What is the appeal of cowboys?

So Red Dead Redemption 2 is coming out/out[1] and suddenly it seams to be everywhere again.

Its got me thinking, why? I played the first game, didn't enjoy it, just the whole cowboy thing seems kind of dull, none of my friends have played it and the only person I know in real life who seams to be interested in it my brother who is only interested because someone else he talks to is overly hyped for it. Yet online its a different story, I've seen loads of articles about it before it came out, loads of discussion, trailers and now reviews so I've got to wonder, is it just an American thing?

Its not just games, I've tried to watch a few cowboy films and I've never actually watched one all the way through because I just got bored with them. I honestly can't see what part of cowboys is supposed to be fun/interesting so I thought I'd ask, why is Red Dead Redemption popular?

[1] I've honestly not been paying attention to it so not sure if its actually out or just YouTubers playing early

Well, an easy answer is because its a Rockstar game and those tend to always be hyped. I'm not sure if its the cowboy theme that sells it as much as the name of the dev house behind it.

From what I've seen, it's because it's one of the few decent cowboy games out there. Most cowboy movies are uninteresting to me, but the landscape and aesthetics are pretty decent.

Red Dead Redemption knows how to make the wild west atmospheric and cozy.

I wish I could tell you.

Like I know why Red Dead Redemption 2 is so hyped. It's the sequel to a beloved game that had a fantastic story to tell, and was all around great, made by Rockstar, who are known for making great games. I totally get why it's hyped up.

But cowboys? No idea.

I'm guessing it's the whole "Back when man was free to explore and the law was in his own hands, and you were measured purely on how much grit and guts you had" fantasy that the wild west has going for it.

Personally, it does nothing for me. A friend was going to run a Deadlands (wild west but with spooky monsters and so on) tabletop campaign a few years back and the only thing that got me on board was the possibility that I'd be able to play as a full on mad scientist making gadgets out of demon rocks. The wild west just ain't for me.

I prefer full on fantasy games where there really CAN be dragons around the corner, or the freedom of open space where anything can happen from any angle, and so on. What I'm saying is, if I'm gonna play escapist fantasy about freedom and "grit", I want the fantasy to be as cool and epic as possible, unconstrained by the real life limitations of the wild west. And at least recent Far Cry games have the decency to throw in rocket launchers, flamethrowers, fragile/explodey vehicles and wacky off the wall plots to spice up the mundane-ness of the real world.

To frame this in terms of Red Dead: Redemption 2 involves replacing "cowboys" with "westerns". It's a classic American archetype that's like nothing else. The freedom of an open landscape and a pure sense of purpose before life turned into a chaotic bill paying slog filled with traffic and talking heads telling you how to live every second of every day.

There was a study done recently where they found that people demonstrated significantly better mental health when their commutes home from work involved scenic nature settings vs. buildings and other man made distractions. It's important to commune with nature at least once in a while as a way to refresh the mind, body and spirit. The Wild West setting is a more specific and somewhat extreme example of this, but that unbridled feeling of a simpler life is often what people - especially stressed out males - crave.

The Wild West is the American folk setting. We don't have the history that Europe, Egypt or Asia has. Cowboys are to the US as Knights are to England and France.

There's actually very little appeal to cowboys, it's more the appeal of the wild west setting.

Very rarely are "cowboy" movies and games actually about cowboys. They're usually about bounty hunters, law men, gamblers, gunfighters, treasure hunters, bandits, etc. They're almost never about actual cattle farmers.

The reason the wild west has appeal as a setting is that rule of law was fairly minimal in some areas, and order was put into the hands of normal citizens. Everyone was armed, conflict was often settled by a pose, and laws were treated more like guidelines the further away you got from large cities. You can basically take Mad Max, replace the cars with horses, and have a pretty good western with minimal changes.

The Wild west are the arch-typical American Fantasy Genre. The idea of heading into the wilderness and surviving against all odds to build something your own, which kinda dovetails with a lot of the appeal of Mideveal European fantasy, except the American West 150 years ago was a lot less built up then Europe was 1000 years ago. There's also particular appeal to stereotypical American culture such as the power of the gun and rugged individualism triumphing above all.

Ironically, Cowboys are rarely focused on in such works because Cowboys were, as the name implies, Ranchers and Cattle herders. Most Westerns tend to focus on gunslingers, which ironically weren't all that prevalent and the famous gunfights that the west is known for are exceptional because they rarely happened.

Unfortunately, it also tends to have the baggage of that West wasn't empty, because other people did live there and those people were royally screwed over by the encroachment of settlers, including Native Americans whose ancestors had already moved west because they've been pushed off their original lands and they were hoping to escape. And then there's the whole "Remember when the Southwest was part of Mexico until we took it from them in a way started for dubious reasons"? Yeah, Manifest Destiny wasn't fun for a lot of people who weren't American settlers.

Whereas European Fantasy usually just uses Always Chaotic Evil Orcs/Goblins as villians which usally don't map to any particular ethic group in that era(unless they're supposed to be stand-ins for the mongols or something) and feels fairly distanced from the real places and events of that period.

Westerns are awesome. If you disagree it's because you're not awesome and you will never be. It's the true truth.

It reminds me of Scarface- I never got that either but I think both give the audience a glimpse into a situation where they can do pretty much whatever they want and (mostly) get away with it. It's a setting for people who hate cops I guess, idk

>>Very rarely are "cowboy" movies and games actually about cowboys. They're usually about bounty hunters, law men, gamblers, gunfighters, treasure hunters, bandits, etc. They're almost never about actual cattle farmers.

This.

Me specifically, I like the Spaghetti Western sub-genre, and RDR takes quite a lot from it.

aegix drakan:

I prefer full on fantasy games where there really CAN be dragons around the corner, or the freedom of open space where anything can happen from any angle, and so on. What I'm saying is, if I'm gonna play escapist fantasy about freedom and "grit", I want the fantasy to be as cool and epic as possible, unconstrained by the real life limitations of the wild west. And at least recent Far Cry games have the decency to throw in rocket launchers, flamethrowers, fragile/explodey vehicles and wacky off the wall plots to spice up the mundane-ness of the real world.

Would you take well to a fantasy western ala Deadlands?

It's the setting not the cowboys. They can be thrown down a dry musty well as far as I'm concerned. The themes of humanity at its' most morally dubious. Tragedy, struggle and suffering throughout. Horrific acts that were all too real conflicting with other people doing the best they can. The vast wilderness and beautiful landscapes hardly touched. Nature is undeniably pleasant and easy to get lost in. It's only worth it when it's not trying to be black and white with its morals and doesn't shy away from the overall horrid behaviour involved, I should clarify. As with all genres, there are plenty of bad examples that do put people off. To focus on it being about cowboys is to assume all sci-fi appeal is about plasma weaponry and Patrick Stewart wearing a dumb sweater.

Smithnikov:

Would you take well to a fantasy western ala Deadlands?

Hahahaha, dude, I literally mentioned Deadlands in the very same post!

aegix drakan:

A friend was going to run a Deadlands (wild west but with spooky monsters and so on) tabletop campaign a few years back and the only thing that got me on board was the possibility that I'd be able to play as a full on mad scientist making gadgets out of demon rocks.

So yeah, I only was interested when I found out I could be a goofy mad scientist. :P

Smithnikov:
>>Very rarely are "cowboy" movies and games actually about cowboys. They're usually about bounty hunters, law men, gamblers, gunfighters, treasure hunters, bandits, etc. They're almost never about actual cattle farmers.

This.

Me specifically, I like the Spaghetti Western sub-genre, and RDR takes quite a lot from it.

True. Those westerns in particular are very, very grey in their morality, especially since very few of the protagonists can be considered heros by any stretch. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly especially is notable for being less about good guys and bad guys and more about three gunslingers willing to do pretty much anything to get a ton of missing cash, and occasionally stuck in the middle of a morally dubious war(The American Civil War).

Saelune:
The Wild West is the American folk setting. We don't have the history that Europe, Egypt or Asia has. Cowboys are to the US as Knights are to England and France.

They're more like Ronin

Dalisclock:
The Wild west are the arch-typical American Fantasy Genre. The idea of heading into the wilderness and surviving against all odds to build something your own, which kinda dovetails with a lot of the appeal of Mideveal European fantasy, except the American West 150 years ago was a lot less built up then Europe was 1000 years ago. There's also particular appeal to stereotypical American culture such as the power of the gun and rugged individualism triumphing above all.

Ironically, Cowboys are rarely focused on in such works because Cowboys were, as the name implies, Ranchers and Cattle herders. Most Westerns tend to focus on gunslingers, which ironically weren't all that prevalent and the famous gunfights that the west is known for are exceptional because they rarely happened.

Unfortunately, it also tends to have the baggage of that West wasn't empty, because other people did live there and those people were royally screwed over by the encroachment of settlers, including Native Americans whose ancestors had already moved west because they've been pushed off their original lands and they were hoping to escape. And then there's the whole "Remember when the Southwest was part of Mexico until we took it from them in a way started for dubious reasons"? Yeah, Manifest Destiny wasn't fun for a lot of people who weren't American settlers.

Whereas European Fantasy usually just uses Always Chaotic Evil Orcs/Goblins as villians which usally don't map to any particular ethic group in that era(unless they're supposed to be stand-ins for the mongols or something) and feels fairly distanced from the real places and events of that period.

^As he puts it. Its the American (and maybe Australian) mythology. Folklore of a (theoretically) free era with heroes and villains that individually mattered and could shape matters.

Westerns are, in general a pretty idealized and far from historically accurate depictions as much as medieval knights (and samurai/ninja) usually are in media.

Of course, not many tend to break out of a fairly narrow mold of pseudo-realism or small stakes. Which can be an appeal or a negative depending on your taste. Since the US is an offshoot of Europeans, fantastical mythology like Dragons, or Golbins, and the like doesn't really exist within Americana with few exceptions. Similarly, other then maybe a handful of battles with Spain or Mexico, there's no grand-scale epic battles to be waged (or against Native Americans which would be a can of worms to delve into)

They're versatile enough as a narrative device that they can inspire an array of filmmakers as talented and diverse as John Ford, Howard Hawkes, Sam Peckinpah, Sergio Leone, Alejandro Jodorowsky, John Carpenter, Quentin Tarantino and the Coens. Cormac McCarthy's written his best novels as Westerns. What's not to like?

Adam Jensen:
Westerns are awesome. If you disagree it's because you're not awesome and you will never be. It's the true truth.

What if you factor in the fact that if I was placed in those times, I would be less than human, given no rights, and no real way to get Justice, no matter what Django Unchained would have anyone to believe?

Still not awesome?

We have a fetish for criminals. Surely, the honourable thief won't come for my money....

The hats...and probably something about masculinity and 'living off the land' and a whole lot of nonsense no one actually believes. I think its the same appeal as pirates, space marines, slender Elf hotties and orcs vs humans. Writers are just talent-less hacks who tell us what they think we think we want to see, and that's it.

I agree with the above.

It is mostly an American thing because it is American history.

Look at (tabletop) RPG. Most of them are fantasy. But a surprisingly large number are western. But not a single one of those western RPGs is actually somewhat popular outside the USA, The rest of the world just doesn't find it that interesting as a setting.

And is anyone surprised that there is also a quite impressive if smaller number of RPGs with the Victorian Age as setting, most of them coming from England ?

Sure, some Western movies were worldwide successes. But not necessarily because they were Western, setting is only one of many things that might make a movie successfull.

Even Western literature, well. There are several worldwide successfull novels of the American west. But most of them tend to be more about the natives than cowboys and such. Combining the clichee of the noble savage with the allure of the exotic, where the European descent Americans are just boring white people.

ObsidianJones:

Adam Jensen:
Westerns are awesome. If you disagree it's because you're not awesome and you will never be. It's the true truth.

What if you factor in the fact that if I was placed in those times, I would be less than human, given no rights, and no real way to get Justice, no matter what Django Unchained would have anyone to believe?

Still not awesome?

So then every time period is terrible and no media should ever be enjoyed of any of those time periods right? After all, people have been constantly oppressed throughout all of human history.

ObsidianJones:

Adam Jensen:
Westerns are awesome. If you disagree it's because you're not awesome and you will never be. It's the true truth.

What if you factor in the fact that if I was placed in those times, I would be less than human, given no rights, and no real way to get Justice, no matter what Django Unchained would have anyone to believe?

Still not awesome?

Like most people you fail to understand one crucial thing about westerns. A western is in some ways a fantasy setting. I'd say that there's a sub-genre of low fantasy that doesn't rely on magic and mythological creatures, but instead it relies on romanticizing reality to absurd degrees. That's what westerns do. You shouldn't take them seriously.

Westerns romanticized them. And RDR is the only AAA game that does western right, afaik. Plus, it's R*.

Wild west thread.

Cowboys hit a part of the American cultural consciousness like knights do in Europe or samurai and ninja do in Japan.

Johnny Novgorod:
They're versatile enough as a narrative device that they can inspire an array of filmmakers as talented and diverse as John Ford, Howard Hawkes, Sam Peckinpah, Sergio Leone, Alejandro Jodorowsky, John Carpenter, Quentin Tarantino and the Coens. Cormac McCarthy's written his best novels as Westerns. What's not to like?

Also a lot of good things that aren't Westerns that are actually Westerns, like some of Cormac McCarthy and the Cohen's other work, Taylor Sheridan's Wind River and Hell or High Water, Mystery Road, Cowboy Bebop, and Trigun.

Dalisclock:

Smithnikov:
>>Very rarely are "cowboy" movies and games actually about cowboys. They're usually about bounty hunters, law men, gamblers, gunfighters, treasure hunters, bandits, etc. They're almost never about actual cattle farmers.

This.

Me specifically, I like the Spaghetti Western sub-genre, and RDR takes quite a lot from it.

True. Those westerns in particular are very, very grey in their morality, especially since very few of the protagonists can be considered heros by any stretch. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly especially is notable for being less about good guys and bad guys and more about three gunslingers willing to do pretty much anything to get a ton of missing cash, and occasionally stuck in the middle of a morally dubious war(The American Civil War).

RDR and apparently 2 also draw a lot from The Wild Bunch if you've seen that one.

"Cowboy Western" had its day. It still has its fans. And some day there will be a popular resurgence. But right now we're in the middle of seeing it through clearer historical lenses. In actuality it was mostly more boring than the folklore it popularized, and the "exciting" bits often had properly barbaric and distasteful underpinnings (by today's standards.) Even Tombstone's opening narration only sounds bombastic... until you look at it. "With murder rates higher than those of modern-day New York or Los Angeles." When you think about that, population differences being what they are... that means not very many murders at all actually. Too many to be sure... but in total, not very many. I live in a town where Billy the Kid's mother signed the town charter and our police force actually employed Wyatt Earp himself. Yet in the entire 19th century my state only had 20-30 law enforcement officers die in the line of duty (the number varies depending on a number of factors including as an example how you look at the "police" status of someone deputized as part of a "posse.") Because of where I live, I have a fascination with the Wild West as a setting. But I think without that sense of local interest... it probably only has niche appeal really. The occasional game (like RDR) and movie (like the sporadic Westerns we get nowadays) are enough to scratch the itch demanded by the few of us that enjoy Westerns, and not bore everyone else with genre over-saturation.

I too am all about the spaghetti western. (Other than the lack of female leads. Seriously like 2, across hundreds of films.)

Spaghetti Westerns take place in a hyper west. As unrealistic as arthurian legends are to medieval times. The real west wasn't that wild. It was boring, and rough. Filled less with legendary bandits, and more banal evil, like industrealists and the govment.

I would actually prefer the Red Dead games to be more Spaghetti western, but they seem intent on doing post revisionist westerns, which hey, it seems they do well.

I also want more fantastic westerns, weird westerns, stuff like The Dark Tower.

A bit off topic but I want a Western game in the similar vein of East and West

image

Silentpony:
The hats...and probably something about masculinity and 'living off the land' and a whole lot of nonsense no one actually believes. I think its the same appeal as pirates, space marines, slender Elf hotties and orcs vs humans. Writers are just talent-less hacks who tell us what they think we think we want to see, and that's it.

You know that they never wore the hats you see in the movies. They wore fedora-esque hat. That a Hollywood invention. Just as it being a violent place. Most towns banned all guns to reduce violence. There were also hardly any bank robberies.

We like the Western created by Hollywood. In actual fact, it was more like Brokeback mountain. Although with more rape

trunkage:

Silentpony:
The hats...and probably something about masculinity and 'living off the land' and a whole lot of nonsense no one actually believes. I think its the same appeal as pirates, space marines, slender Elf hotties and orcs vs humans. Writers are just talent-less hacks who tell us what they think we think we want to see, and that's it.

You know that they never wore the hats you see in the movies. They wore fedora-esque hat. That a Hollywood invention. Just as it being a violent place. Most towns banned all guns to reduce violence. There were also hardly any bank robberies.

We like the Western created by Hollywood. In actual fact, it was more like Brokeback mountain. Although with more rape

And more guns. People can freely carry weapons more now than then.

Adam Jensen:

ObsidianJones:

Adam Jensen:
Westerns are awesome. If you disagree it's because you're not awesome and you will never be. It's the true truth.

What if you factor in the fact that if I was placed in those times, I would be less than human, given no rights, and no real way to get Justice, no matter what Django Unchained would have anyone to believe?

Still not awesome?

Like most people you fail to understand one crucial thing about westerns. A western is in some ways a fantasy setting. I'd say that there's a sub-genre of low fantasy that doesn't rely on magic and mythological creatures, but instead it relies on romanticizing reality to absurd degrees. That's what westerns do. You shouldn't take them seriously.

I've been meaning to watch Deadwood. I've heard it comes pretty close to an authentic depiction of the West back then.

 

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