not the proper title to cure what ails me.
The biggest difference between GTA and RDR as far as I can tell, is that one world is full of life, though both are extremely realistic considering the time periods each title represents. In RDR, it is not uncommon to walk, run, or ride a horse for what feels like hours at a time before you even begin to see signs of civilization. Sure, it's a period peace, but I've already admitted in previous articles that more than most people, I rely on my media to act as a second set of friends. I might see my real world friends once a month or better, but I can always plug in a gaming podcast or an episode of Twin Peaks to feel like there are people I know right in front of me. There is comfort there, and RDR cannot always provide this for me.
Certainly there are towns and lead protagonists in RDR, but for the majority of the game, John Marston marches the wild west all by his lonesome. It works for our titular hero though, since he is clearly designed from the ground up to be a lone wolf, similar to a plethora of old-timey Western film stars. It's an archetype that works.
I've played the game for many hours, but I felt I was forcing myself to do it. I would marvel at what I would personally deem to be technical achievements, and I knew I was playing a really good title, but every 15 minutes I began to wonder what the real world was up to. Understandably, this was just my current frame of mind, and if I hadn't begun to feel so isolated from the real world, it is entirely feasible that I could have fallen in love with Mr. Marston and his simple, down to earth lifestyle. Being totally alone in a richly designed, fleshed out gaming environment might have worked if their weren't so many proverbial tumble weeds invading my personal life.
I love Western films, and I suppose one of the key differences between games and films is the length. Games are generally require 8 or more hours of time, while movies require a maximum of 3. Movies are considerably shorter than games, and in that case, I tend to feel like I'm simply being told a story. I find it incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to connect with characters I do not control without the exposition granted to us by longer, more drawn out television programs.
Another variance was that I tend to connect more deeply with video game characters than I think I should- especially when they are placed in worlds of realism. Had RDR been more satirical, or more like a Tim Schafer project, the results would have been drastically different. Instead, I was John Marston. He was me. When he was alone, I was alone. It was not a perfect relationship.
Yes, in the time since the Western America Frontier, the world has more than doubled in population, and the population of North America has, no doubt, grown considerably. I admit that Rockstar San Diego has masterfully crafted a universe as close to that period as anyone could ever imagine. It was also a time, if memory serves me correct, where automobiles were not prone to breakneck speeds, and your neighbours were 5 miles away over the ridge. Why depression wasn't so clinically diagnosed in the early 1900's, I'll never know. Imagine getting a girlfriend back then, and worse yet, where would you take her? The nearest fast-food joint wasn't even invented yet!
There is something to be said about being in a GTA styled city; sure, it's polluted in all senses of the word, but at least there are people, and some of them aren't half as awful as the criminals in RDR.
Admittedly, I also play the majority of my video games on a PC. The reason for this is because I feel connected here. It has nothing to do with controls, but I am closer to the screen, and if I decide to check out my social media outlets, I don't have to leave the room and run to a computer, or I don't have to wait for either my netbook or iPhone to wake up. I just hit two simple keys, alt+tab, and mysteriously I'm portaled away to a wealth of information and communication. It isn't always perfect, but it's a start. Yes, the Playstation 3 does offer a working web-browser, but it is tired, cumbersome, and impossible to access in-game. Humorously, through all the advancements in online gaming, and the almost universal acceptance that Xbox Live has perfected online match making, I still feel the most connected on a computer.
One of the most notable games in recent memory is something I can no longer in good health force myself to experience. Maybe 6 months from now I'll be able to take a vacation back to 1911, but for now, I'm going to have to clean the mean streets of San Andreas.