Finding beauty in the mundane
Why can’t I stop playing poker in Red Dead Redemption 2?
Iam not the kind of gamer who plays long or obsessively. I prefer instead to parachute into a game for a few minutes or perhaps an hour at a time before removing myself to different activities. But pretty well all I have done since Friday evening when I started into Red Dead Redemption 2 is immerse myself in the frontier fantasy of this game of cowboys in the Wild West, breaking only to order takeout and hurriedly walk the dogs.
One can do many things as an outlaw in Rockstar Studios’s painstakingly realized turn-ofthe-century America. Fight a duel. Rob a train. Steal a horse. But what I have been doing almost to the point of addiction is taking a seat at a table in the corner of a dilapidated saloon and, with a stern look on my face, play poker.
Poker in Red Dead Redemption 2 is very realistic. Join a game in progress and a coterie of computer-controlled opponents will deal you in with enthusiasm: the deck is shuffled, the cards distributed. When it’s your turn, you can check, fold or raise. My first hand at the table I nearly busted out because I kept raising on pocket tens that turned into a three-of-a-kind on the flop and a fellow named Norman was nursing a miraculous straight flush. If you lose, you can buy back in on the next hand; if you keep losing, you can always step outside and rob a stranger in the street, you being a bandit and this being the Wild West. The sun in the game world sets and rises on schedule. I have twice now played until dawn.
I own a poker set. I have friends who could be counted on to show up with beer and cigars if I invited them to play. Yet, for some reason it is this uncanny virtual card-game facsimile that continues to draw me in — I hardly ever play poker in real life and have never even tried online poker or any kind of computerized gambling at all. What’s especially strange is that the accuracy with which the Red Dead Redemption poker games are realized ought to make them less interesting, because they more closely resemble their counterparts in the real world and are therefore sort of redundant. It’s like the map in the Borges story made on the same scale of the territory it’s mapping. What’s the point of a simulation if what’s simulated is so banal?
Perhaps the banality itself is precisely what I find appealing. Because even if the in-game poker is nothing more than an exact replica of the real-world poker one could play at any time, that achievement in exactness is remarkable, and indeed commands a spectacular degree of admiration and awe. What is represented by these poker matches is an enormous amount of technical wizardry and labour; the attention to detail they contain, the obsessive fidelity to real life they betray, constitutes an achievement that practically demands the honour of obsessing over it — all the more so because the poker is entirely irrelevant and tangential to the core of the game.
You don’t need to play much poker to complete Red Dead Redemption 2. Which may be why I can’t help but play a lot of it.