Red Dead's History

A Video Game, an Obsession, and America's Violent Past

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Pub Date 06 Aug 2024 | Archive Date 20 Aug 2024


A pathbreaking new way to examine US history, through the lens of a bestselling video game

Red Dead Redemption and Red Dead Redemption II, set in 1911 and 1899, are the most-played American history video games since The Oregon Trail. Beloved by millions, they’ve been widely acclaimed for their realism and attention to detail. But how do they fare as re-creations of history?

In this engaging book, award-winning American history professor Tore Olsson takes up that question and more. Weaving the games’ plots and characters into an exploration of American violence between 1870 and 1920, Olsson shows that it was more often disputes over capitalism and race, not just poker games and bank robberies, that fueled the bloodshed of these turbulent years. As such, this era has much to teach us today. From the West to the Deep South to Appalachia, Olsson reveals the gritty and brutal world that inspired the games, but sometimes lacks context and complexity on the digital screen. Colorful, fast-paced, and dramatic, Red Dead’s History sheds light on dark corners of the American past for gamers and history buffs alike.

A pathbreaking new way to examine US history, through the lens of a bestselling video game

Red Dead Redemption and Red Dead Redemption II, set in 1911 and 1899, are the most-played American history...

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ISBN 9781250287700
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Average rating from 12 members

Featured Reviews

A good way to introduce the history of 'the west' to those who might not normally read history. Essentially, using the videogame as an educational tool, while also picking apart the plot of the game for historical accuracy. Well worth a read.

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As a huge fan of the Red Dead Redemption franchise, I was excited to receive a copy of this ARC. The author seamlessly blends scenes from Red Dead Redemption 2 with the actual history it was inspired by. Although the author is a fan and praises many things the game got right, he doesn't shy away from taking it to task for its occasional lapses in judgment (like its lazy stereotyping of the Appalachian region and its people). Overall, if you're a Red Dead fan who also enjoys an entertaining history lesson, it's definitely worth picking up!

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

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Engaging and enlightening, Olssen delves into the historical context behind Red Dead Redemption 2 and gifts both historians and gamers a thoughtful look at the social and political constructs that defined the era depicted in the game. I learned lots about the history of the West, the South, and the Southern Appalachias, and the various factors that led to their modern-day depictions and stereotypes. This book scratched a particularly good itch and has me very excited to play through RDR2 again, now with historical context that will enhance my play through. I appreciate what Olssen does with this book, resembling what was likely his class’s outline, in tackling the various social issues that the game spotlights chronologically from the perspective of a fan of the game.
This was an exciting read, thank you Tore C. Olssen, St. Martin’s Press, and Netgalley.

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