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Red Dead Redemption is Old West perfection. However it was the world you play in rather than the game itself that I enjoyed the most, and reminded me to slow down and take my time with games now I'm older.
Whenever I load up my console I have this nagging question in my conscience, "To what end?" Maybe a better use of my time would be fixing the hole in the loft lining.
This question used to be temporarily silenced by in-game rewards. Achievements, completion and trophies are a game's way of telling you you've done well and life's way of telling you you've wasted a perfectly good chunk of your youth.
This is not an issue with games per se, more an issue with how I was engaging with them. Red Dead Redemption pointed out this great falsity and helped rectify my unhealthy approach to the medium.
Red Dead Redemption was never about saloon brawls and high noon-shootouts for me. Saving maidens from train tracks and hogtieing villains on the sheriff's porch was a mug's game reserved solely for The Lone Ranger and his misguided admirers. I was more interested in retiring my weather-beaten old cowboy to a farm, with only the pigs and cattle to concern him.
Day after day I broke horses, played pitch and toss, collected wild herbs and explored the northern forests. My pistols remained in their holsters as I meandered the lovingly crafted outback. Slowly I began to realise that this downtime was intended to punctuate the missions which, in my haste, I had raced though at breakneck speed.
My busy life means I all too often race through games, skipping to the end before getting on with the next game. I forget to spend quality time with the game I'm currently playing, and it cheapens this hobby I love.
Life's way of telling you you've wasted a perfectly good chunk of your youth.
Red Dead Redemption is vast, diverse and intricate. There is a majesty to its presentation that meant I wanted to spend time with it long after the main achievements were complete. Hours can be lost in the simple rhythm of collecting flowers and hunting wildlife, tasks that in of themselves are slightly repetitive but serve as excuses for exploration of the unusually rich and varied game world.
Red Dead Redemption prides itself on many of the staple Rockstar components. The tale of John Marston and his deliverance from evil is as charming and rounded as I had come to expect from this developer. It's a high standard mirrored in every aspect of the game from mission structure to sound design and beyond.
But, once I'd got myself to slow down and enjoy the ride, what made Red Dead Redemption so engaging for me was how relaxing it was to explore. Small shanty houses lost to the sands of New Austin, dry creek beds which attract a certain strain of rare herb or forgotten mine shafts with the skeletal remains of its workforce all lay dotted around the map ripe for investigating.
When I was younger the wonder of gaming could hold my attention for hours on end. Now that my time is more pressured it's easy to feel I have to condense this into a smaller part of my day.
I'm still getting my head round this shift. Growing older means I have to adapt the way I play games; no longer can I gorge myself upon hours of PlayStation time, but I'm hoping that this doesn't mean I have to miss out on magical gaming moments.
To this end, Red Dead got me playing with a different pattern. As opposed to flying though quests and collecting digital trinkets, I managed to engage the virtual world itself. I found that appreciating the nuances of a well designed game was just as intoxicating and satisfying as a full set of achievements (did I just say that out loud?), much tot he chagrin of my Xbox Live buddies.
An intriguing way to see the games that I'm worried I'll have to one day leave behind.
I value my time spent with Red Dead Redemption and, quite oddly, it feels good to play the pacifist who collects flowers in a world of bandits, hoodlums and corrupt officials.
It's a small way I keep something beautiful and inspiring in my life.
Escaping the achievement traps means that my gaming time is measure more by how I've engaged in these beautiful works of digital art. Red Dead Redemption showed me that it's not the accomplishment, but the journey that matters most. It sounds juvenile and simplistic I know, but for me this is an intriguing way to see the games that I'm worried I'll have to one day leave behind.
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