I’ll be super honest. I’ve kept my absorbtion of Red Dead Redemption 2 coverage to a minimum. Rockstar’s games don’t grab my interest and the air that has surrounded this game makes me doubtful that much good can came out of discussion (beyond helping to re-broach labour in games as an issue in a more forward-facing direction). That’s leaving aside my personal doubts about centring discussion on a a product like Red Dead – why should I add my fuel to its fire?
With that said, I think bringing back the letter series for this is a worthwhile venture. I think the way that Walker talks about labour is really helpful, particularly in finding a way to discuss it in its own context, giving it a kind of benefit-of-the-doubt without that becoming an erasure of that doubt.
Not everyone will read to the bottom (I think you should – especially if you might be thinking “why is an article about this game on Waypoint?”), so I’ll excerpt this as my tease and justification for why you likely should.
When we ignore or undersell the flaws in a work like RDR2 (which is not unique in the reported conditions of its production, but which is a flashpoint for games culture to work through our understanding of labor rights), we help in the hawking of a neoliberal myth about artists: that all great creation requires the volunteer destruction of the self. The truth is the opposite. In its best, least alienated form, creative work is rejuvenating and fulfilling, connecting us to each other and to the deeper parts of ourselves.
All of which is to say that when we ignore the ways in which RDR2 stumbles as a work, it gives ammunition to those who want to argue that “perfection takes sacrifice,” or some other bromide that fails to understand that “sacrifices” in the labor market aren’t evaporated into the air, but deposited into someone else’s bank account.
You’ve got a tough act to follow, Klepek…
(P.S. That BBC Radio 4 link/explainer on alienation? Choice.)