Summer Updates & Red Dead Revisited

During peak pandemic times, I played and eventually wrote about my experience with both Red Dead Redemption and its prequel Red Dead Redemption II.  I wanted to follow up a couple years later, now that I’ve played through RDR2 again, and expand my thoughts on the experience.

Once again, if you’re looking to avoid spoilers for the main plot of the game, read no further and certainly avoid the hyperlinked entry above.

I finally acquired an Xbox Series S in order to play some contemporary titles from the comfort of my recliner instead of the confines of my office chair.  The Series S is the “lite” model, which has a reduced cost/higher availability at the expense of less storage (512GB).  Red Dead Redemption II, hereafter contracted to RDR2, is around 150GB, so yeah, I basically invested in a Cowboy Console.

Which was and remains well worth it.

But at this junction I must interject to set the scene, mundane though it may seem to you:

Things have been sort of crazy in my life over the last couple of months.  After 11 years and change of working for a software company, I have accepted a new job working for a prestigious university.  People I’ve worked with at that establishment over the years have changed me forever.  My sense of humor, my demeanor as a professional, and of course my knowledge all developed over that span.  I left counting many of them as friends and hope to see them regularly out and about in the world.

We also bought a new house and moved.  That sentence is such a disservice to accurately describing just how tedious and exhausting that process was.  Anyone who has moved can validate that everything about it sucks.  Even now a month or so later, with the previous residence mercifully sold and a fair amount of stuff unpacked in the new place, there is still so much to be done.  It often feels overwhelming and hopeless, but we’re making progress.  Within a year or two it should finally be to a point where we can start to settle and generally get things where they need to be.

Additionally, we took a family vacation to east Tennessee (which had been long since planned) to see the Smoky Mountains and Dollywood.  It was a pretty good time, and despite the masses of humanity that seemed to be ever-present (and unfortunate political nature of the area), I’d like to think we put our best feet forward, considering all that was going on.

To wrap it all up in a bow, my wife and I both contracted the coronavirus.  I don’t wish that experience on anyone.  Despite being fully vaccinated and boosted, COVID hit us like a freight train, probably the most ill I have ever been in my life.  Ironically it wasn’t the Trump-infested dumpster of humanity that populates the greater Gatlinburg area that appears to have spread the virus to us, but more than likely a gas station or rest area in Illinois.

It made for a wild and wooly May through mid-July.  It was a lot, but here we are, alive and well, another series of adventures in the books.

The first room in the new house I put together was my “man cave,” gaming/office/den.  It’s still unfinished, but the basic structure is set – TV, game consoles, computer setup, recliner, futon.  With it in place, the timing was perfect to once again explore the world of RDR2 and see what the Arthur Morgan experience could really be.

Knowing how the story plays out, I was intent to remain in the early stages of the game for as long as possible, stretching out a part of RDR2 that is very much meant to be a table-setter for the latter portions of the plot.  Arthur is healthy and strong, full of good humor and trademark grit.  The camp is bustling with activity and routine.  I ignored Dutch and Micah as much as one can, relishing instead the nights around the campfires.

There were plenty of occasions that Javier would bust out his guitar and the camp members would begin singing lewd songs.  Other times stories would be told, or someone would begin speaking candidly about their fears.  The ledger required filling to buy improvements around the camp, and Pearson could use gathered materials (usually animal pelts) to add comforts and decorations around the place.

Bringing in money and jewels as well as plenty of hunted provisions improves the spirit of the camp.  The various reactions and conversations with or around Arthur reflect that, and it was so immersive to feel the communal, familial satisfaction of being an active member of an old west gang’s daily routines.  There are always the mundane tasks that earn praise, such as feeding the horses and chopping wood.  The fact that stuff is even available speaks volumes to the kind of experience Rockstar was hoping to provide.

For many, many hours, I was trying to fill out the map, accomplish achievements, and spent many long periods of time simply hunting for those perfect pelts.

Just the other night, I finally completed the main campaign.  The experience with Arthur was fantastic, and I miss playing as him in the early stages of the game.  Once he begins to get ill and the camp falls apart, the appeal of the world loses its luster, even as more options open up to the player.  The camaraderie of camp, the family experience, controlling an avatar that is healthy and robust, it’s all such a gloomy contrast to the latter portions of RDR2 where your character can’t even ingest much in the way of food without hacking.  Arthur’s body wastes away, his eyes grow sunken and sallow, and death feels ever-present.

This is, of course, a necessary aspect of the plot.  We need to immerse ourselves in Arthur’s reckoning, and it can only come at this grim price.  Ultimately, we are left with John and his family at Beecher’s Hope, free to explore the full map, complete any unfulfilled quests, and do whatever it is we would like to do until we’re ready to move along to the next game or start over.

  Which is where I’m at now, once again, with RDR2.  Many hours spent in my den’s recliner, puppies nuzzled up nearby, wiling the hours away journeying randomly through the wild, looking for three-star pelts, undiscovered herbs, and good places to fish with my old pal John Marston.

After the few previous months that were filled with activity, the calming of so much digital nature has been medicinal.  I’m grateful for the experience.

Same could be said about the move, the change in job, the trip to Tennessee, and even getting the coronavirus.  I made a lot of great memories and know myself better now than I did before.  It makes me grateful for what I have, and what I’ve built (and am still building).

Now if only that building process could be done with this as the background song:

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