You see where this is going, right? Red Dead Redemption 2 came out in 2018. And in 2018, you can’t talk about cons without talking about the con that is America. With its conman president, enabled by the con that is conservatism, selling the con that is the American Dream. It’s an old story, one that Red Dead thinks it’s in on. The con of the frontier, the con of settlers, the con of whiteness, the con of exceptionalism. Necessary violence as a path to freedom. The con of freedom.
Defenders might say Red Dead Redemption 2 is about this very American con. It’s not. If it were, it wouldn’t center shitty white men. It wouldn’t use Native characters as props for white plots. It would have actual cogent criticism embedded in its structure rather than all this wasted extravagance. It wouldn’t have dead eye. It wouldn’t be a shooter at all. It would explore alternative mechanics. It would not mourn.
It is here, between its seeming subject and the actual experience of playing it, that we have the heart of Red Dead Redemption 2’s con. We have white american outlaws and traditional gamers, both sick with empire. We have collaborators with the systems that enable their delusions. We have pain at the expense of everyone who is not them. And in this particular moment, that makes RDR2 not only the worst game of the year, not only the worst game of this generation, but an active contributor to the all-consuming falseness eating our world.
Replace the cowboy hats with MAGA hats, and it becomes a little clearer. This is a family not of outlaws but of reactionaries. There’s nothing radical or courageous about them. The entire tone of Red Dead reflects this current conservative moment, the con being perpetuated. Your main man Arthur isn’t even a special case. Sure the world has plenty of dumb loyalists like Bill and charming young dipshits like John, always claiming “I don’t have a choice”. But there are just as many Arthurs out there in red caps as racist fucks like Micah. Not true believers but sad sacks gone sour. With more sulk than bile, longing for a past that never even existed. And these Arthurs, like so many gamers, don’t even care anymore that it’s a lie. They gave up responsibility for the truth a long time ago.
What does it mean to long for a lie? Where does it end? Especially when, at most, what you’re longing for is a feeling. Well, what you remember of a feeling. Hasn’t anyone told you the bad news, sweetheart? It’s not coming back. Not the old west, not your white stories of America, not frontier or freedom. And not Soulcalibur or Far Cry 2 or Rockstar’s heyday either. None of it’s ever coming back. Certainly not your lost feeling. It’s just as your conservative heart fears. Nothing will be made great again. Because past greatness is a con. And there is no again.
tevis thompson on redemption.
This is a long quote from a long essay, but it’s something I think (along with its interlude) should be mandatory reading not just for everyone who plays videogames, but for everyone with any kind of investment in or fanishness over modern, specifically American,1 pop culture…
- Yes, endless flood of Marvel films. I’m looking at you. [↩]