Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Going back West

While the developers of Red Dead Redemption 2 have been reluctant to acknowledge the sources of inspiration for their game, it's pretty obvious that there were many.  "True Grit," "Unforgiven," "Gone with the Wind," "There Will be Blood," "Oh Brother Where Art Thou," "Bone Tomahawk" and a 2007 film starring Brad Pitt with an unusually long title are just a few of the more easily identified examples.  To a lesser degree there are nods to "The Hobbit," "Cowboys and Aliens," as well as the TV series "The Walking Dead" (not to mention "Breaking Bad").  "Romeo and Juliet" is highlighted in-fiction as a kind of shorthand for one of the plot points that comes up over the course of the game. Others, such as "Revenant" and "Tombstone," have noticeable influence...although it should be mentioned that both these films are loosely based on real-life events.  The same holds true for the mutated banjo player at Butcher Creek and the female serial killed in Valentine.

A lot of the movies I've mentioned above are derived from novels and judging by the amount of characters that can be found throughout Red Dead Redemption 2 reading books, I think it is safe to say that novels influenced the development of this game in addition to cinema.  Take George R.R. Martin's novel "Fevre Dream."  Predating his epic fantasy series, it's a tale about paddle boats and vampires set in (and around) New Orleans.  It might be tempting to call this connection to the vampire in Saint Denis pure coincidence except for the fact that both stories feature blood-drinkers that prefer to use a knife rather than their fangs...not to mention each having a noteworthy character who attempts to copy the vampire lifestyle despite not actually being one.

Moving on, if I had to pick one source which encapsulates the Red Dead Redemption 2 experience it would have to be a little known book entitled "Blood Meridian" by Cormac McCarthy.  That name might sound familiar to a few since a number of his novels have been adapted to the big screen.  One in particular, "The Road," provided a lot of inspiration for The Last of Us.  So what does "Blood Meridian" have in common with Red Dead Redemption 2?  Well...for starters it's about a gang whose members include a fellow who likes to write and sketch in a journal, another who is an ex-priest and a third who is younger and joined up after the group formed.  There's also a charismatic leader who is fond of spouting confusing, inflammatory rhetoric that comes across as strangely charismatic.  The novel also features a torturous expedition down to Mexico (although that has more to do with the first Red Dead Redemption than the second).  One of the characters in the novel (Judge Holden) is also mentioned in some text on an optional side-quest in the game.  What really makes "Blood Meridian" a perfect match though is the violence.  Specifically, I'm talking about how players sometimes approach the open-world aspects of the game; going on destructive rampages.  The novel is also filled with scenes of depravity.  The characters are less anti-heroes and more misanthropes.  Even when the gang in "Blood Meridian" reaches a point where they could settle down and live comfortably they continue with their wicked ways to a catastrophic end.  This mirrors Dutch's obsession with outlawry in Red Dead Redemption 2, in that by the start of the game he has amassed enough money to retire in style, but refuses to do so ultimately resulting in the downfall of the gang.  So in a sense the book captures elements from both the scripted and open parts of the game.

I don't really have a good way to wrap up this post, but I'd like to bring it to a close with a quote from "Blood Meridian."  It's one that I think sums up every quarrelsome video game forum thread or bickering string of Youtube comments.  "Man's Vanity man well approach the infinite in capacity, but his knowledge remains imperfect." 

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