I have a confession to make : I have never seen a western movie. There, it’s out. No, I have never seen Unforgiven or Tombstone. I have never seen the American remake of Seven Samurai. I have never had the cinematic joy of vicariously riding off into an 8 mm sunset or tying a woman to train tracks. I don’t really know what kind of guns they had back then, and what was necessary to be the fastest gun in the west. To be honest, I don’t even know what was actually considered the west. I imagine it’s somewhere past the central time zone, sauntering in between mountain and surfer territory. I’m not sure why people actually chose to forego civilization and fend off bears, but I imagine that according to society’s rules prostitutes and priests followed shortly thereafter.
I cared very little about the wild west until I stumbled across the game Red Dead Redemption. I watched the intro cut scene, went to see a man about a horse, and then became instantly and irretrievably hooked. Something about the main character John Marston drew me in immediately and I couldn’t help but to become completely immersed in the game, enjoying my secret life as a reformed criminal who walked with a strange gait and was quick to draw my pistol at the slightest provocation. But what was it about Red Dead Redemption that created such a perfect storm, a fierce midwestern funnel that sucked me up and into the world of the wild west?
John is so brave, young, and handsome. Well, sometimes he’s not so brave. Nor is he particularly young. And with a ragged scar across his face and ruddy appearance, he is not what would be called classically handsome. But he is one of the most charming video game characters I’ve come across so far. He is funny and witty, with great dialogue tinged with lots of sarcasm. But he adds plenty of “ma’am” to his conversations, and would be the kind of gentleman who would always open the door for the lady as he tipped his tattered cowboy hat. He is, seemingly, faithful to his wife in a virtual world littered with half dressed prostitutes as well as a fiesty but doe-eyed farm girl. He also remains faithful to protecting his family, despite the undesirable tasks he must complete of ridding the government of undesirables. He is a great western movie hero, a dude’s dude with lots of brass between the legs but always gentle with the ladies and quick on the draw. Marston is definitely what takes the game from “good” to “great”.
But there’s more to the game than a rambling gent with a dirty overcoat. The art is fabulous, and there are parts of this open-world game where you could just hop on a train and ride it around in circles forever, enjoying the scenery as the train goes through lush forests and over rickety bridges. You look up and there are birds circling overhead and fluffy clouds in the sky. You could hop onto your horse and ride into the sunset, starting at one end of the map and heading west, running over snakes and turtles on your way and stopping to pick wildflowers which fill a fragrant and seemingly bottomless front pocket. You can search for buried treasure videos on youtube, and then try to find those locations in the game. Then you can wrap up your virtual game day by starting a campfire and sleeping under the stars with your unicorn hitched close by.
There’s so much more to this game that I can’t possibly fit into a short post, like robbing dead bodies for $4 or skinning otters and then travelling an unreasonable distance across Mexican borders to sell them for a minor profit. It does a great job romanticizing an already romantic view of the old west and is, sadly, still my only glimpse into westerns. But in a way, I like to keep my untarnished view of the wild west as John Marston in a ragged duster, wiping sweat from his brow while hog-tying a prostitute and tossing her on train tracks for five measley achievement points.