I'm just killing some time, and need to do some aimless writing. Keep the muscle-memory toned. Please forgive this post, it means no harm.
I've been meandering through the GOTY edition for a while now. Hardcore mode is no joke, but my trusted horse and I had almost assembled the implements for the Fort Mercer assault (which is about as far as I got my last go around, before I inexplicably lost the game).
I was hunting down bounties down near Rio Bravo, trying to take this guy alive (it's incredibly difficult on Hardcore, because you have to drop your pursuers with free-aim or they will simply kill you). I shot the bounty in the leg, lassoed him up and had just tossed him onto Strangles when a mountain lion pounced from a high escarpment. The lion killed my fucking horse. I stabbed that sonofabitch to death, shot the bounty in the head, and kneeled down next to Strangles. My hand rested on the my dead friends torso, as John Marston stared into the blue sky. It was one of the most cinematic moments I've ever seen in a video game, from the way Marston cocked his head to the subdued sounds of nature offering a contrast to the immediate violence of the scene. Here was a story that I actually felt, that succeeded on its own merits as a visual narrative, but more impressively, it was a truly unique and individual experience co-authored by myself, the gamer.
After skinning the mountain lion, I began to make my way back to civilization. I was fucking trapped in the wilderness. For the first time, I was made aware of the vastness of this landscape. I shot some birds, and decided to set up camp as evening fell. I took the opportunity to reflect. In reality, I was sipping on a beverage, sitting next to my sister in my house. This was escapism at it's finest. Forget the deficit, the dishes, the bills and all that. I'm a fucking cowboy.
It's harder to lose myself in things, as I become older and fatter. When I was younger, books and atlases and globes consumed me. I imagined myself as a Fremen naib, as a footsoldier of Gondor, as a samurai pizza delivery driver. I would make maps of imagined realms, carefully foot-noted and colored in with map pencils. I would spin a globe and stare intently at the potent names of far-off places, tracing travels and adventures through the primary hues of carefully bounded places. Being young is an awesome thing, which is why it's so easy to become bitter at having taken it for granted.
These days I shred through 10,000 word journalism articles, knock out some contemporary fiction, grapple with endless updates from all corners of the internet; generally, my responses to all this tops out with an abrupt snort of laughter at a clever turn of phrase.
What I mean to say, is, I greatly appreciated the illusion. I appreciated the role of imagination in the whole thing. It was unexpected.
Obviously, you can fast-travel from your campsite, but where's the fun in that. I picked my way down the face of a steep hill in the dying light of day, eventually taking a position on the side of a worn desert path. It didn't take that long to spy my quarry: two vaqueros storming down the road, possibly en route to Plainview for a bout of drinking, perhaps heading elsewhere. (I wish the draw distance in the game was a bit more robust: seeing clouds of dust kicked up by horses far off on the horizon would be nice.) I leaped into the road at the opportune moment, and knocked one of the dudes off his horse. Have hoof, will travel. I was in the saddle before the victims companion knew what was happening, and I spurred the horse off the path and into the expansive scrublands.
In the Grand Theft Auto games, I am a monster criminal. I achieved an ultimate level of notoriety in GTA3 - I considered any death or arrest to be a game-killer, and re-loaded from the most recent save. At the end I had an infinite arsenal that I deployed against any and all laws. I stole an FBI car, escaped the laws and stashed it in my downtown garage (perhaps my greatest gaming achievement). Next to that I parked the Dodo, having managed to glide over the bay in a true feat of skill. I never got off the first island in Vice City, so consumed was I by cruising the strip and katana-dicing pedestrians. Vice City had those pills that slowed down time, and my progress in the actual story of the game was forever stymied by PCP-laced shootouts with the police, their sirens shifting into an obtuse growl as Vercetti died on the pavement. San Andreas was the tits. I plied the gang-wars for months. Drive-bys were mandatory. CJ took on the rampaging form of Tupac's ghost, stuntin on bicycles in the hood, ghost-riding police-cars, swangin corners in a firetruck. I managed to get to San Francisco, and studied some martial arts, but that's as far as I got. Me and my best mate discovered the two-player mode, and scribbled down every cheat code we could find into a journal. Any notion of San Andreas as a linear series of goals and obstacles was replaced by non-stop co-op mayhem. Spawn a couple jet-packs, set the laws to 6-stars. One time, we were chased into a primo two-story car dealership, with an Infernus in a display room on the second floor. We blasted through the plate glass as a police helicopter hovered behind us. My friend sprayed the chopper with machine gun fire as I got into the sports car. He jumped in as I drove the car out of the building, over the helicopter, and onto the streets. But there is no profit in that sort of mindless chaos. Our break for freedom ended shortly in explosion.
Jesus, what a tangent. Maybe it's shit like that that has eroded my enjoyment in casual reading. It's hard to compete. But enough of that foul gibberish, I was trying to explain something. Yes, about the relative morality of these open-world adventures. In Red Dead, I am an honest sort. John Marston just naturally walks down the righteous path. I have no idea what would happen if you were to attain negative fame in that world: do people shun you? Are the prostitutes less forward with you? Do shopkeepers rip you off? I hope so, but I wouldn't know. John Marston wouldn't know.
I did murder an obstinate home-steader as part of a plot to take the water under his land. The $200 he asked for at the time seemed awfully steep. I pulled my pistol, intending to intimidate him into just giving me the damned deed - I believe my moon was soured from dealing with Seth, who is really just an awful thing to deal with. But the old man pulled a shotgun and shot me in the fucking leg. The choice was made before I could consider it, and I felt bad, man. I returned the deed to my partner in the scheme, and it was covered in blood. The disgust in his voice was evident (extremely good voice acting, there), and he warned me of that the old-man still had a son somewhere south of the border. He admonished me to keep silent about what had taken place, unless I wanted to murder the old-man's entire family. Goddamn, that shit was chilling. Will I come across this young man in future? Will he come for revenge?
It was a regretful incident, and out of character. But I feel it adds some dimension to Marston's story. So stealing this horse was actually a novel experience. I hadn't crossed the law in any meaningful way until that point. A posse was quickly summoned to hunt down the stolen horse, and we made chase through the desert. I managed to lose the laws in the Gaptooth Breach, creeping through shadows under a greenish moon. When the hunt had been called off, and a $20 bounty placed on my head, I ventured back out into the wild. I intended to find a quality steed in the wild, and to tame the beast. But my quest was interrupted by a yokel sheriff who asked me to lend my guns in retrieving a stolen safe. I agreed, somewhat in atonement for backsliding into the criminal way.
I shot a bunch of outlaws in the face. My experience with the ambiance of the West seems to lose some of its appeal whenever it comes time to mow through hordes of nameless goons. Hardcore makes it a bit more enjoyable, in that you have to be very precise in your approach, but I would still prefer the occassional full-throated against a handful of worthy foes than the duck shoots that get served up. There's a real challenge in game design, I would imagine, in scaling down the number of enemies while scaling up the scope for conflict.
The point being, the outlaws were murdered and not mourned, and I commandeered the carriage carrying the safe. Then I drove that motherfucker off a cliff, because fuck the banks.