Mario Katharsis: Red Dead Redemption

When a nerd decides to study theatre seriously, Aristotle’s Poetics is bound to come up. One of the major tenets of the work is catharsis (or katharsis, if you want to be really Greek-y: opa!), an emotional cleansing the audience experiences by empathizing or strongly sympathizing with the characters during the course of the play. Anyone with exposure to any other forms of art can easily argue for catharsis being a part of their experiences, and rightly so. Most of you know what side of the video-games-as-art argument I come down on, so I’ll spare you my rhetoric on that front. Let’s just say I couldn’t agree less with Mr. Ebert.

As part of an ongoing series, I decided to share the gaming moments that have produced a cathartic response for me, complete with a dorky video game related title. Thus, Mario Katharsis was born! This first installment details a harrowing experience with Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption: a story of the most tender of old-West connections—a cowboy and his horse.

Early in the game, you’re given a mission in which you lasso and break a herd of horses running wild in the desert. Like most modern games, this mission is actually a tutorial in game mechanics you’ll utilize for the rest of your playthrough, though it’s loosely tied into the main storyline. At completion, you’ve successful broken a wild Kentucky Saddler stallion, and allowed to keep it as a gift from the mission’s bestower, Bonnie MacFarlane.

When I began playing, I pictured myself becoming a dark-suited cowboy badass riding into town on a huge, well-muscled black stallion (or mare, better yet), slinging my guns and words according to my own gut-fueled code of honor. And here I was stuck with this aristocratic, high-tailed, hoity-toity blonde thing.

I wasn’t experienced or wealthy enough to buy myself a deed to the horse of my dreams, nor did I have the limited edition of the game, which included the War Horse—the actual horse of my dreams. So I decided to ride around and break one of my own. A funny thing happened on the way to the herds, though. I noticed my horse was pretty fast. And pretty strong. And in spite of my best efforts, never seemed to tire. Soon enough, he was my “trusted steed.” He was also very distinctive; not too many NPCs had this golden god as a mount.

And that was that. I was in love.

I rode that horse for half of the game. I won cart races, discovered new territories, saved damsels in distress, got one pulled over on me by a fake damsel in distress, chased down thieves and prisoners escaping from lawmen, fled the scene after mistaking a lawman for a prisoner and accidentally shooting him, and ran alongside trains filled with bandits.

I would always, always forgo traveling by coach from town to town, preferring to take a long, meandering journey with my trusty steed, taking in the scenery (and basking in the superb background music) be it day or night. The two of us enjoyed many a sunrise and sunset together out there in the Texas deserts.

One afternoon we found ourselves enjoying one of the wooded areas of the New Austin territories, a relative rarity in a wilderness of hot sand and sagebrush. We had just finished a mission in Thieves’ Landing, and were more than due for some relaxation. We ambled along at a slow gait, following the course of a small stream. Sunlight dappled the ground before us. Birdsong filled the air. We never saw the swine coming.

A banner flashed at the top left of my screen. I managed to read “You have found” before something charged my horse from behind, backed up and charged again. And again. I was on the ground, my horse lying unmoving on its side before I could even get a fleeting look at the attacker. Wolf? Cougar? Then I got hit and took a massive amount of damage. I managed to fire off a shot, buying myself some time to take a slug from my medicine bottle. In the brief downtime, I glimpsed the hairiest, hoariest, ugliest boar I had ever seen.

Truth be told, this boar didn’t look all that different from the others I had encountered, but the bastard just killed my horse, and I was seeing red. I hit the boar one more time with my revolver, injuring its leg. I quickly brought up my weapons wheel to get myself a more powerful gun.

And then I saw my hunting knife. I felt a surge of adrenalin flooding my brain. I selected it and was back in the fray. I slashed at that brute’s face and neck, caring almost nothing for the damage I was taking. I (the real me) was growling a war cry that belied my existence as a 27-year-old girl sitting on the floor of her living room. I slashed the hell out of that monster, long after it was already dead. My screen was bright red. My real-life heartbeat pumped in my ears.

I skinned the devil lying on the ground before me, then turned toward the body of my horse. In the melee I failed to notice that he had fallen directly in the water. Now there he was, submerged like so much dead and useless flesh. The stream was too narrow for me to get down next to him. I wanted to do something, anything—skin him and take his meat to honor his worth, maybe just make it look like was touching his neck one last time before walking back to town. But this stupid waterway in stupid Stillwater Creek was keeping me from it. So I stood on the bank, looking down on the body of my closest ally and partner. And cried in real life.

It was only later, selling the boar’s meat, skin, tusks, and heart for an unnaturally high price that I realized I had defeated Gordo the legendary boar. A hollower victory there never was.

I never rode another Kentucky Saddler.

Mario Katharsis Rating: Triple Green Shell. Random, but can really beat the crap out of you.

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  1. My first horse got killed by a friggin’ Cougar that I NEVER SAW COMING.
    l’ll never forget the first time that happened. I could never calmly ride anywhere again.

  2. Once I realized your horse could die, but you’d always be able to summon a new one, I rammed those things into whatever I wanted or used them as bullet shields, and I always skinned them and sold their meat. Sometimes I’d even put them down myself for no other reason than the color. I’m sadistic in my video game worlds (but a really nice gentleman IRL).

  3. That same tamed Kentucky Saddler lasted me exactly 30 minutes real time, I took it for a ride after I just got it, and then a cougar asshole helped me by killing it. I emptied the repeater on it out of spite!

  4. Actually, I just recently started playing this game (2 weeks) and like you, was disappointed in the first horse that Bonnie gave me at first. But after awhile, I became quite attached to him and almost teared up myself when he was killed near Mercer Station. After that, I only became attached to one other horse in Mexico.

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