What To Read While Playing Red Dead Redemption II

Video games are often characterized as a kind of interactive movie. This is superficially true of all video games and perhaps substantially true of many short, highly visual games like Ico and Journey. But in my estimation, video games are much more like books. Like books, video games are a substantial time commitment that require serious imaginative and critical engagement on the part of the consumer. Increasingly, the best games — The Elder Scrolls, Mass Effect, Grand Theft Auto V — simply throw you into a world and invite you to find your own way.

Whenever I play games like this, I like to fully immerse myself in that world. This is especially true with games with historical settings. Every time I play an Assassin’s Creed game, for example, I make an effort to read a book about that period. It’s a three-for-one deal: I get to learn about a period or place I might otherwise have ignored, my experience playing in the game world is substantially deepened, and I forever remember my time with the game as (in the case of Assassin’s Creed: Origins, for example) ‘the month I was obsessed with Ancient Egypt.’ When Bioshock: Infinite came out, I literally took an entire class on Gilded Age America. Yeah, I know.

With Red Dead Redemption II out, I am gearing up to do the same with the Wild West. I prepared by watching one Western film a week in October, and my hope is to read (and/or reread) two or three books on the subject as I dive into the game’s world. I invite you to do the same. Here are my suggestions, with a strong social science orientation:

The Significance of the Frontier in American Life by Frederick Jackson Turner (1890)

The Not So Wild Wild West: Property Rights on the Frontier by Terry L. Anderson and Peter J. Hill (2004)

Order Without Law: How Neighbors Settle Disputes by Robert Ellickson (1994)

the once and future city planner // AICP // @UCLAluskin // kentuckian in california