By TheShaneTrane 1 Comments
While no stranger to controversy, Rockstar Games (the developers of the popular Grand Theft Auto series) have once again found themselves in the cross-hairs. Their latest release “Red Dead Redemption” is a truly beautiful and highly faceted open-world of wild west tropes which outshines its predecessor in every possible way. It is a thrilling period piece that owes as much to Sergio Leone’s thinly veiled Italian countryside as it does to the Houser brother’s thinly veiled Big Apple. It also features the following achievement:
Dastardly: Place a hogtied woman on the train tracks, and witness her death by train. (5G)
As you can imagine, this achievement has been heavily scrutinized as an example of misogyny. As a feminist I share in these concerns and believe it is about time that we as gamers take an honest look at how the trend of polarized moral choices and reward systems do not so much as open the possibilities of immersion as they direct them through narrow corridors of dangerous subjectivity.
With my Stetson® thrown into that heavily populated ring I shall now move on to addressing the voiceless victim of this achievement: the train.
Since their invention in 1784 no single piece of technology has endured the palpable fear/hatred of mankind more than the locomotive. African American folk-heroes took them on for pride, environmentally conscious modes of transportation took them on for profit, and small children risked millions of lives taking them on for thin pennies. It is easy to trivialize these brazen outbursts of violence as nothing more than symptoms for the general sense of technophobia that human beings feel when facing an iron titan they cannot begin to understand or control. Sure. Take the easy way out, but I’m going to keep on writing anyway.
It is a hatred instilled in us when we are young. Have you ever wondered why so many children’s programs have focused on the rail system? Shining Time Station, Mr. Rogers, School House Rock, and Don Cornelius’s Soul Train all prominently feature trains. Such shows are propaganda in its most egregious form and are devised to begin a three part process: first conspiring curiosity in these vehicles through autopomorphized grins, ritualistically educating audiences on techniques to down the enemy through the redundant plots of “things” being left on the tracks and the “death box” that is the switchyard, and finally using catchy music videos aimed at impressionable young people to build an association between locomotives and loathsome grammar rules. It is a 1-2-3 punch and it is working.
How else can you explain the fact that such an obsolete piece of machinery, irrelevant for nearly a century at this point, should continue to make as many appearances as it does in the clearly biased anti-train media? When did you last hear a positive news story about the Transcontinental Railroad or a feel-good-piece about the convenience of the overpriced sandwiches in the Café Car? Ask yourself that. Then consider the last-time you were passed a meme link to a YouTube video of a car being hit by a train, read coverage of the casualties that resulted from a massive derailing of a British line, or heard someone at your job use an anti-Amtraktic slur like “son of a conductor” or “rail-monkey?”
In 1863 American playwright and known hat-wearer Augustin Daly, taking a lead from Charles Bolton’s earlier work, began production of the play “Under the Gaslight.” In this heavily politicized farce of steam-powered paranoia Daly envisioned a world where man had been pushed to his limits by these (and I quote) “iron faced cog-suckers.” He then illustrated a means by which a man could theoretically sacrifice his own life, or that of another in case he was presently using his own, in hopes of derailing a locomotive with their own bodies once securely fashioned to the tracks, or as he repeatedly put it “blood stained whore stockings of Satan.” The mass hysteria of his prophecy rang true with many and inspired the short story “Captain Tom’s Fright,” a half dozen plays in London which ran concurrently, the 1914 film serial “ The Perils of Pauline,” and countless other appearances across all forms of media.
Constantly berated with such acts of slander and literary terrorism it is no wonder why these gentle behemoths of the industrial revolution have gone into hiding in recent years. Oh, you’ll still see them from time to time, I suppose. Running loudly through the spaces in the tree-line or passive aggressively making you wait for twenty-five minutes at a railroad crossing on your way to work. But can you blame them?
I imagine over the next decade we shall see them less and less until the invention of hover-freights and teleportation pods send them whistling into the distant recesses of the lost wood where so many of our once modern marvels have found themselves. They’ll be happy there, perhaps befriending a flock of Betamax players or seeking alliance with the dial-toneless remains of a once great nation of those old-timey phones with the earpiece on the string that you had to nail to the wall.
It sooths my heart to think of such a future. And it is to that wistful future that I must look as I stand in the world that is and long for a day when no trains will die.