Book Review: Matt Margini’s Red Dead Redemption
Oh hey, Boss Fight Books is back!
This ‘season’ of Boss Fight Books is looking to be a fun one. Previous runs have switched between interesting obscurities like Soft and Cuddly and pop culture phenomena like NBA Jam. However, this time around, Boss Fight Books is sticking to big franchises: Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Zelda, Final Fantasy … and Red Dead Redemption. This is the first time I’ve actually played all the games in a ‘season,’ so naturally I was all about that Kickstarter.
And here we are!
To write about Red Dead Redemption is to write about the Western, and to write about the Western is to write about America. In classic Boss Fight Books fashion, Margini uses the framing of a video game to explore bigger ideas. For example, Margini makes a direct comparison towards the objective-chasing of a ‘map game’ to the manifest destiny philosophy that fueled America’s westward expansion. Throughout the book’s 200-ish pages, Margini does a thoroughly researched deep dive into the Western genre, with comparisons to Leone, Pekinpah, and pretty much every other notable Western director you can think of. Even without the video game comparisons, I learned quite a bit from Red Dead Redemption, such as the existence of sub-genres like the Snow Western and the Mexico Western.
Not only does Margini compare Red Dead Redemption to film Westerns, he also explores the game’s storyline specifically. Red Dead Redemption is hardly the first video game to feature a western setting, but it’s arguably the first video game to really be a Western, as opposed to a shooter with cowboy hats.
Red Dead Redemption is a cynical game– though with more of a tragic tone than the “satirical” nihilism of Rockstar’s other cornerstone franchise, Grand Theft Auto. As such, Red Dead Redemption makes some particular choices in its gameplay– most notably, giving the player a lack of choice at several different points. Red Dead Redemption isn’t a game like Mass Effect or Knights of the Old Republic, in which the player can influence the world of the game. Instead, the player is put in the boots of John Marston, a doomed outlaw who gets closer and closer to his ultimate fate with each completed mission.
Honestly, Red Dead Redemption is one of those books that’s hard to write about, just because it’s so good. Like, I could complain a little about how Margini doesn’t mention the far more videogamey (and decidedly non-canonical) spinoff game Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare, but honestly there’s not much to really be said about another zombie-mode in a video game, y’know? All and all, Red Dead Redemption is an essential read for anyone who’s really gotten into the game, and also for any fans of the Western who are interested in reading about how the genre can be interpreted through 21st century media.