In the morning I wake up as Arthur Morgan, see my dirty face in the mirror and trim my beard. I walk up to the campfire and take a cup of coffee, drinking it while conversing with my fellow gang members. For dinner, I rode north to the grassy plains, looked through the rifle scope and studied a flock of white tailed deers. I aim and shoot the healthiest one in the neck, making a clean kill. I then skinned the deer, mounted the carcass on my horse and galloped back before sunset.
This is just a day in Red Dead Redemption 2. The majority of what I do isn’t robbing banks or shooting rival gangs, but something far more mundane. When I’m not advancing its meaty story, I like to just live in its world, partaking in the day-to-day routine of a western frontiersman. The game allows me to not just play, but live a life in its world. I can eat, drink, sleep, work, and partake in the mundanities of our daily life.
While there are games that offer endless excitement and thrill, cutting the fat and filler for an onslaught of entertainment and action, Red Dead Redemption 2 allows us to engage in rather grounded activities.
There is also a meditative effect to these tasks. Here’s also where I take time to bathe, clean my horse, eat with my friends, drink at the bar, and play some poker. Such routines give me a semblance of order, as I complete one small task after another. It might seem wasteful; I’m not progressing through the main campaign, nor clearing sidequests. I don’t even go for achievements or seek easter eggs. Instead, this time spent doing day-to-day work gives me time and space to recharge myself, especially during moments when I’m particularly drained from real-world fatigue.
Take fishing in the game for instance. The process is akin to a breathing exercise: you take a deep breath, hold on for a few seconds, and let it out. Standing by a clear lake, I take my fishing rod, put a bait on its hook and cast the rod. I wait for a few seconds while slowly rotating the reel. As soon as the fish takes the bait, I reel the catch in. It’s calming and relieves my stress as much as a breathing exercise would. You can even have the whole lake to yourself.
Red Dead Redemption 2 has lots of spaces like that: wide, empty areas. These let me breathe and take a break from the game’s more combat-oriented scenes. It gives me time to appreciate the scenery—the lush forests, the serene lake and the sprawling mountains—without worrying that someone might shoot me at every corner.
That’s why I rarely use fast travel to get around. Sometimes I let the cinematics wash over me, as my horse trots along the road towards our destination, while I enjoy the ride. It gives me the space I need to clear my head, to reflect on life as I stare at the surroundings, the mountains and the greenery.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is filled with more mundane encounters than most open world games that pack themselves to the brim with combat sequences, where you either need to fight a monstrous beast or a mob of enemies every time you ride for a few short miles. Conversely, when you meet someone on the road in Red Dead Redemption 2, they either greet you, ask for your help, or just offer friendly competition. Sometimes I come across another rider and we race through the woods, and other times I help a lady back to her home after her horse tragically dies. These encounters all made my day.
It might not seem significant. I didn’t protect an entire village from bandit attacks. I didn’t even fire a single bullet in those encounters. But simply by busying myself with these mundane routines, I still feel like a hero; I have helped someone out.