2011 has been a blur for me. I'm a junior in college right now, and I've had to take on much more responsibility than I ever intended to finish my college career. My summer vacation didn't feel like much of a vacation at all. I spent so much time working, trying to sort out my finances so I can continue my college career, and losing too much sleep worrying about my future. My days on 'break' seemed to be just as stressful as college life continually is.
I always have played video games to relieve stress and forget about whatever's troubling me. Before this year, I would just play whatever game I had bought last: competitive online shooters, racing games, incredibly long and complex Japanese RPGs. It is a stress reliever to kill enough people to top the leaderboards in Monday Night Combat or finally beat a boss after spending hours grinding in Persona 3, but I wouldn't exactly call them "relaxing". I could forget about whatever was on my mind by devoting it to a challenge in those games, but I wasn't really relaxing.
This summer, I found a game that I can still put on and really chill out when I'm playing.
Red Dead Redemption is my favorite Rockstar game so far. It's a violent, brutal, and often depressing look at life in the Old West. It is also one of the most relaxing games I've ever played.
I have always been a fan of Grand Theft Auto games for many reasons, but they're different from Red Dead Redemption in more ways than just "it has cars instead of horses". I never get the feeling of isolation when I play them. Going for a late night drive with the stereo low and the windows down is calming; but only in real life. In GTA games it doesn't feel the same. GTA games always have something wacky or off-the-wall to make you laugh. Billboards, pedestrian chatter, even strange environmental effects that are constantly trying to draw your attention. It's always fun, but trying to relax to that is like going to a comedy club with the intention of getting a nap.
Red Dead Redemption is very different when it comes to the open world. There is no constant stimulation when you're galloping down a trail to your next destination. You might hear some ambient animal noises, but they're never distracting (unless you took a wrong turn and ended up surrounded by cougars!) If you look into the distance, you won't see billboards or UFOs or even airplanes landing. You'll see the sun rise and set, huge cliffs in the distance, rivers and lakes that you can't swim in (sorry!)...nothing but nature.
I spent so many hours in Red Dead Redemption just riding around, ignoring the story. I could go pick flowers, hunt animals, or just explore a new place I'd never seen before. I never felt the urge to go on a shooting rampage (unless I had to kill a bunch of animals for a quest) or piss off law enforcement. I would rather go for a ride on my horse and see the sights.
When I started the story, I was pleasantly surprised at how slowly it eases you in. The first couple hours of the game are basically a farm life simulator. The cutscenes are slow-paced as well as most of the gameplay, and I loved it. There's very minimal murdering in these early missions, and more focus on things like rounding up cows, breaking horses, and sometimes just going on a ride and talking to a friend. This slow pace seems to continue throughout the game, and the missions in Mexico stand out in my mind because many of them start or end with long commutes where you do nothing but ride (not drive, your NPC partner does it for you!) to a destination. It's like the game is telling you "chill out, see the sights"...before you get to killing some scumbags, at least.
Red Dead Redemption is unique because it's a game that I could turn on, accomplish absolutely nothing for hours, and still feel like my time was well spent. It gave me something I rarely get a chance to do in my real, stressful life. Ditch all my responsibilities and completely isolate myself somewhere I've never been before.