Capturing the Wild. Virtual Horses in the Video Game Red Dead Redeption II
  • Research, Publication
  • Time: 2020

Screen-capture of horse riding gameplay in RDR2, © Pascal M. Dreier & Thomas Hawranke

Animals are an integral part of a globally operating entertainment industry: from sketched, anthropomorphised mice, to trained, “talking” dogs, to digitally captured horses. They are protagonists on television, on the cinema screen, and in computer games. The animal rights organisation PETA criticises the treatment and use of animals in media production and at the same time proposes a solution. By creating animals digitally (such as in Planet of the Apes), potential exploitation within the production process can be prevented.

For digital productions, animals are measured, recreated, animated, and their movements are recorded using motion capture systems. This standardisation of the animal is contrasted with a desideratum of the animal as an individual in the game world [1]. We take this moment as a starting point to look critically at the media production that uses animal representations as part of its staging. Working with the in-game horses of the blockbuster computer game Red Dead Redemption 2 [2], we show how animals transport the theme of "wildness" and thus constitute the motif of the game's depicted "Wild West" [3] [4]. Furthermore, we explore the potential and problems of techniques such as capturing, taming and bonding in regards to approaching new and deeper player-animal relations. Finally – on the production level – we analyse the applied technology against the background of its culture-creating effects and ethical issues.

Link to the editorial (in German) ↗

[1] Abend, Pablo / Thomas Hawranke: Deep Hanging Out mit dem vermeintlich
[2] Rockstar Studios (Developer): Red Dead Redemption 2. New York: Rockstar Games 2018.

[3] Norton, Mary Beth: A people & a nation. A history of the United States. 9th ed. Australia/Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning 2012.

[4] Ohrem, Dominik (Hrsg.): American Beasts - Perspectives on Animals, Animality and U.S. Culture, 1776-1920. Berlin: Neofelis 2017.

Dreier, Pascal Marcel, and Thomas Hawranke. “Capturing the Wild. Virtuelle Pferde im Computerspiel Red Dead Redemption 2.” In Tiere und / als Medien, by Jessica Ullrich and Stefan Rieger, 97–110. Berlin: Neofelis Verlag, 2020.