It’s not really the same. Within the context of western media in which RDR2 sits, the issue of burly white men being apologetic about their fallibility and tempers while being nonetheless repetitively unreformed in their violence and prejudice is intensely problematic. I think there is some degree of difference in that the whole point of the RDR series is to comment on the nihilism and hypocrisy of that complex, and by logical extension, America itself as a concept,whereas many games simply repeat it not only unironically but actively celebrate it.
To clarify the DA2 connection, obviously the two games are massively different so I was being a tad contrary in making the connection. But it struck me in terms of thinking in what DA2 did well, in my eyes, was establishing elaborate and dense set dressing, using a very intentional sense of time and place to establish character and mood, more in the manner of a novel. The Outer Worlds did something similar. RDR2 does it to a degree that I think is quite unrivalled though.
It’s not a good game to “play”, much if its systems are barely evolved beyond that of RDR itself, but as a means of evoking a place and mood and building a narrative its extraordinary. Its capacity to dance through the tapestry of its cast’s emotions in a manner which feels completely plausible is art-worthy.
If I were to sum up what RDR2 is it’s this:
Not just for the general tone and writing (despite there being absolute masses of it the dialogue is of rare quality and manages to establish a sense of distinct metre and prose which is rare outside a book or play) , but also for the heavy artifice of Arthur’s strong man performance which is not remotiey in keeping with much of the rest of his ethics.
As a rueful, intentional reflection on the hypocrisy and self indulgence of masculinity it is mature and thoughtful. Arthur is the epitome of a man sold short by a culture of patriarchy but unwilling to be reformed or redeemed or stand for something right despite having all the means to do so. He instead wraps himself within an acute morality play and self pitying narrative of confusion and complexity which nonetheless provides the agency for him to do what he wants as some sort of tragic denizen of fate. He acts out. He is not entirely in control. He loves his friends and family. He, He, He. What his narrative belies is how it allows men to centre the narrative of action only ever on themselves and not those they engage with or act towards. The infliction of violence, trauma, abuse as an outworking of a wider natural or spiritual truth, man as conduit of passion, not reprehensible, entirely
preventable and controllable actions. It nails the absurdity of men telling themselves that something is more acceptable because they know that it’s bad already.
But I stopped playing RDR2 the first week of the BLM protests. After 70 hours of slow burn commitment giving way to an increased sense of awe, and apparently about 50 % of the game completed.
The reality was that I saw in Arthur, a complex, seductively and charismaticly drawn figure, a merley more artful representation of the intensely violent white privelege and supreamacist complex that was exposing itself with such disgusting vigour in response to the outcry over the torture and murder of George Floyd.
For while there is a repudiation of it of sorts in RDR2 the mere existence of a 100 hour narrative dedicated to the examination of white fragility itself is another monument to the extraordinary indulgence afforded white people and their capacity to navel gaze or masturbate over the human condition while standing atop the mountain of transgressions they inherit and maintain.
The bare faced question that all media needs to ask itself right now is- does the world really need more narratives of white people, men in particular, examining how complex it it is to be privileged? Fuck no. Would the world be immeasurably improved by having games with the same degree of investment and creative license and opportunities afforded RDR2 and its ilk which focus not on the perspective of the coloniser but the subjugated? Not on the powerful but the persecuted? Unquestionably.
I think RDR2 is an exemplary piece of work and found it to be quite effecting and beautiful, profound even. In respect to its vision and ambition to accomplish the goals it sets itself it is a scarcely credible feat in the degree to which it pulls these off.
But can I also as someone who claims to stand for and believe in the dismantling of the white supreamacist complex and its associated institutions believe that there can be a future for a better, more equal, social and racial consensus in which there are also games like RDR2 which get the same 8 years and however many hundreds of millions of dollars if investment to tell the story of murderous entitled white men, in which the histories, culture, experiences, realities and lives of everyone else they encounter are just more fodder for personal myth making? Not at all. We already have an entire culture predicated on and celebrating this, and it literally kills black people. In truth, this stuff needs pulling down, not making in ever more intricate high definition.