The Dying West

WARNING: SIGNIFICANT SPOILERS FOR RED DEAD REDEMPTION 

Departing briefly from the modern crime underworld games of Grand Theft Auto, Rockstar’s open-world action/shooter Red Dead Redemption takes place during the decline of the American Old West. RDR is set in 1911 and focuses the events of ex-outlaw John Marston. When U.S. government agents take his wife and son captive, Marston is forced to hunt down the members of his old gang. By developing relationships with locals and performing tasks (e.g. bounty hunting, train robbing, etc) Marston tracks down each of old criminal acquaintances.

While RDR shares many gameplay mechanics (e.g. over-the-shoulder shooting and deep weapon inventory) as GTA, the message of Rockstar’s 2010 Western classic distinguishes it from other 3rd person action games. The game’s artistic value comes from it’s social commentary (sometimes serious, usually satirical). Rockstar is notorious for adding meticulous detail to their games that generally poke fun at our society including the player’s ability to watch an overtly sexist silent cartoon in a movie theater. 

Though Marston’s character never shy’s away from a fight, he repeats time and time again that he only wants to put his violent life as a criminal behind him. However, the game illustrates that times are changing, and the quiet western life on the praire is becoming a thing of the past. Scenes like the local sheriff interacting awkwardly with a telephone and Army generals marveling at machine guns illustrate the point that technological innovation and urban expansion come at a cost; for a new age to be born, the old ways must die. 

One of Red Dead Redemptions most thought-provoking segments is when Marston must track down Dutch, the last member of our protagonists old gang. Dutch has holed up in the mountains near Blackwater, the most modern town in the game’s western setting. citizens of Blackwater are no stranger to the sights of automobiles, automatic pistols, and electrically-powered lamps. The town represents the advent of urban civilization’s invasion of the last remnants of the wild frontier, not to mention its native inhabitants. Dutch has risen to a position of authority among local Native American tribes, and with their help he exacts reckless violence upon the citizens of Blackwater and its surrounding community. Most authoritative figures assume Dutch has gone mad, and the character is very comparable to Conrad’s Colonel Kurtz. In a final confrontation with Dutch, he warns John that men like them have no place in the new world and then commits suicide. This dramatic act in the game clearly represents the death of the old west at the hand of urbanization, bringing together the theme of the game overall. Image

 

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1 comment
  1. prutting834 said:

    SPOILER ALERT.

    While I agree with the original poster that one of the main ideas of Red Dead Redemption was the old west dying and being replaced by urbanization, I actually took a stronger message from the game. Throughout the game, John Marston is tracking down and capturing/killing his ex-gang members for the American government, in the hopes of freeing his wife and son from their clutches and erasing his troubled past forever. However, at the end of the game, John is informed that he will not be set free and will have to pay for his past crimes, despite the fact that he did everything the government asked of him. He ends up refusing to surrender to authorities and chooses instead to fight them to the death in a hail of gunfire. For me, this showed the main theme of the game, which is that you can’t escape your past no matter how hard you try, and it will always come back to bite you in one way or another.

    P.S. For other Mad Men fans out there, you’ll note that this is also a common theme surrounding Don Draper, the show’s main character.

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