Re-enacting the American Frontier in Contemporary Popular Culture: The Western Fantasy of “Red Dead Redemption II”


  • Francesca Razzi



American studies, western, adaptation, frontier, game studies


Grounded in the theoretical framework of adaptation theory (Hutcheon 2006; Flanagan 2017), the present paper discusses the transmedia recreation of the myth of the Western frontier in American contemporary culture. The case study of the blockbuster video game Red Dead Redemption II (Rockstar Games 2018) will help illustrate the enduring success of the Western mythology, whose pervasiveness in American history and 20th-century popular culture cuts across different media and artistic forms (Slotkin 1992; Rosso 2010; Moretti 2018). In fact, Red Dead Redemption II can be understood in terms of creative reinterpretation and interactive counterpart of the literary tropes pertaining to the Western imagery and its representation, a “postwestern rewriting” construed upon textual, rhetorical, and socio-cultural layers (Cawelti 1999; Rosso 2008 and 2016). Defined in a review by The Washington Post as “jaw-dropping,” Red Dead Redemption II simultaneously contains narrative elements (Juul 2001), and matches a kind of “aesthetics of excess” deeply rooted in the late 19th-century literary imagination, which ranges from dime novels to naturalistic fiction (Denning 1998; Newlin 2011; Rosso 2014). At the same time, Red Dead Redemption II represents a transmedia storytelling of the American frontier, whose ‘history’ and experience the player can interactively rewrite. Thus, in its economic and artistic value, this video game renegotiates a cultural myth still appealing to the entertainment industry and its marketplace.


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