I woefully admit how late I am to the Red Dead Redemption party, which is sad for a Rockstar fanboy like myself [Playing Grand Theft Auto III the fist time was akin to a religious experience, and GTA4 is the only game I have pre-ordered and attended a midnight release for. Embrace my shame].
I wasn’t in any hurry to play RDR, primarily because I thought the open-world style of gameplay would prove ill-suited to such a sparse environment. It works so well in the GTA series because you’re plopped in the middle of a bustling and well-developed urban environment. I didn’t think I’d have the patience to cross vast ingame distances, on horseback, since equine transportation doesn’t come with radio accompaniment.
But, like Shadow of the Colossus before it, it turns out riding a horse through a vast landscape can prove quite serene. The game throws enough at you that even on those long horseback rides, I always found myself diverting off course to help strangers, hunt deer and collect plants, all those things that some people find mindless busywork in Rockstar sandbox games, I can never get enough of. Let’s not even discuss my excitement when I took down my first Grizzly.
So the game provided me with numerous surprises. I certainly didn’t expect to walk away from it with a new appreciation of American Conservatism.
Look, I’m not going to get overly political here, I don’t follow current events nearly as closely as I used to, I get most of my bullet points from John Stewart and frankly I tried to do this post once already and it bloated beyond any expectation, so I’ll keep it brief: as a Liberal Canadian, the American stripe of Conservatism always struck me as odd, specifically the idea of limited government, mostly because I think most people can’t be trusted to shovel their sidewalks in the winter, let alone maintain civilized society without an umbrella of government extended over us. I tend to trust that the people elected to office are smarter than me in certain respects and that I’m protected by governmental checks and balances to prevent any of them from getting too grabby with my rights [ASIDE: when people ask me why I identify as a Liberal, despite the way a lot of far left types cause me to sigh with irritation, I defer to something my mother once said: ‘Liberals want to take my money, Conservatives want to take my rights. They can have my money.’ END ASIDE]. But Americans just aren’t wired that way it seems, and I never really understood it. Until I met Drew Macfarlane.
Drew’s a ranch-owner you encounter in the game’s early moments, his daughter saves your life and you do some work around the ranch, doing jobs that serve to teach you the basics of gameplay. When you first meet him, he goes on a bit of a tear and tells you about the Macfarlane Ranch.
“We’ve been here for thirty years, now. Came here from the East. The land had never been settled. Ten years, we fought the Indians. Tough men. Then we had outlaws, we had drought, we had smallpox, terrible winter, cholera; I’ve buried more of my children than I’ve raised….but I’ve never once doubted my life here. But when I hear about this so-called federal government sending out agents to covertly control people, it’s preposterous….isn’t a government agent a worse menace, and all that symbolizes?…you tell your friends out east we don’t want to live like that out here.”
And suddenly…it sort of clicked. These are men and women who struck out into the great unknown of the American frontier to try to make a life for themselves, only to have outsiders come in under the auspices of that “so-called Federal Government” telling those same people not only how to live but that they had to pay up for the benefit of the union. I can see how that would irritate some people, and those attitudes get passed down a few generations, all it takes is a hard recession and some tax money spent on social programs and boom, Tea Party.
This is simplistic formulation, obviously. But playing Red Dead highlighted some key differences between American and Canadian outlooks on the role of government, and while I still don’t agree with the American side, I can say I understand it more than I did before, and might refrain from rolling my eyes and judge all the people calling Obama a socialist and taking to the streets at Glenn Beck-hosted rallies.
You know, for about three seconds. But every journey starts with a single step.