The American West is not exactly a unique landscape given the ubiquity of Eurowesterns like Western All’Italiana or Osterns, which were Soviet produced films imbued with alternative underlying political subtext to counter capitalism’s individualistic narratives.
Yet despite the inexplicable fixation the global imagination has for of the genre’s impact on our culture having redefined our perspective of Cinema endures to a point of spilling over into video games long past parody.
Enter Red Desert Render.
Within moments of launching the game you find yourself controlling our lead hero, a scattershot glitchy mess of a character, appearing as if they stepped out from a stream’s missing key frame and the resultant data mosh.
They stand proudly next to a campfire, “Press E to Rest” it says, truly: this is the ‘Souls-Like’ of Westerns.
As you embark out on the harsh desert landscape with your trust binoculars and the ability to curl up like Samus Aran, hurling our resident mosh pal down the jagged hills of the Uncanny Valley in front of you, with only momentum and ambition serving as your guide.
Speaking of ambition, the industry’s relentless pursuit over a decade to re-create the ultimate escapist diorama, sleepy Sedona rock outcroppings tempered only occasionally by steam trains and weak narrative themes that occasionally flirt with taking responsibility for atrocities of the past, has ultimately left the Western genre rancid in posterity. Titles like Rowdy Dude Rider 2 are now ultimately inseparable from both narrative and workplace exploitation, peppered with socio-cultural radioactivity, too hot inhabit thanks to the repeated testing of apocalyptic discourse, our very own Yucca Flat, poison painted hills physically harmful to look at.
It is hard to say if Ian MacLarty intended any subtext beyond the obvious mockery of open world games, but it’s hard not to see Red Dead Render as a meditative ‘Long Time Memetic Waste Warning Message‘, a reminder that in time these ideas may be reclaimed by later generations when the dust finally settles.
Despite being a very short experience that seemingly parodies the tropes of sandbox games and their mandatory enmeshed , it may be one of the few true examples of the open world genre I’ve seen in a while. Perhaps this is in a sense our Ostern, even if through interpretative subtext only, a call to remember the western landscapes for what they should have been: A place free from the blight of industry, of men’s avarice and inhumanity, branded in atomic fire.
Until that realization, we will take shelter in our air conditioned adobe houses away from the invisible fire eternally radiating off our mistakes embodied by a vast cratered wasteland.
Our own folly is forever pretending we can’t see the horror by hiding our heads in the crimson sand.
Emily Rose is an indie developer who writes for rebind.io and resides in the pacific northwest. She’s often seen in the local VR arcade and developer community participating in pushing the medium’s horizons. You can find her on twitter @caravanmalice