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Puncherson_64LadyBrain_64

Spoilers for the end of the Bronte story in Red Dead Redemption 2

Butch:

Well, I got nothing past the whole gator/Bronte bit, but that’s a lot, so we can go with that.

That WAS a lot, wasn’t it? So much that I’ll do the two things I do when there’s too much for me to process:

First, I toss the ball into your court: What were your big takeaways?

Second, I ignore the massive amount of good to complain about something: I don’t think that Dutch’s flaming sword of racial justice stuff works. When he went off on Charles for calling Native Americans savages….like, ok, Dutch. I agree. Charles is wrong here. But…I dunno. I just don’t think it makes sense for him to be that angry about racism. We’ve talked about how yes, the gang is inclusive, but there’s nothing that shows that Dutch is motivated in his life to right the wrongs of society by creating a race blind utopia. He’s motivated in his life by selfishness and fear. I’m not sure what that was all about.

But ok, now that that’s off my chest, let’s talk about all the good stuff in these missions. Or, at least, the complexities.

Female:

That was a lot! Takeaways…as you say, there was a lot there about how Dutch is kind of losing touch with reality. He apparently perceives himself to be surrounded by traitors who don’t care about him, all evidence to the contrary. I wonder if maybe he’s projecting a bit: he himself is losing faith in his big ideals and his dream of freedom, and so he assumes that everyone else is too.

He’s also just sort of losing it, period. I mean, wasn’t this whole plan to seize Bronte for ransom, so they could get some of that sweet cash Dutch keeps talking about needing?

Seems like that one actually could have worked! They got Bronte! He surely still has access to a lot of money! But…kind of hard to ransom a guy you just fed to an alligator. So unlike his really-pretty-bad plan to just put on some bandannas and rob the station, THIS was an actually-OK plan that was even going well considering all that could have gone wrong with it, until he got angry with his prisoner and killed him in a fit of rage. Very poor decision from a business standpoint, Dutch. To say nothing of the moral implications of murdering a bound and helpless prisoner, which I believe is generally frowned upon in most lofty codes of ethics.

I figure that all these people aren’t hanging around with Dutch specifically because he’s insecure and can’t stick to a plan, so he must have been a lot better at leading and planning (and following his own damn plans) back in the day. Arthur is always talking about how “you said we’re not about revenge” or whatever. He was better once!

Or–which is kind of my theory, though not having actually seen him in those days, we can only speculate on this–he was just able to SEEM better when circumstances worked more in his favor. It was easier to assume the gang was loyal when things were going pretty well, so he might not have been prey to these constant fears of everyone turning on him, and when he wasn’t expressing those fears all the time he projected confidence, causing others to be more confident in him…it’s a nice feedback loop.

As you said, he cares a lot about his image, and maybe when it was easier to maintain a bold, dashing, leaderly image, he was able to stick to the role, even if he was never actually as good at it as everyone thought he was. When he looked the part, he could manage, and now that it’s harder and harder to look the part, his flaws are taking over. He held the whole thing together with the force of his personality, and now that things aren’t going well and personality isn’t quite enough…

I think its easier to believe he was mostly just good at playing a leader in better times, than that he was a genuinely good, strong, thoughtful person and a good leader, and somehow his entire character changed.

So, sadly, I’m leaning towards “Arthur has spent his entire adult life following a guy who didn’t really deserve it,” which is maybe supposed to be a bit tragic, although honestly, many (many, many) other people have done the same thing, so he probably shouldn’t feel too bad.

Butch:

Hmm. Could be he’s losing his own faith. He certainly has had questions about Tahiti that even he can’t answer.

But, well…was it really the plan? That’s what he said, sure. But Hosea didn’t buy it. I didn’t buy it. I thought this was a revenge thing all along. Maybe it started as a “We have to take him down a few pegs” and became a murder spree, but still. Dutch’s response to Hosea was things like “He owns the cops, we have to get rid of him before we do the bank” not “think of the extra money.”

Even lowly codes of ethics frown on this. John was stunned, and not very happy. “Feeding someone to an alligator? Which one of your philosophy books covers that?”

I agree about the feedback loop, and I think it fits with the overall metaphor. Things were never as good as we think they were, whether it’s something we’ve lived through our heard other people talk about second hand. I think that’s why the game doesn’t bother with flashbacks and all that. It wants us to experience the vague, likely incorrect nostalgia.

And, I definitely don’t see it as tragic. Stupid, yes. Metaphorical, yes. But not tragic.

Though there is another change in the gang, and one, I think, that also runs against his whole “tolerance” thing.

A lot of the gang is new people. Arthur and Hosea are the only ones who have been with him a long time. Sure, he seems to trust some of the new folks (including Micah to an inexplicable degree), but the rest? Less so. Even Molly, who he’s involved with. He’s suspicious because of “all these new people.”

There’s a lot of those overtones in this bit. His killing of Bronte, an immigrant, has a whole lot of “You think you’re better than me? Do you? DO YOU??? WELL, YOU’RE NOT!!!!” Disturbingly large amounts of it. Did you hear him explain why things won’t go to shit in Tahiti? He says the “problem here isn’t the land or blah blah blah. It’s men. Men who COME HERE with their [list of things that are different].” He’s asked “They don’t have men like that in Tahiti?” and Dutch replies “They do, but they feed them to sharks. They don’t make them kings.”

The emphasis on COME HERE is mine.

The idea that “My America was ideal, my life was ideal, before all these other people showed up and challenged me and my way of life” is…..timely. And out of line with someone so committed to the lives of Native Americans.

Unless it’s just illustrating privilege. Dutch can be all high and mighty about how you shouldn’t be so mean to Native Americans because Native Americans are not relevant to him. It’s like people we can picture at our lily white college who talked a very tolerant game who would be uncomfortable if a black couple moved in next door to them. Shit, we give Dutch a pass because of Charles and Lenny and Javier, but isn’t that like saying “Well, how can I be racist if I have a black friend?”

Female:

Oh, yeah, so much irony in that indignation about people who “come here and mess up our idyllic free country” spoken by a white dude in a west that’s still actively being colonized by white dudes. All those OTHER damn intruders, trying to take away what MY band of slightly-less-recent intruders is obviously plainly entitled to!

I suspect maybe the outrage about calling Native Americans ‘savage’ was in fact a cover for outrage at Bronte calling HIM savage…in his head, he and HIS group are basically the same as the Native Americans, in that both belong here in this great country and are oppressed by the law (I mean, they’ve lived here for a few thousand years and we’ve lived here for 30 years–basically the same thing).

They/we aren’t savages! How dare you say that, Charles, you stand-in for rich, pasta-eating jerks who just got here and already think they’re better than me (and also the Indians)!

It was especially strange that it was Charles who made this comment–was it definitely him? I kind of thought it was, but I don’t have the subtitles set up to show who’s speaking, so sometimes it’s still hard to tell, and I honestly would assume was meant sarcastically, given that Charles is half Indian himself, so it’s surprising that Dutch seemingly both took it at face value AND felt it was worth tearing into. Then I thought maybe it wasn’t actually Charles, maybe Bill or somebody made the comment, in which case Dutch was possibly displaying his lack of tolerance for that kind of attitude for Charles’ benefit…but you also thought it was Charles?

As you say, the whole episode was odd and I’m not really sure what to make of it.

And it’s a good point that “I have a black member in my gang!” is a bit like “I have a black friend.” It’s an interesting question, though, because I think how we judge this depends on whether we’re looking at Dutch as a person in the story in the time period, or whether we’re looking at him as a character presented to us, the players.

As a person in that time period, you have to give Dutch credit for actually being less racist than the prevailing winds, both because he doesn’t actually go around mentioning “I have a black member in my gang!” and because most of society at that time did not publicly applaud this kind of display of racial egalitarianism. The only reason for him to have black people in his gang is if he’s personally dedicated to racial equality (doubtful) or if he’s neutral on the question but finds these particular people to be useful members. And even just being neutral is in practice a step up from “black people cannot live in our white town or eat at the same campfire or share any public facilities with our whitenesses” etc. etc.

On the other hand, as a character presented to us, we can definitely say that Dutch/the game is pointing out “I have black members in my gang!” and wonder whether those black members might not only be there so that we, the players, will not think Dutch/the gang is horribly racist.

So Dutch, the character, is less racist than usual for the time period of 1899!–but the game itself may contain elements of the well-meaning/lofty/cluelessly racist time period of today. And, as you say, sometimes it can feel a bit awkward, when you’re not sure if Dutch is truly speaking in character because that’s reasonably something that person would say, or if he’s speaking for the game and saying something directed to us today.

Man, that was convoluted. I need a nap.

Butch:

Very, very much irony.

Hmm. Dutch does have projection issues, that he does. And insecurities. It was also interesting that Bill (It was Bill, I apologize), retorted not with “They were savages cuz look at ’em, all wearing different clothes and eating weird meats” but with “You weren’t in the army. You weren’t fighting ’em. You didn’t see what they did….” It was their actions that made them savage to Bill, not any kind of lack of class or religion or whatever. Maybe Dutch projects cuz of that, too. After all, you can take an outlaw and dress him up and give him money and give him books and teach him about opera and pasta, but if your ACTIONS define you, what you DID makes you savage, then there is no hope for Dutch, here or in Tahiti.

As for the convolutions, I understood that! Which probably means I also need a nap.

Hey, the sign of a good playing session is being all convoluted the next day.

Though let’s shift gears to something less obvious but no less interesting: The bigassed gator. That certainly felt metaphorical. Wading through an unfamiliar place, threatened by things you can’t see, unable to run or defend yourself, etc. The mood was great, to be sure. Freaky as shit. I also liked that you can’t really kill the menace, you can only drive it away for a time. Bigassed Gator is still out there, and he’s still hungry.

But what did you read the metaphor to be?

Female:

Dude, sometimes a bigassed gator is just a bigassed gator.

Hahahahaha! But also, in this case, I think maybe it’s a sort of representation of the larger forces they can’t control or escape. They’re struggling along (not really able to see where they’re going or where something might be waiting for them), and ‘the system’ (oppressive laws, Pinkertons, etc.) could strike at any moment, and even when they score a victory, it’s only temporary. They might escape, they might wound the Pinkertons or whoever by killing a few people, but then they have to run away, and the main body of the thing that’s hunting them is still out there. Still looking.

In this case, they escaped the gator for good by getting the hell out of the swamp, and that’s what Dutch WANTS to do with the forces that are hunting the gang, but getting the hell out of the country is, as we have seen, proving much more difficult than he hoped.

Butch:

It is still looking.

There was a lot packed into that session.

You know, maybe that’s another reason fast travel is so hard to come by in this game (and there are minigames and animals and shit): The game really does have to give you time to digest things. When this game really gets going, it gets deeply themey and fast. If this was a thirty hour game and all thirty hours were as brainy as the last 45 minutes, that would be exhausting. Right? We wouldn’t want that. So maybe we do want down time in games, doled out in a way that we can take as much as we want when we want.

Female:

It’s true, you don’t want that level of density all the time. That would become less like a game and more like a textbook. Probably one of those obscure philosophy textbooks that talks about feeding your enemies to alligators.

Whether we think it always works well or not, I really do think Mr. O’ is correct in that the pacing, and the amount of time it takes to get places or do things, is a very deliberate choice. Obviously the developers have played other games, and they know how people who play games tend to think and act. They know we WANT to rush all over the place whenever we want. Very clearly not allowing us to do that is setting an intentional mood, for sure.

And making us take a lot of time in between thinky bits to wander around is probably part of that. “Really THINK about that thinky bit!”

Butch:

Oh he’s most certainly right.

He would have liked this game……..

I kid, I kid. Sorta.

Slight detour! In order to get to my happy place, I spend the last half hour making dinner reservations in Nashville, where I will be in twelve and a half days but who’s counting? I’ve decided you’d like it, based on the early returns. There certainly are lots, I mean LOTS of places to drink booze, but, adding to its charm, they really do a spot on job of coming up with names for neighborhoods. Like, video game level creativity. There are neighborhoods there called “Tomorrow’s Hope,” “Fang,” “The Gulch” and the one we both agree wins the award for the best real neighborhood name on earth, “Pie Town.”

Seriously.

Female:

You MUST go and have some pie in Pie Town.

You must. Do it for me. Well, and for you.

Butch:

Dude, I dunno about pie, but, as it is very close to our hotel, I can almost guarantee I’m gonna have some booze in Pie Town.

But get your head around it: There are people who can say they live in Pie Town.

Female:

“Oh yeah, I have a place over in Pie Town.”

Rolls off the tongue, all right.

Butch:

What, Tomorrow’s Hope sounds like it should have ROBOT DINOSAURS.

And booze.

Female:

Lots of booze. Served by robot dinosaurs. Or maybe you have to fight robot dinosaurs to get it? Hm…

Butch:

One thing you gotta give the south/west/westerns: they did have a flair for naming places.

But this is reality outdoing art. I’d rather play in the Gulch, Tomorrow’s Hope and Pie Town than Strawberry. Strawberry? The fuck is that?

Female:

Hey, don’t knock strawberries! They make excellent pie.

Butch:

I don’t have anything against Strawberries. It’s just that whoever brainstormed place names for this game obviously did so while waiting to pick something up at Edible Arrangements.

When I come across Cantaloupe Ranch and Honeydew Hills I’ll know.

Female:

If we’re going to start talking about names, I’m honestly still much more troubled by their state names. (Sorry. Territories. These were not states yet in 1899 even in our world.)

‘New Hanover’? ‘Lemoyne’? And it’s not that I’m saying these names are inherently any stranger than the names we actually have for states (‘New Hampshire’? ‘Louisiana’?), but they just ring false.

Because they are false. And the fact that every time I look at a map I’m reminded that I’m roaming around in a weird alternate-history version of the country where all the important political and social points were presumably the same but none of the major figures responsible for delineating and naming western territories were (and also the president was different after the civil war? but not in a way that made any important difference to history?)–it just jars.

And then I start to disbelieve the entire narrative, even though it is otherwise quite realistically detailed and compelling.

And if I wanted to throw them major credit for subtle intentional mood-setting (like we did for the pacing), I could say well, maybe they’re TRYING to make us feel slightly disoriented, as if we’re lost in a familiar-yet-unfamiliar world, because that’s how Arthur would feel in this period of rapid social and technological change?

Or…even more subtly…maybe they want to make the point that we SHOULD feel a little off balance because this is the past, and the past is a foreign country. Right? They do things differently there! And even when you think you understand them, they could in fact be operating under a quite different set of assumptions about, for example, what to call territories! Which is only the smallest, subtlest of clues to alert us to the fact that maybe we have no real idea what these people are thinking or feeling and we shouldn’t presume we understand them!

Except that the game spends an awful lot of time trying to get us to know what Arthur is thinking and feeling, so we can understand him. So that’s probably more complicated than anything they would actually have been trying to do.

Anyway, I don’t really like it, and it’s not a big deal but every time I look at the map I think, in passing, how I don’t really like it. Meh. They can make their own choices about how to do their own game. Obviously.

Butch:

Dude, that was a mighty rant as a follow up to an edible arrangements joke. It’s a sunny spring Wednesday! We’re supposed to be making references to nudity and jokes about melons.

Female:

Yeah…but I was in a nit-picky frame of mind, so I was either going to pedantically point out that Emerald and Valentine and Saint Denis etc. etc. have nothing to do with food, which is true but beside the joke, or I was going to go in another direction.

Ooh, and now I’ve done both! Win!

Butch:

You go to Edible Arrangements to get valentines (and you want to anger your wife). So you get her emeralds to make right.

All connected.

Female:

Ennnnh…it’s a reach, but I’ll allow it. Because it’s quittin’ time, man! Woohoo!

Oh–and the quick update on the burning question of yesterday that I totally forgot about until now: the game did NOT reload at ‘last checkpoint,’ so don’t ever trust it to do that. It did reload at the point before the last fight, and not before the couple of fights before that (even though there was not a noticeable “pause and save here if you want to stop for the night!” point in there), so I only had to replay about 10 minutes.

Could have been worse.

Butch:

I didn’t have to ask. You lacked white hot rage.

I know you well.