There’s nothing—not Superman’s mug, Kanye’s backtracks, or mayonnaise on toast—more boring and tired, than a person calling a popular thing “boring.”
I’ve been seeing “boring” a lot of lately; mostly in association with that fresh new Rockstar money-bait of a game called, Red Dead Redemption 2. I’ve spotted it on message boards, Facebook threads, opinion boards, and Twitter storms disguised as insight wrapped in an epiphanic word. It’s apparently too slow or way too much of chore with rules on rules that get in the way of the “fun.”
And in terms of opinion, these people are wrong—wronger than Wesley Snipes at an H&R block. I’ve been assed deep in this cowboy simulator for the past few days, poking through its nooks and crannies enough to be able say so; but I’ll preface my wrong-to-rightness with an RDR2 scenario of my own:
The scene: I’m in the middle of the road without a horse, and I spot a happy cowboy pleasure riding his way in my direction. I do a left and right, reaching for my lasso, and I swing, yanking cowman off of his steed. In my haste, I miss the snitch running for help. So I abandon my lassoed guy #1, and give chase to guy #2. When I do my bullet to the head thing, two other brave souls notice and let loose. I duck, cover, bullets flying, and minutes later, I’m bloodied, looking over my lassoed pain in the ass. I carry him to a nearby lake, let go, and watch him squirm. I just wanted a horse.
Nothing about this is boring, it's you that's boring—at least your point of view.
I mean sure, in budget, scale and appearances, Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption 2 feels like every other big, triple A, world-building game trying to be “rEaLiStIc.” It’s got the English-speaking NPCs in high-concepted environments thing going on, set to lavish set pieces with pretty colours; yadi, ya ya. But it’s still answering a simple question in the thick of all that: “What happens if I kill this guy?” This isn’t a cruel ask in game terms; it’s a playful one, and it can’t be answered unless the damn question is asked.
The emphasis of RDR2 is never in the commanding of your experiences with Call of Duty-isms (linear, easy play). It's in the world that responds to your occupation of it—rules withstanding: If you’re on two legs, expect slow travel. If you decide to kill, expect a reaction. And if you fight back, face the consequences. The beauty of RDR2 is in that consistency that fosters a worldly believability. That kind of experience isn’t boring, it’s damn rewarding.
Fun is of course subjective though. Whenever you think about the word, the question has to be asked: What does “fun” even mean? We can’t compare the “fun” amassed from gaming with the “fun” reaped from sex. This isn’t all-purpose seasoning folks, we’ve gotta have a formula in the ready, and here it is—thought = action = reward. That last bit (reward) varies depending on what you’re expecting. In a shooting experience like Call of Duty/Halo, the expectation is usually in a player vs. player context—intuitive, fast action. In film/books, it’s in consistent plausibility of a story— Ex. All powerful Vader shouldn’t kill Luke Skywalker, because he loves him as a son.
In the case of Red Dead Redemption 2, buyers had months on end to come to grips with the sell Rockstar was serving up: realism. It was the laborious follow-up to the most profitable entertainment product of all time; Grand Theft Auto V, which grossed a cool $6 billion dollars. RDR2 would build off of its 2010 western roots with a bigger open-world design, and further emphasize immersion and survival. It had no intention of being anything but a cowboy simulation. And in knowing that, folks like myself found some incredible rewards (fun) in a promise kept.
It’s in every element that critics have looked down on. For one, take the way Arthur Morgan moves for example, trekking with a constraint that feels slow as all fuck; a common complaint. He’s vulnerable and fragile to the obstructions of his world in ways that I honestly feel frustrating. But there's a method to that madness. I'm suddenly looking around and navigating in ways comparable to my day-to-day; I don't wanna fuck myself up. That labour of movement encourages me to methodically zone in on an environment praised for its details—the animals, plants and vistas—that seemed extra vague before.
Many other games ignore this sense of belonging—hindrances that equal to existing—for the sake of player comfort. It’s far more about our individual ownerships of a world rather than our adaptations to it; a hand-holding type of empowerment. In the same ways that we’ve grown attached to instant gratification, it’s a completely reactive response to that immediate-high attitude. For a person seeking something comparative to life (as advertised)—slow and natural—that easability can collapse the illusion of any world.
In RDR2, that illusion remains standing once you take the time to accept the systems that peddle a reality. Movement is slow because…horses, which in turn, foster bonds in the exercise to maintain them (they can die). Gunplay—purposely challenging—urges players to entertain differing approaches depending on the situation. And gunning down civilians GTA style, feels far more “lifelike,” not in an IQ passing sort of way, but in a reasonable one that goads you into overlooking their artificiality. Between all that good shit, there’s a whole damn sand castle that will stay sand unless it’s built. Ambush some random strangers, steal some damn horses, sneak into those fucking houses, and become a career thief if you want to, and watch a world built on reaction respond in kind. The fun in the sand is there, you’ve just gotta be willing enough to build it.
Follow Noel Ransome on Twitter.
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