Don’t mistake that as myself being a player incapable of finishing a game due to difficulty — I recently knocked over the excellent Metro Exodus
on Hardcore. I just refused
, point blank, to finish Red Dead Redemption 2
. In my review I wrote
that the game was “arguably the greatest, most remarkable example of design and development ever produced in gaming”. A big statement, but one that also led to me saying that playing it for as long as I had (and have) wasn’t “about money, or advancing the story or learning the fate of the gang and bridging the gaps between this and 2010’s initial release. It was the world. This place Rockstar
has crafted; the dewy plains, the flowery meadows, the snowy mountains, the swampy Bayou; the density of Saint Denis -- all of it. I just wanted to exist as one with it and feel alive within it”.
"When Arthur died, I left the game alone for almost two full weeks -- a game I’d been playing for hours upon hours every night..."
I went on the ever-growing 7/10 Podcast
a few times recently and reiterated this. I mean, imagine being able to play around in Hyrule
indefinitely, but on your own and by your own rules? Breath of the Wild
, as brilliant as it is
, however, has less than half the (known) content of Red Dead Redemption 2. So just continuing to exist in this game-world became more important to me than finishing the story and seeing an end to Micah
, or kicking off the events that will lead John
back to Dutch
in Red Dead Redemption
. When Arthur
died, I left the game alone for almost two full weeks -- a game I’d been playing for hours upon hours every night up until that moment. I felt incensed. I felt betrayed. I felt lost.
Such is the power of games, and game-worlds, to people who invest so much in them.
Prior to my snowy mountain assault on the turncoat, I’d been spending time in Tall Trees
trying to feed Evelyn Miller
, the struggling writer whose cabin sat at the north-western end of the area, but right in Skinner
territory. We run into him as Arthur, too, but that’s a lifetime ago. Miller’s refusal to eat or drink until his latest draft is completed sits as a poignant metaphor for how I’ve chosen to play Red Dead Redemption 2. I’m not playing it as a completionist -- I have myriad tasks yet to complete. Rather, I’ve been playing the game as a denizen. A main character, yes, but one at peace with the game-world around me. Living in a “microcosm of romanticised period media”, as I also wrote in my review.
Never has a game done this to me.
"So upon discovery of Miller’s corpse slouched over his draft -- a piece of nonsense wrapped in pure revelation, as I interpreted -- I too felt a little dead inside..."
Each cold and warm encounter I had in the game also brought with it an evolution of game-world exploration. The characters riddled throughout Red Dead Redemption 2, and in my case effectively culminating at Evelyn Miller, represent so much of the game’s landscape. Learning from them, their plight, their anger, their loss and gain -- it all coalesced into as meaningful an exposition as any off-the-beaten-track slice of physical exploration, in terms of peeling back the game-world’s multiple layers of character and personality.
So upon discovery of Miller’s corpse slouched over his draft -- a piece of nonsense wrapped in pure revelation, as I interpreted -- I too felt a little dead inside. Have I been wasting my time refusing to take revenge on Micah; on closing out this intimate chapter? And make no mistake, this game was, and remains, an important part of my life. As a games writer of over 20 years and a gamer longer, Red Dead Redemption 2 culminates so much of what I love about our industry; our art. Sure, there is controversy around the game’s production, but every single person who worked on this should be proud of the outcome; of their contribution. This is seminal. It’s once in a generation. Perhaps even, once ever.
"Blood paints the ground a crimson statement of how perceived trespassers will be treated. Arrows protrude from their bodies; their necks. Their eyes..."
And yes, that’s another glowing statement about a game I clearly love beyond what should be the law, but consider why I land here. After I burnt Evelyn’s cabin at his final written request because he didn’t want “to be buried with the worms”, but rather wanted to be cremated so he might fly “with the eagles”, I spot upon my map a number of Xs denoting recently deceased, not far from Miller’s cabin. Bearing in mind I’m in Tall Trees — Skinner territory, remember? The scene is ghastly when I allow my curiosity to get the better of me. At this point, I’ve run through five of the six gang hideouts. The Skinners, of course, are the unfinished sixth, but they’ve finished this caravan. Slaughter doesn’t begin to describe what’s transpired here — more than five are dead, strewn about the place. Blood paints the ground a crimson statement of how perceived trespassers will be treated. Arrows protrude from their bodies; their necks. Their eyes. And it’s in this juxtaposed dual discovery that a greater sense of what Red Dead Redemption 2 is dawns on me.
. Land of the free. Free to write, free to photograph, free to steal, free to farm, free to act, free to fish, free to hunt, free to hold up, free to loan, free to rustle, free to roam… free to murder. Rockstar has always pushed forward an agenda of social commentary. Oft on-the-nose where the GTA
series is concerned, and with good comedic reason. But another line from my review swings back through my head at the connection I’ve found between Miller’s altruistic death and the Skinners’ murder spree: “romanticised proprietary”. Red Dead Redemption 2 still stands as the most mature delivery of media Rockstar has ever crafted, and in the context of its period setting; characters and longform narrative, what it has pulled off here is transcendent modernity, in an ageless past.
"The freedom Red Dead Redemption 2 afforded me, narrative aside, was in equal parts exhilarating, overwhelming and foolish..."
Miller’s struggle, optimism, courage, despair and ultimate demise is as representative of the “American dream” as much as the Skinners taking what they want, when they want, how they want. Because “freedom
And it’s in this crossroad I realise why I didn’t choose a specific path for those near six months of playing. The freedom Red Dead Redemption 2 afforded me, narrative aside, was in equal parts exhilarating, overwhelming and foolish. At the game’s close, before activating the final mission, I farmed. I completed every task I could around Beecher’s Hope
and revelled in what I had accomplished after a lifetime of transient freedom. Yes the farm being built is a narrative tool, but like so many other passages of time represented in Red Dead Redemption 2, that passage is a reflection of growth and discovery. And in farming; cleaning shit even, I found a calm sense of peace before knowing I would likely be putting this story to rest.
I can’t say for sure that this world Rockstar created was designed to affect me in this way, but I hope that everyone who worked on it can see in my truly heartfelt post and experience here, that Miller is me, and that I am Miller. Though alive (fortunately), just as beguiled by the majesty and makeup of his perceived world, from the meta cabin that is my couch.