Better Than Life

I like how games can evoke feelings and experiences we have in day to day life. Common examples are in the vein of wandering out of the house and checking for good sniping spots, or looking for the best car steal, or hear game sound effects. Those are kind of hilarious moments. Maybe not necessarily deep or complex, but fun and funny.

Today, though, I realised that my experience of feeling like a stranger in Red Dead Redemption on entering Blackwater was similar to what I feel when I come out of the local park on my morning walks. Lately I’ve been trying out some kind of “mediation walk” which, really, just involves walking through the park while focusing on my breathing rather than having my brain jolt around thinking about stuff.

There’s a key moment of transition when I come out of the park and step back onto the street that leads to our house – it’s a a powerful (though not forceful or sudden) realisation of the difference between the greenery, trees, ducks and the asphalt street, the apartment buildings, the traffic in the distance. It’s non-intellectual, and it feels very important as something to experience.

Except that I realised this morning that in many ways this is exactly the transition I felt in moving from the prairies into the town of Blackwater in Red Dead Redemption. And, in fact, I realised that RDR’s evocation of this feeling was more powerful than my reality-based experience. I’m unsure as to why. It could be that the game presents the same basic experience (transition from one key state oriented toward nature into another oriented toward urbanisation) in more powerfully metaphoric terms than the morning walk does. To my mind RDR aims various powerful effects at this moment, such as the overarching narrative of John Marston, the key audio cues of a horse’s hooves moving from dusty earth to cobble stones, and the imposition of a grid on an untamed land. Red Dead Redemption presents this moment in an extremely effective way – better than reality does for me each day.

And that, too, feels very important as something to experience.

11 August 2010
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