The Poker in Red Dead Redemption 2 Online is Great!

I had a nice talk with a friend recently while we were reflecting on the Tea Party days and the direction of today’s youth. By normal visual standards, the socialized instruction in public schools, and PC counterculture has everyone strapped to the body of Moby Dick at the end of that old story. And the drug use that has permeated everything that young people do, by conventional measure things look pretty hopeless. But two things happened over the weekend that I continue to be impressed with and they will certainly have an impact on how our culture is measured.

The first was a visit to Kings Island where the Festhaus was hosting a professional video game tournament. The place was packed to the brim and young people were everywhere and were quite happy competing on stage against each other with popular titles like Fortnite, and other video games that are part of a culture a lot of people over 30 don’t even understand. As I watched the activity I was thinking of a report that friend had said to me about Mason schools going even further into removing competitive events and statues from their public school—the everyone gets a trophy or none of them do type of thinking—and it was obvious that the politics might be moving in that direction. But the video game culture gets it. There are more opportunities for competition there than when I was a kid. Traditional sports are not the only ways to compete in life, or to learn to. Video games are all about capitalism and they are the preferred medium of young people’s entertainment experiences.

For instance, one of my favorite video games not just of last year, but ever is Red Dead Redemption 2. When that game first came out I was so excited about it that I took a week off work to play it, and for me it was a kind of vacation. It’s a western by Rockstar Games and for me it was like going to the West World of the popular HBO series. These video games are so immersive that they begin to simulate reality. They are different than the passive experience of movies so their impact on culture is something we just aren’t measuring yet. But in the case of Red Dead Redemption 2, it sold 24 million copies in just three days which amassed $725 million, and is still climbing. The earnings report for these video game companies are actually higher than many movie and television studios. Take-Two which is involved in Red Dead Redemption reported a Fiscal Year 2019 earnings report confirming so far $2.66 billion. Those are Disney type of numbers so this is not a market of entertainment that is obscure by any measure.

Red Dead Redemption 2 came out in October of 2018 and I played it several times a week through the turn of the year. I spent about a hundred hours playing it on story mode then I played the Beta development mode for the Online portion of the game. I had to capitalize that because their online concept for the game is a thing of itself. It’s quite an extraordinary attempt at hosting a very brutal and capitalist natured arena. In that meeting with the same friend we reflected on the near elimination of dodgeball from our society deeming it politically toxic. Dodgeball for us when we were kids was something that happened every day. Well for the kids of today, its these online arenas. A great video game must at least have online content where players can compete against each other in player versus player situations which are much more intense than dodgeball. The biggest difference is that one is virtual while the other was physical. But the mentality is the same.

I played the Beta for a while but I couldn’t give the game the kind of time it demanded to be good in that mode so I backed off and moved on to other things. Well, this past weekend Rockstar Games finally finished with their Online offering for Red Dead 2 and put it up on their latest update, which meant the official game went live, around six months or so after the original release, which of course keeps people buying copies of the game and keeping it going which is something to say about how video games tell their stories, over much longer periods of time than movies or other forms of entertainment. So I played the game again to see how things were going and was very happy and surprised to learn that the many bars of gold that I had during the Beta phase and all the money I earned carried over into the official release. And also I was very happy to learn that they had opened up the ability to play poker with other live players which is really the purpose of me writing this article. I was immensely pleased with the way the game was set up and I spent most of the weekend playing just that game mode.

I would not call myself a gambler or even a card player the way that people think of such things. I’m not a drinker, a womanizer or any of the things that are associated with the game of playing poker, which in my understanding of history has been advanced by socialists to attempt to demean the games of the Western frontier so that culturally people would be inspired to move away from those activities, so not to celebrate them. But I do love poker. I love watching it. I love playing it. And I love its history as an American game developed in the frontier days of New Orleans and spreading westward with the gunfighter culture. The game and the mind of gunfighting in the American West are synonymous and I love it for that attribute. Playing poker is a fun game that is uniquely very American, and I love it and including it so prominently in the online version of Red Dead Redemption was a technical feat that really impressed me.

Playing poker was part of the original game, the story mode as they call it these days. And I enjoyed it immensely. I am not the kind of guy who likes to gamble money so I’m not a guy who enjoys hanging out in casinos at all. But I do enjoy the function of the game and the way its played so just gambling the chips is enough for me. I like the way poker chips feel in my hands and how they are used strategically to win or lose the game. It’s a very fascinating game and I spent many, many hours playing it against NPCs in the story mode. But having an online poker game is a whole separate situation. You have random players always coming and going and everyone has to play their hand and getting all that rolled into a fluid video game experience is difficult. The way that Rockstar set up their poker games in actual saloons in their various towns and cities was visually stunning and functionally very satisfying. I played a lot of poker over the weekend and I didn’t even have to leave my home.

As I played and saw how many people were playing the Online Red Dead Redemption 2 game, from poker to all the PVP combat that is involved it was obvious to me that this is where the world is at. Many kids wouldn’t even learn how to play poker if not for a game like this, or would they learn anything about westerns since they’ve been nearly eradicated from American culture. But in the world of video games, the western is alive and well and millions of young people are participating in that world and enjoying it. And with billions of dollars at stake in this growing industry, I don’t think anything that is politically underway to dismantle the American way of life is going to stick. Capitalism is alive and well, especially in the saloons and towns of Red Dead Redemption 2.

Rich Hoffman
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The Ballad of Buster Sgruggs: A review and an observation on the nature of existance

I have always loved westerns, they are uniquely American inventions born of our culture and the world watches them with great curiosity. If you are in a hotel in London or even Paris and Madrid, and flipping through the channels in the middle of the night, you will see lots of old westerns playing because to them there is great optimism in old American westerns. Westerns specifically show values easily in a stripped away fashion of what American values truly are, what a capitalist society truly thinks about itself and others. Hollywood essentially built itself on the strength of the western but leftist radicals’ intent on destroying America have launched a not so secret crusade against all westerns essentially, most obvious in big Disney productions like The Lone Ranger and the Star Wars film Solo: A Star Wars Story. Even in the disguise of science fiction such as Solo was, modern critics and the entertainment press in general want nothing to do with them, and they make it known as they try to torpedo those films at the box office leaving a clear message to filmmakers to stay away from the genre or else. Those who do so dare usually end up turning the American western into a Shakespearian tragedy which is certainly the case of the new one from the Coen Brothers called The Ballad of Buster Sgruggs, just released to Netflix and the video game by Rockstar Games called Red Dead Redemption 2. However, in the case of both references, Red Dead and Buster Sgruggs the old traditions of the American western are there and represented strongly and in the age of the Trump presidency, are quite necessary.

It wasn’t planned this way because Rockstar Games has been making Red Dead Redemption 2 for the last eight years, and the Coen Brothers, Joel and Ethan have been writing The Ballad of Buster Sgruggs for the last 15 years so neither could have known what would happened in 2016 when Donald Trump would be elected president and the world would be shifting toward nationalism as opposed to a one world government. But with those events westerns such as these suddenly have much more appeal to the longing individualists struggling to make sense of our modern times. And let me tell you something dear reader, it is a real treat to get something as good as The Ballad of Buster Sgruggs delivered to the comfort of your own living room through Netflix as opposed to having to go to the theater to watch it. The film was released to limited theatrical presentations, but on a project like this very inventive western, it is a must watch for those with Netflix accounts.

However, I would not call The Ballad of Buster Sgruggs a traditional western such as Bonanza or Gunsmoke where the protagonists defeat the antagonists with great moral clarity by the end of the story set to uplifting music. Buster Sgruggs is a tragedy, but in all other aspects, it is a very epic achievement of art set against the canvas of America and is very much worth watching. The movie is divided up into six primary stories and is presented in a format much like the great film by Akira Kurosawa called Dreams. The six stories are very compelling but one in particular I felt a great affinity with, it was the story of an old gold digger panning for gold in some unlisted wilderness environment. I think that story said so much about the pros and cons of capitalism in a very simple setting that it was brilliant in its execution. That portion of the story was well worth watching all by itself.

I have a real love of old western towns and Buster Sgruggs had plenty of well-designed sets that were wonderfully built of old frontier towns. The reason I love those towns so much is that they say a lot about us as human beings, suddenly free from the aristocrats of politics and provided with great resources, what is it that humans desire to build. Modern cities have lots of added levels to them and the benefit of modern construction methods, but when you look at an old frontier town and consider the amount of human capital it took to build them, everything from downing the trees, to plaining the wood for construction to building every last thing by hand, to see a town build in a remote corner of the world for the purpose of a new economy freshly discovered in just a few years is quite a remarkable undertaking. And in a lot of ways The Ballad of Buster Sgruggs captured that dim hope that the human race placed in such projects without being overly preachy about it. Everything was wonderfully shot and was generally ambitious in the way that those old towns were constructed. The filmmakers seemed to have understood that yearning and applied the same effort to their craft to obvious effect.

Another particularly sad but very effective story was the segment involving Liam Neeson as he traveled the country with a quadriplegic orator. Not to give anything away, but it was quite a commentary on the human condition and why people do things that they do. The results were ultimately very depressing, but all too honest and I thought it was a wonderful display of high art. Way too sad, but honest and it really is a good format to tell a story like that in the context of a western where people for the first time in their lives were free to roam about on their own, without the protections of group affiliations or government reach.

Another such tragedy that I didn’t see the end coming was the segment about the Oregon Trail, wonderfully photographed in Nebraska with a real caravan of covered wagons. You can’t help but love the characters, they are very likable and you want to cheer them on to success. The love story that evolves is one that anybody would want to see flourish, but how it all ends was just sobering. Often human beings cut the rug out from under themselves all with good intentions, but we often write our own tragic ends in life before the story ever starts. And that was the case of that story, sad, tragic but worth living. It was a mesmerizing tail not so much of good and evil, but in stupidity and hope, blind faith, and the harsh realities of existence.

If you get a chance, I’d highly recommend The Ballad of Buster Sgruggs and to watch it with an open mind, without the pretense of previous westerns. I would not so much call this a tragedy set in the west because there are moments of great optimism in it. I for one had several favorite characters, my favorite probably being Buster Sgruggs himself and the banker who is tasked with fending off a bank robbery. I can really relate to that guy. But ultimately, I think my favorite character was the old man panning for gold. His shock and awe intertwined with endless hope and persistence is something that anybody could admire. And his story alone makes The Ballad of Buster Sgruggs worth watching. But lucky for us there is so much more to enjoy and it is a real achievement in these changing days of entertainment where something of that quality can be streamed at home rather than a theatrical experience which is yet another benchmark in our march into the future.

Rich Hoffman

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Red Dead Redemption 2: Playing in the future by exploring the great westerns of the past

When Red Dead Redemption came out many years ago, I said that it was one of the best westerns ever produced. As a video game by Rockstar, the company that made the title, it was an awe-inspiring effort that still holds up as one of the greatest games ever made eight years later. Other games that were benchmarks of open world simulation gaming have been titles that I’ve referred to such as Uncharted 4 for the PlayStation 4 console, and Zelda: Breath of the Wild for Nintendo Switch. I wish I had time to play everything because I really enjoy video games, but I only have time for a few that I consider to be exceptional and game changers. So when those types of games come out, I usually take some time to spend with them. And that was certainly the case when it came to the sequel to Red Dead Redemption called appropriately enough, Red Dead Redemption 2. The game has been on the radar for release for a long time, many years now but finally on October 26th of 2018 the game made release so I targeted time to spend with it for my own reasons. The game itself is a prequel to the previous story and is set this time in 1899, a period I am very interested in regarding American history. The result was just astonishing. It really is the closest thing to a real-life West World experience that anybody could hope to get. It is not a perfect simulated reality but as a player you can easily forget about the real world and find yourself living and breathing in that massive computer world complete to every detail including tree bark, flowers and insects. The world of Red Dead Redemption 2 is fully alive with people and places set in the Old West and is just an amazing technical achievement not to mention some of the best writing for a western that I’ve ever experienced. It is truly an amazing achievement that is worth talking about.

But first there needs to be some context as to how powerful and popular video game sales are, especially for something like this. As a person I am well over the age of the average player so when my wife and I picked up our pre-ordered copy of Red Dead Redemption 2 at GameStop at Bridgewater Falls in Ohio at 9 P.M. on October 25, just hours before the official release at midnight I was met with a very large line that snaked out the door, down the sidewalk and down into the parking lot. I had just come off an important oversea call with some business partners and worked some political angles that were important for the upcoming election. On the very next night I would be at the Jim Renacci debate with Sherrod Brown at Miami University and mingling with the crowd there. During those conversations the talk wasn’t about the upcoming election for anybody under the age of 30, it was about playing Red Dead Redemption 2. But I didn’t get any weird looks for being too old to be at GameStop even though I can’t say that I had ever been to a video game release quite like this. One of my daughters used to manage a GameStop store and she’d tell me about these hot releases, such as happen with each new Madden game or Call of Duty. But this game, Red Dead Redemption 2 had been promoted for a long time as the game missed several previous release dates so people were very excited to see the result. My wife somehow managed to get us into group one on the pre-release so literally the moment we arrived we were called to the front of the line to pick up our copy and within a few minutes we were back home to start the 3 hour download of over 100gigs of information just to start playing the game. The game sold over 17 million copies during that opening weekend which accounted for nearly $800 million in sales. Compared to the average Hollywood movie, these video games are just destroying the traditional movie experience. These entertainment platforms are far more popular with young people than any movie and for good reason. I left that GameStop amazed.

It’s no secret that I love gunfighters and the basic morality of the Wild West period. I have always felt that there was something extremely optimistic about Wild West towns, that really beautiful moment in world history where individual liberty was free to dream and yearn for a better life as it matched up against the harsh realities of nature. The great things about westerns and the American historic period about gunfighters is that it was the culmination of a lot of philosophic thought crashing into an Asian culture in the American Indian that puts many of our modern problems into a correct context. And Rockstar Games has done something quite remarkable with Red Dead Redemption 2, they have paid honest homage to great classic westerns like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Magnificent Seven and High Plains Drifter and literally put video game players in those worlds not with a two-hour story but one that goes on for hundreds of hours. I have been taking my time with the game and am at over 100 hours and I still have a lot more story to get through as of this writing. I have been doing all the side quest which include taking up bounty hunting jobs, fishing, hunting, crafting various equipment improvements and generally exploring a massive western themed world from the high snow-capped mountains in the north to the plains and deserts of the lowlands. There is even a fictional town called Saint Denis which is a kind of New Orleans city complete with early versions of electricity that is fully realized and populated with people. For instance, just for fun I went into town on my horse and spent the entire night in a high stakes poker game, and I won a lot of money. The game play was just jaw dropping cool, and realistic. It was as close to an experience of actually sitting down at a table in Las Vegas is, yet the whole thing was set in an Old West environment as the sun set and rose again outside the windows. There are many little side activities in Red Dead Redemption 2 that a player could literally get lost in forever, if there was ever enough time in that sentiment.

The game is quite honest and eager to explore the clash of progressivism with the rugged concept of the American individualist and the amount of dialogue that was written and acted in this story by many random events is just staggering. There really isn’t any way to experience everything and to talk to everyone in just one playthrough of the game. Decisions made have consequences in the overall world so not everyone will be available to players based on what they do or say to other people. But the basic plot of the game guides you through a kind of participatory novel. Red Dead Redemption 2 is a story telling experience that is unlike anything ever produced, novel, motion picture or Broadway play. There are some very probing questions asked in the story that is explored with great depth that no western ever had time to fully contemplate. The attention to every little detail is just staggering and how they all randomly interact with each other only conjured in my mind that Red Dead Redemption was simply an early version of the HBO series West World. You really do forget that you are playing a game as a player, you are pulled into that world and living it.

At this point I still have a lot more to play, I probably won’t have it wrapped up as a story until after the Thanksgiving Holiday. Maybe even Christmas. If I put 14 hours a weekend into the game it will probably take another 6 weeks to finish, that is how big it is as a conceptional element. Players could blast through the story if they wanted probably in 60 hours or so, but for me, I want to live in that world of Red Dead Redemption. I personally love the time period and the optimism of the American frontier and this is the best way to experience it. Even in their worst elements, I consider the drunks, thieves and whores of the Old West to be much better people than our modern counterparts because there is an honesty in human endeavor that is evident in that time period that is lacking in modern life, so I am spending as much time there as I can. And if you are like me and like to play video games but don’t have time for all of them, if you had to pick, Red Dead Redemption 2 is the one to play. It is better than any Netflix series, any movie made, or long-standing network television program. It is modern entertainment in its best form yet and it is something to see. If this is how entertainment in the future will be, then we all have a lot to look forward to. One thing that is obvious about the makers of Read Dead Redemption 2 is that they love American westerns and they have somehow managed to put every one of them into the story of this new video game from the ugliness of criminal outlaws, such as the movie the Wild Bunch explored down to the innocence and honesty of Little House on the Prairie. It’s all there in raw and spectacular fashion and is an experience everyone should have at least once, no matter how old you may be.

Rich Hoffman

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