Call of the Wild West
Call of the Wild West
Grin and Bear it…
Brendan Caldwell goes native in RED DEAD REDEMPTION.
I CAN outrun a bear. I can just about outmanoeuvre a wild boar. Although I’ll get taken down by a pack of wolves fairly fast. A wild cougar will tear my fleshy neck asunder.
The Majestic Buffalo
There are two particular parts of Red Dead Redemption’s single player story when the underlying theme of hunting and the treatment of animals becomes an overt criticism of human mastery. Nastas the Indian is leading Marston and a coke-riddled anthropologist named McDougal out of town to a pow-wow. A herd of bison is stampeding, desperately trying to escape the gunfire of a couple of hunters. Nastas turns nasty. White man is slaughtering the herds. McDougal is incredulous. The Injuns do it as well, says he.
“But we hunt out of need, not for sport,” says Nastas.
An estimated 3,158,000 buffalo were killed by white men at the height of their extermination in the years 1872-74. Native Americans managed 390,000. Maybe Nastas has a point. Or maybe there were just more white folk to do the killing by that point. What with the Natives suffering their own conspicuous population downer and everything.
The treatment of animals comes up again when John Marston, in one of his moments of blind hypocrisy, tells his son while they are hunting elk to “only kill what you need.” For a game that actively encourages the player to kill as many animals as possible solely for achievements or trophies (the money gained has no useful purpose – I will fight you on this), it gets on its high horse an awful lot about the ethics of hunting.
This is RDR’s real strength. It lets you play with some of that there ethics stuff. Forget the honour and notoriety scale. Forget reforming criminals with Boy Scout noose tying lessons. Forget helping old ladies get run over in the road. Animal rights is the real playground.
I wanted to investigate the extremes of the animal rights ethics. For and against. But I didn’t want to read any books about it. So I played Red Dead Redemption instead.
I can outrun a bear. I can just about outmanoeuvre a wild boar. Although I’ll get taken down by a pack of wolves fairly fast. A wild cougar will tear my fleshy neck asunder.
I can tell you all this because my first task playing as an extreme animal rights activist was to get to know the animals. To try and live among them. Most of the time I just ended up dying among them. Although I didn’t have much luck with the humans either.
The multiplayer of RDR takes place on the same huge, open-world map of the single player game. I plotted my route. I would spend my time in Mexico living with the animals. By the time I hit America again I would be ready for the second phase.
Up to 16 players can roam the West. They can do this either as part of a co-ordinated posse proposed between players or they can brave the wild alone. This lends a unique sense of paranoia to player encounters. When you come across another lone feller on the range, you can never quite tell if he’ll say howdy and dander on by, ask to team up with you or stick a bullet in yer gullet. So to anyone who saw me, tumbling around with a pair of coyotes trying to see if they’d ever stop running away (three or less Coyotes will run from you – four will gnaw on your face), it must have been either terribly unnerving or strangely reassuring.
I was shot often.
To pose as the most extreme animal rights activist I had to set myself some rules. Firstly, no killing any animals, even when they attack – run, don’t shoot. Secondly, no riding horse-back – saddles are a cruel symbol of animal subordination to human oppressors! I would trek the whole way on foot (although my horse just followed me everywhere anyway). Finally, anyone seen inflicting harm on animals must be taught the error of their ways.
The first two rules are practically inconvenient, the third rule is just plain awkward. How do you teach someone to stop harming living things for no reason? Do you try and teach them by telling them over your headset? Or do you put a round in their belly to make sure they get the message? In doing this would I be breaking the first rule? Since humans are animals too, and I can’t kill any animals even when attacked?