Contemporary video games often employ “cutscenes” between the missions or actions that a player undertakes. These scenes – in which the gamer becomes a viewer – serve as a narrative bridge to provide context and to potentially further the storyline towards the next segment of gameplay. Cutscenes employ common film techniques such as multiple camera angles, close-ups and background music.
The Western game, Red Dead Redemption (2010), provides a number of very effective cutscenes that can, in this writer’s estimation, be enjoyed as stand-alone short Western vignettes – i.e. impressionistic scenes focusing upon a given moment that reveal aspects of a character and/or story. The central narrative of this Rockstar Games creation sees a player as John Marston, a former outlaw forced by the US federal government to track down his former gang – his family is being “held” until he does so.
Gameplay in this Western game is set in 1911 – a period that sees the waning of the “Old West” – and it is grounded in the technology of that time. In addition to that realistic context, Red Dead Redemption can be viewed as a “text” that frames a number of important ideas for a gamer to reflect upon. Such ideas include the encroachment of central government and corporate industry into rural areas, the issue of 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 for personal advantage. The game offers a lens by which to view our own contemporary North American society.
In the following cutscene (shared by one poster on YouTube), Marston has recuperated from a failed first attempt to get his former gang to surrender – he has convalesced at a ranch owned by the MacFarlane family. In this clip, Marston explains the underlying impetus for his mission and also reflects on how many (non-Indigenous) people who have arrived or even grown up in North America still orient themselves back to a homeland that they might not have even seen and yet still play out non-North American historical grudges against one another on this continent.
To support the launch of Red Dead Redemption, feature film director John Hillcoat was commissioned to create a 30 minute short film using content from the game – this writer considers such as an animated Western film. Red Dead Redemption: The Man from Blackwater (2010) had its television premiere on May 29, 2010.
(Copyright – Chad Beharriell)