So, hats off to the developers who worked endlessly on this game, working on such minute details as shrinking testicles and weathered gun handles, but surely, with a script that ran over 2000 pages could have afforded some historical accuracy in the mix? If a game is seeking authenticity, then historical fidelity would logically come part and parcel with that endeavour.
This moment is a memorable one that sticks out in a game full of memorable moments. But, it’s memorable for all the wrong reason. Yes, games are an escape for many people, and given the way of the world today, many would rather not have real world issues appear in their form of entertainment. But, Rockstar had the option to depict the depravity of the KKK in all its horrid glory, and opted for a cheap laugh instead.
If game developers are going to cannibalise history, then isn’t it only fair that they at least do so with some kind of factual truth? Now, sure, maybe two KKK members did trip and set themselves on fire, and sure, that would have been funny, but it’s not the history that has been written. The history that has been written is one that is all about Jim Crow and the ethnic cleansing that came with it. If players are investing so much of their time in something, then isn’t it fair that they’re delivered the truth?
HowLongToBeat puts Red Dead Redemption 2 at about 40 to 60 hours (or half a working Rockstar week), or alternatively, two and a half full days. It’s no short order to complete the campaign and explore the world a little bit. While gamers pay for the privilege of experiencing polished entertainment en masse, it is a privilege for game developers that they are allowed to capture days and weeks of a players life and essentially leave them with a handful of memories. No wonder players were furious at the tepid finale to the Mass Effect saga, having invested so much of their life with one character, only for that story to be given a shrug of an ending.
For me, my month long journey with the Battlefield games has been something of an affliction. I enjoyed my time with the series, even if I don’t recall anything of value from it. Yet, it’s a player driven experience, utilising a supplied set of tools to craft an experience that aims to entertain. Red Dead Redemption 2 is a narrative driven experience, one that has been meticulously crafted for player enjoyment. It has a purpose, and that purpose is to immerse the player in a world that no longer exists. It is, by design, manufactured for memories and experiences.
The reality of the world today is that there are many who are time poor, who eat dinner late, who barely get a wink of sleep, who struggle to find the energy to get through the day. Everybody is busy, everybody is on go mode. And, in turn, media companies wish to take every last free second you have and make it theirs. When those seconds are taken up by a something that essentially wastes your time, then your time becomes worthless.
(As a side note: Kotaku have an interesting article about How to Play Long Video Games When You Have No Time.)
For the game developers on Red Dead Redemption 2, they gave over their lives to a project that changed and morphed throughout the years. It demanded time from them, and didn’t always repay them fairly. Time with their families was sacrificed for a game that will go down in the history books as one of the biggest and best ever made. For some, that privilege of being able to say ‘I worked on Red Dead Redemption 2’ was enough.
As a consumer, we have to find peace with consuming media that was created in questionable conditions. If we want to live ethical lives, then we have to do so in a system that thrives on disregarding said ethics. As the world shifts away from these practices, one has to ask themselves what they are willing to discard on the path to that ethical life? Does it mean that they throw aside a game like Red Dead Redemption 2 because employees were made to work long hours? If so, then what about games like Fez, Super Meat Boy, and Owlboy, which were made with small teams who poured just as much time into their production as the thousands of employees at Rockstar? Do we discard those because people poured their heart and soul into them, and in turn, the most valuable element of their life – their time?
I can’t answer that for you, as it’s something that you will have to answer for yourself. All I can say is that if you look around, there is a world of people who are working long hours on things that you may take for granted. That film reviewer who watches ten movies a week and writes up a thousand words on all of them? They’re most certainly not doing that on a 9-5 work roster.
It’s easy for me to sit here and reflect on the eight years of engagement I had with the Battlefield series and think, why didn’t I do something productive with that month I had? Why didn’t I learn a skill? Why didn’t I finally read Infinite Jest? Why didn’t I watch Berlin Alexanderplatz? Why didn’t I exercise more? And arguably, for me at least, the reason is that most of those things feel like work. Most of those things don’t have an immediate observable value. They take effort and time to perfect and learn, asking you to give yourself over to them so that at the end, you are better off.
The feedback loop with a game like Battlefield is immediate. I know exactly when I’ve done something wrong, I know exactly where I went wrong, what I did right, and how I can improve. That’s part of the addiction cycle with games – they know how to utilise your time to the best of their advantage. With learning, exercising, reading, it’s up to the user to be diligent and create their own ‘addiction cycle’ – for want of a better term. This is easier said than done, but it’s certainly something that I intend to change for myself.
With all of those words said, I can only hope that you got something of value from this piece. If you did, then great, thank you for reading. If not, then you’ve just received a mini-version of how I feel after realising I’d wasted a month playing a digital war game.