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Some spoilers for Red Dead Redemption 2

Butch:

Well, did some. I intimidated an art professor in order to get him to say that the mayor’s paintings were real. Then I noticed that the gunslinger dude’s quest was back on, and I liked that quest, so I took the train all the way to Valentine only to be told that he was back in St. Denis (Jesus, game, really?), then bumped into the two weirdos again and kicked them in the junk.

That was my night.

I suppose the undercurrent is the macho American ideal versus the effete, coastal, liberal elite. The two weirdos are “college boys,” and the professor from New Haven is, well, a professor from New Haven. What’s interesting is that, at first glance, these quests make the coastal elite folks look rather negative. The professor is a pretentious wimp, the weirdos are, well, weirdos who can’t prove their own manhood. However, if you look closer, the rich liberals are still the ones in charge. Arthur intimidates the professor so that a rich assed FOREIGN Mayor can get a museum that Arthur likely won’t be able to get into or understand. The weirdos? They do, even after being doofuses, walk away with the pretty woman leaving Arthur in the alley. It’s like “Look macho all you want, macho American. In the end you’re in the alley with fifteen bucks.”

Hmm.

And what did you make of the comparison between the art quests? Here, we have a quest about what art is. Is it “fake?” Is it “real?” Arthur makes the rather good point when the professor agrees to say they’re real that “now everyone can enjoy them.” The Mayor himself says they’re very nice paintings. All questions about the very nature of art that have been going on forever.

Compare that to the French “whole ass” who’s gallery showing ended so badly. There, too: Is it art? Is it beautiful? Scandalous? Offensive?

I’m all for pondering these things. I kinda like talking about art in all its forms, from video games to scented candles. But I’m not sure what these quests are doing in this game at this point.

Whatchu think?

Feminina:

Oh man…I never intimidated an art professor! I must have missed talking to the mayor at that party. Sad face.

Although I did the shocking art opening with the French guy, and the resulting brawl was kind of awesome. This is taking art SERIOUSLY. I can see that the two stories would make an interesting contrast. I’m also reminded of our questions about Margaret’s paying Arthur with a suspiciously enormous gem that everyone seemed to find believable enough that we got $50 for it.

Maybe if people believe it, it’s real enough.

And true, very true, that the elitist, wimpy college boys are still the ones on top of the social heap. These are the people in control, and whatever they want–even if it’s to play at participating in the violence and suffering that is the ordinary lot of the common man (to the imperfect extent that Arthur represents the common man)–they can just pay for it, stick around as long as it’s amusing for them, and then head home, basically unscathed. Unless we do wind up accidentally killing one of them. We’ll see! If we ever go back to Valentine.

But dude, that’s exactly what happened to me: I was in Saint Denis, saw the marker for the gunslingers quest back in Valentine, raced back there…and was told that they’d gone to Saint Denis. Siiiiigh.

Butch:

Well, those people were mad that their wives and mothers posed, which, in and of itself, is interesting. Obviously the wives and mothers thought it was art, right? Their neighbors and husbands may well have disagreed, but the women involved had no issue with it. Another side of suffrage, that.

So the art professor….

You get a letter from the mayor that basically says “Dude, I know you robbed me, so you owe me a favor.” Turns out the mayor, who is the dapper French guy, wants to open a fancy art museum in St. Denis, the pride of the state. So he goes out and buys all these legitimately great paintings that he thinks are from the masters, and has a professor in to verify them only to find they’re fakes. So we have the age old “If it’s a very nice painting but not painted by someone famous, does that make it less art than something else” debate. The mayor asks Arthur to find the professor (who is from New Haven, so take that as you will) and persuade him to “change his mind” about the authenticity of the paintings. Which Arthur does. Arthur, then, without irony and some genuine confusion says “You’ve done a good thing! Now people can enjoy those paintings!” Which…he has a point, right? They aren’t bullshit, ugly paintings. The mayor didn’t KNOW they were fakes when he bought them, and genuinely wanted a nice museum.

Questions.

You never know about those brothers. I wasn’t expecting to end up in Valentine this time. But hey, good chance to eat and stuff.

Speaking on that, now that I have money, I’ve taken to buying the nicest food I can get whenever I’m at a saloon. Like, lots of it. I had three bowls of oatmeal and four lamb fries in Valentine! I’m a fucking glutton! And have I gained any weight? No. Still underweight. I don’t get how the weight mechanic works. But whatever. I still get through the game.

But going to Valentine and having to turn right back around–that was just plain mean, game. Just plain mean.

At least I took the train, so no time was wasted. Just ten bucks I didn’t really need. If that had been my game time, then white hot rage.

Feminina:

I had the lamb fry too! FIVE DOLLARS for a meal seems a bit steep considering I just sold a perfectly good horse for $1.80 (to be fair, it was stolen, and the guy did say “if you don’t have papers, I can’t give you full price”), but hey, I can afford to treat myself. It’s not as if Dutch is going to invest that money wisely for the good of the gang if I turn it over.

Still underweight. You must have to just spend entire game sessions eating if you want to gain. Which I will obviously never do, even though there’s probably a trophy involved. “Nice work! You actually managed to put on two pounds!”

As for the art question…hm. True, perfectly nice paintings that people can enjoy but that don’t happen to have been painted by someone famous…those paintings are just as enjoyable no matter who painted them.

But…there’s something there about authenticity. Like, why do we have to pretend they were painted by someone famous to appreciate them? Why can’t we just say “hey, nice painting” and put it on the wall and not care who painted it? This whole idea that the paintings are “fake”: they aren’t obviously, false paintings. They are real paintings made of real paint and canvas. But they’re fake FAMOUS-PAINTER paintings. And that, potentially, makes them worthless.

It’s interesting that you’re now returning to the gunslingers quest, which is also about authenticity: did this guy really do all the things he claimed? Perhaps one could also ask, why do we have to believe that this one guy actually did this stuff, to enjoy the story? Why can’t we just say “hey, that’s a lively and exciting story”? The things written about in the story might even actually have happened, it’s just that other people (like, say, Arthur) did them rather than Boy Calloway. It’s not necessarily that they’re false stories (though some of them probably are), but they’re false FAMOUS-GUNSLINGER stories, which, potentially, makes them worthless.

It goes back to Margaret, and the idea of showing people what they want to see. They want to see fearless female animal trainers, and paintings by famous artists, and they want to read about the deeds of famous gunslingers. Or they want valuable giant gems from old family estates. The thing, whatever it is, is not valuable because of what it is, it’s only valuable because of its connections. Celebrity culture is eternal.

We want to form connections with influential, significant other people, however tenuous those connections may be (“I saw so-and-so’s painting! I read about what’s-his-name’s exciting life! I have a relic of Saint Thingummy!”), and we don’t care about forming connections with boring, anonymous people (who, statistically, are extremely likely to be ourselves and our fellow peasants).

Is it CORRECT to tell people these paintings are by famous artists? No…but arguably being incorrect will make them a lot happier.

The thing is, that does start to walk a dangerous line towards “oh, what is truth, anyway? Just tell people what they want to hear! Good, exciting stories full of dastardly deeds and improbable heroes!”

And eventually, here we are.

Butch:

Yeah the gunslingers popped as soon as I finished with the art guy. I did find that telling.

Still, as interesting as this is, what’s it doing here? This isn’t really what this game is about. Sure, it’s good for a couple days of good bloggage, but just because something is blog worthy doesn’t make it belong in every game.

Feminina:

Well, it is part of that whole ongoing theme: what’s the Real America? What’s freedom, what’s truth, what’s authenticity? Who gets to decide–who controls the narrative?

We’ve come back to it repeatedly since pretty early on with this question of how ‘realistic’ this history of the wild west is. How true, how believable, how much of what we know is false (and how much of what we once knew and then learned to be false, is false in other ways we still don’t know about)?

These questions have arguably been in this game since the load screen, with its melodramatic primary color poster image showing us one very bright, very limited, very unreal view that is then complicated and unfolded over and over throughout the story.

Butch:

Fair. Very fair.

But while we’re on load screens and art and what narratives are, it’s true that the load screen is that bright, macho, cowboy, stars and stripes image, that melds into the other load screens, the old timey photographs which, being photographs, would be seen as more real, less of the stylized box art. We always start the game with those, those images of history, real people, places and animals. Those are a very interesting contrast to the box art, and they are, really, the lead in, this “real” portrayal of the west. And those aren’t all macho, rah rah, USA USA. They’re more subtle, the images of pristine nature and hard working, hard people. At least the quotes around “real” are less than they are on the box art.

Right?

Feminina:

Yes, very true! All the old photos of landscapes, people sitting on their porches with their sewing, deer, little towns, whatever…not a macho manly cowboy pointing a gun at the viewer among them! Which is certainly a very intentional choice.

“You may have come here for the wild west movie…but here’s what you’re really going to be looking at.” (‘Looking at’ both in the sense of literally viewing, but also in the more general, “you’re looking at years of hard work living basically alone in the wilderness” that might have faced people actually moving west.)

And, also, it’s a series of depictions of the reality and hardship of life, but it’s also very peaceful, isn’t it? The music is quiet and gentle, the scenes are often very pretty with mountains and flowers, etc., and they fade gently from one to the next as if we’re just sitting calmly leafing through images from our own past, perhaps.

No doubt the reality depicted would be difficult, but we don’t see a lot of people working hard (partly, no doubt, because it was hard to take photos of things in motion with the cameras of the day, so action shots would be unrealistic) or seeming to be suffering. There aren’t battlefield shots or hangings or anything. They’ve chosen a fairly nice bunch of pictures to introduce the game.

Which, again, is certainly a choice, and an interesting one.

“Are you here for nonstop gunfights and brawling?! Do you want to make a name for yourself as the baddest outlaw in the west?! DO YOU!? Well, that’s not what you’re going to get. Here, chill for a minute and check out these nice landscape shots, and this deer in the meadow, and this woman knitting.”

Butch:

They are very relaxing. And they do have the trials and hard work. But they have something else: failure. Vacant shacks. Derelict wagons. A busted boat. A boat in a tree (what’s with that?). It’s a reminder that people went there and didn’t become American heroes. They became forgotten.

Which is very much a contrast to the gun toting hero taking up half the damn box.

Feminina:

Yeah, that too! Abandoned, collapsing buildings, broken wagons, etc. Things left behind by people who went there to build a life, and didn’t manage it.

Leftover pieces of all these dreams that have failed, much like the dreams of Dutch and the gang are bound to fail…or like those of the player who just wants to become the baddest outlaw in the west.

Butch:

It’s an unusual thing in a video game, really. Video games are usually about the very opposite of all that.

Feminina:

Or at least, when we see old wrecked things in games, it’s the ruins of ancient civilizations–aliens or elves or something. We’re used to that.

I was thinking about that the other day, actually, while looking at the wreckage of some abandoned building or other: it’s not that we haven’t seen this type of imagery before, it’s just that we’re not used to seeing it in this context–in more or less our own, nearly-modern world.

“These are the remnants of a forgotten people who were here before us…I don’t know, maybe 20 years ago?”

And, also, it’s interesting that pretty much all the wreckage we see is remnants of the relatively recent failure of (presumably) white settlers. The actual not-even-forgotten people who WERE here for a long time before us, they haven’t left these types of traces on the landscape, that we see. Which is maybe about how Indians live in harmony with the land and therefore leave fewer signs that an amateur eye would recognize, or maybe about how the game is not quite sure how to handle this issue and therefore just doesn’t address it here…I’m not sure which.

Butch:

Right, it might be there but it isn’t us. It isn’t a portent of our failures.

Closest we came was Horizon. Maybe, MAYBE Rise of the Tomb Raider with the failed Soviet settings. But it’s rare, and rarely hits this close to home.

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