It has been said – by observers of the Western genre – that each generation gets just the Western that it needs. For the uninitiated, the launch of Rockstar Games’ Red Dead Redemption in 2010 may be the definitive Western to date for the video game generation.

The central narrative is set in 1911 and has the player as John Marston, a previous outlaw who is forced by the federal government to track down his former gang. This game is what is deemed “open world” or “sandbox” in that the player can simply ride off as he or she chooses to explore areas that completing sections of the narrative will open up.

This was the first rural-based game for the makers of the urban Grand Theft Auto series and the varied landscape is indeed immersive. Regions parallel that of the American Great Plains, mountain areas and the Southwest – players will also enter Mexico itself. Additionally, there are  a number of locations that draw upon sets from pre-existing Western films, including that of Italian filmmakers like Sergio Leone.

Beyond the realistic game play, which includes the player having to lasso and break horses, engage in showdown duels and decide whether or not to help others in the West, there are a number of major ideas that serve as ideological framework for a time period in which the “Old West” was fading. These ideas include the encroachment of central government and corporate industry into rural areas….Indigenous territorial rights and the presumption that Christianity was necessary for the “betterment” of Amerindian peoples…. and that both government and revolution in the “name of the people” can be co-opted by those seeking personal gain.

Personally, I have noted the immediate influence of Red Dead Redemption in how many have subsequently reacted to Western films since the launch of the game. For example, often in the comment sections of sites such as Youtube, viewers will share how a given film reminds them of Red Dead Redemption in terms of location, character or story.

This game is serving as both an enticement toward and a framework for interpreting Westerns – that is significant. This may in fact be the most important work of the Western genre – be it film, fiction or art – in a generation if it is now drawing a young audience to the genre. Their perspectives will be important as the genre moves forward.

Here is the  trailer for Red Dead Redemption (2010):

Chad Beharriell

(Copyright – October 16, 2011)

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