Zen and the art of slow gaming

Red Dead Redemption 2 by Rockstar Games is a masterpiece in gaming according to its era’s pace. In the game you play as gunslinger Arthur Morgan, senior member of the Van der Linde gang, at the end of the Wild West era in 1899. The open world of the game contains extensive flora and fauna, created with a crazy attention to detail. The balls of a stallion for example are significantly smaller when you’re high up in the cold mountains.

There is a story in the game, with missions and side-missions, and they’re great. But I loved the game the most when I was just roaming about. Get on your horse and ride out, hunting for animals, have a trapper turn your perfect pelts into crafted garments, and sleep in your bedroll under the stars.

Everything in the game works according to the pace of this late 19th century world. There is no Starbucks, so if you want coffee, you have to make it yourself. Build a fire, take out your Ground Coffee and use a percolator. Every zip requires an action on your game pad. Same with food. You can buy a meal in a saloon or hotel, but out in the wild you have to cook your hunted animal meat yourself, one piece at a time. If you want to spice things up, you have to go out and find herbs.

You also need to take care of yourself and your horse in the game. Eat and sleep regularly. You can skip a night, but nothing replenishes your stamina, health and dead eye cores like a good night sleep. As for your horse, its stamina and health diminish when it needs a brush. You also increase the bond with your horse by brushing, which unlocks special skills like rearing, skid turns and drifting.

Things just take time in RDR2. When you build a ranch, you have to hit X on your pad for every nail. If you want to travel a great distance, the only alternative to your own horse is a stagecoach or a train. There is a so-called fast-travel option in the game but it’s quite limited, and actually takes longer than a stagecoach. The best way to travel though is on your own horse. Mark the destination on the map and activate the cinematic mode. Sit back on your couch and enjoy the beautiful scenery and soundtrack.

This might all sound tedious, especially for impatient players who are used to fast-paced games like Fortnite in Battle Royale mode. But Red Dead Redemption 2 is slow gaming at its best and rewards players who surrender to its pace. Except perhaps for one challenge: hunting for moose. It drives people crazy.

RDR2 presents over two hundred species of wildlife animals: mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, both big and large. The rarest of them all is the moose. Its pelt, when in perfect condition which is a challenge in itself, unlocks special garments. And if you want to enhance your gang’s camp, you need a bull moose specifically, for its antlers. That narrows it down even further.

Contrary to other main mammals there is no fixed place on the map where the moose spawns. There are a few areas where it has been sparsely sighted. Mostly early in the game, I noticed, when you have other priorities. So shoot it as soon as you see one because it might take a while before you encounter another one.

By the time I got around to hunting for a bull moose, I couldn’t find one anywhere. I visited all known spots in different corners of the game world over and over. I slept at those locations, several nights, hoping for a spawn the next day. All to no avail. I’ve seen every moose video on YouTube looking for hints and read every moose thread on Reddit, including the one speculating that moose spawns are broken. After a week I was ready to throw in the towel. Frustrated I was about to quit the game altogether. On my way back to camp and the regular game missions, I decided to check one final spot.

And suddenly there it was. A majestic bull moose and a moose cow, walking through the water of Owanjila lake together. My heart almost stopped. I had to put away my binoculars and switch to a sniper rifle. I was afraid it would vanish in that instant as the animation looked a bit buggy. As if it was a glitch in the game the moose was walking there in the first place. Fortunately it was still there in my sights. I pulled the trigger. The pelt wasn’t perfect but I got the antlers. I have never hunted for real in my life and I probably never will, but in that moment I felt a rush I never felt before playing a videogame.

RDR2 taught me patience is nature’s biggest secret and I managed to unlock it. Happy holidays, Rockstar Games, you guys earned it.

This piece is also published on Medium.

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