One thing is quite clear, Hollywood as a culture doesn’t know how to make westerns any more, which is a shame. Westerns have always been about what makes American culture work, so losing that ability to communicate western values has been missed. Disney has been best positioned to make westerns and I thought their two best attempts were quite good, The Lone Ranger in 2013 and Solo: A Star Wars Story in 2018 which was essentially a western set in space, but the company obviously has more progressive concerns on their mind and didn’t understand how to market those efforts because they were torn as a company as to whether any western should even be made. Ending America is a primary concern of progressives, so making stories about the birth of America is something that modern film studios just don’t like to do unless they are making fun of westerns. But that’s alright, because movies are on their way out anyway. Video games are becoming the new narrative device of choice and Rockstar Games is about to reveal their newest western, Red Dead Redemption 2 which is featured in the video seen below, and is yet the latest benchmark in storytelling through a video game. I have said often that the first Red Dead Redemption was one of the greatest games I’ve ever played, and is certainly one of the best westerns produced. But nearly a decade after the release of the first Red Dead Redemption this second game looks to be essentially a West World type of experience that will be the next great western for which a new generation will gain exposure.
The ambition of this game is incredible, and will go a long way to introducing the western back to audiences in a way that the genre has always deserved. In this age of Netflix and Amazon streaming a two-hour western just feels too short, people want and need at least 10 hours of content to really get into a story these days, so movies never really have time to get into a narrative experience. It’s just not the way that story telling is done any more. But even further than that, video games are the new dominate form of entertainment because it allows the consumer a chance to be a participant rather than just a consumer. And the problem with a real-life West World type of experience in an amusement park setting is the insurance liability of all the dangers you would encounter trying to duplicate something like that in real life. So a game like Red Dead Redemption 2 is the closest thing to a real experience that people can get, and it just so happens that Rockstar Games has picked a western for that platform.
Rockstar is the same company that makes the Grand Theft Auto games that I am not a fan of. But they do several things very well in them, and the best of what they do as a company ends up in their western games that come out every eight years or so. The amount of effort Rockstar has put into Red Dead Redemption 2 is just jaw dropping. When it is released it will set the new standard of what a video game should be. The previous benchmark holder was Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which came out last year for the Nintendo Switch and was an awesome experience. But it’s also in a fantasy setting whereas Red Dead Redemption 2 is all about the foundations of American society, which is actually very relevant to today.
The period of American history from the late 1870s to the late 1890s is one of my favorite periods. As we prepare as a civilization to enter the wild frontiers of space, there is a lot we can learn from this most open capitalist market that erupted during western expansion during this particular time. Western expansion happened so fast that governments hadn’t yet established themselves, and the race to acquire land away from the French, the British and the Spanish was incredible, so putting bodies on the frontier was the primary concern of government as opposed to ruling over their citizens. That left human need and desire open and raw leaving justice to be truly determined by the gun. It was during westward expansion that the Second Amendment was truly tested for the first time and it proved that people could govern themselves while cut off from Washington D.C. due to the vast distances involved only recently connected by railroads.
The gambling, the prostitutes and the gunslingers were obviously the default modes of human operation when given unlimited amounts of freedom to behave without the restrictions of too much law and regulation. As primal as those desires were they do provide an insight into the kind of world that humans make for themselves when government is so limited that it’s not a daily concern for the people. Modern day Las Vegas can be viewed as the most modern rendition of that early western idea of limited government and lots of personal freedom, but the tradition was started during the many frontier towns that rose up in that delicate period after the Civil War and disintegrated by the time the new century was ushered in.
Hollywood built itself on westerns taking this rough period of personal freedom and establishing values upon them for which to instruct our society what America was and strived to be. The westerns made by Hollywood may not have been very realistic, but they were about what we all wanted to be. The Disney Company made its bread and butter off westerns like Davy Crockett and Zorro, before they allowed themselves to fall into more of a progressive company trying to undo those values as opposed to learning about them and communicating to a new generation. What Rockstar Games has done with Red Dead Redemption 2 is settle for the more realistic version of life on the western frontiers. The focus is on personal choice, to be a villain or a hero, many of the decisions are driven by the human necessity for survival and that is an important distinction. If we are to understand ourselves today, as a species about to colonize space, then we need to understand ourselves as a society of people stripped of government rules and to witness how we behave when choices are truly free. Do you shoot someone in the head just because you can and steal all his possessions or do you make a friend out of them so that you can have an alley later on to draw from? These are the choices of a free society and are at the heart of our Bill of Rights, so actively participating in a world where those ideas are openly at play is very useful.
When talking about westerns we ultimately these days think about the plight of the Indians. As I have said often, Indians were part of declining cultures holding onto their past while the gunslingers and gold prospectors were part of a growing culture that was rapidly expanding. If it wasn’t the Americans who settled the west it would have been the Spanish or English who were racing against us to settle all that newly discovered land from a European perspective. It is popular progressively to think of the Indians as a superior culture only from the perspective of the progressive nature lovers. In reality, the Indians were part of cities that rose and fell in North America and throughout Mexico and had to resort back to the status of hunters and gatherers. To view the Indians as villains as they were often thought of in early Hollywood westerns is the subconscious reaction to this social failure on their part. While they were chucking rocks and shooting arrows while worshiping crazy nature gods the American frontiersmen were using guns, building wagons and using printed Bibles to advance their culture over the savages who were gross reminders of where humans came from—not the optimistic visions of where they were going.
For Red Dead Redemption 2 to pick this era as the backdrop of such a participatory environment it is exciting that so many people will gain exposure to such a great western as told by the fairly new venue of video game play. The ability to play in that world and learn about the era and the values is something that I think is truly beneficial to modern society. As Hollywood has lost its ability to tell a two-hour story that would entertain people with a mix of values and thrills, the video game industry has taken over and is now the king setting the benchmarks for the future. And nothing will have done that better up to this point than Red Dead Redemption 2. It is truly a modern miracle lovingly put together to capture a period of time that is very important to the human species and allow people to learn what it truly means to live free and how to make choices when the gun is all that stands between justice and villainy.
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