Red Dead Redemption: Social acceptability unlocked?

Prostitutes. More specifically, killing prostitutes. Having sex with a prostitute and then killing her and getting your money back. This is but one thing you have been able to do in Grand Theft Auto games since GTA III. Sure, you could view a thousand beautiful sunsets, save lives as an ambo paramedic, drive a motor bike off of a fuck-off great mountain and parachute to earth or, if you were so inclined, elope with a white priest on a yacht to a secluded stretch sea for some serious inter-racial homosexual making out sessions*. There were thousands of things you could do in GTA which is one of the many many reasons why the games flew off the shelves. It's kinda what 'sandbox game' means. Sadly it seems none of those other possibilities piqued the interest of newscasters, alarmist journalists or lazy politicians quite so much as the prostitute scenario. To labour the point, you could, if so inclined, you could just drive real slow and careful, looking for blacks. But of course that scenario then shifts the impetus for ne'erdowelling onto the choices that players make rather than the depravity that Rockstar force upon our innocent youth. GTA. Prostitutes. Murder. The opening line in many 'articles' that later lay obesity, illiteracy, violence and worse at the feet of video games.

So it is with utter fascination that opening this weekend's newspapers I discover that Rockstar's latest game, Red Dead Redemption has almost as many column inches (in the non-game review specific quarter page either) as stuff like where the best antique markets are, the latest opera and other universally appealing and ahem 'worthy' higher pastimes. Who would have thought that a game in the is-it, isn't-it dead 'elvis genre' that is Westerns, from one of the world's most infamous games developer, in the eyes of the press anyway, is the one that seems to finally be heralding in the great age of mainstream acceptance.

I didn't pick up every newspaper this weekend and of course I have no idea how much money changed hands for the favourable coverage but The Times ran with Red Dead Redemption on the front page of the Playlist magazine as well as a half page review and a refreshingly quotidian double page spread article about how RDR is just simply the next milestone in cowboyhood/ness, naturally the next landmark following in the footsteps of Calamity Jane, A Fistful of Dollars, Dances with Wolves and Deadwood.
Westerns were always pretty shit as wellThe Grauniad, which 50% of the time seems to forget that it has actual talented games journalists on staff, ran an article where semi-famous gamer and funny man Peter Serafinowicz, Fun Inc. author Tom Chatfield and even, gosh, yes, even film critic Philip French sat down with the game. Interestingly, Tom barely talks about the game, instead using the opportunity to emphasise that duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuh this is games and has been for a while now. Peter goes and ruins decades of games journalism tradition and points out that he's only been allowed a couple of hours with the game and hence has not been set free in the world yet so can't really say what he thinks. Leaving film critic Philip French, self confessed gaming virgin and author on Westerns in film, to really capture that child like wonder at games that kept many of us playing games in his writing and no, he doesn't reflect on whether this is all art or not art.

All in all I was pleasantly surprised to see video games receive some surprisingly thoughtful, measured and positive coverage in the mass media. Although, you'd be hard pressed to discern this from the paper coverage, I'm sure there is still a fair amount of graphic MDK as well as prostitute abuse but hey, everyone is wearing a hat and maybe RDR will promote more children enrolling in equestrian sports in time for the London Olympics? The only question remaining is whether this coverage has come from a combination of healthy game marketing budgets and print-media dying, a testament to Rockstar's skill at just making great games or whether games and gamers have finally grown up enough.

*My brother and I developed a mini game in 2 player San Andreas which was to press the 'kiss' button in the most awkward situations. Army chasing you down? Your latest ride finally gives out from the hail of bullets? Helicopter taking potshots at you? A final stand in the middle of the exposed highway? No better time to spam the kiss button.


  1. Ha!

    Great minds think alike.


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