I recently reconnected with the brilliant and engaging Harrison Gish, a college friend and now a Ph.D. candidate studying games and other media at UCLA. Harrison was one of the first people I met who took what you might call “popcorn movies” really seriously on an intellectual level. He always found more in them than I had realized was there: reflections of the times, cultures, mythologies and personalities involved—and he was able to distill these disparate elements into something more than surface meaning. Anyhow, we got back in touch, and I was delighted to discover that he’s turned his spotlight of a mind onto video games.

Harrison more or less strong-armed me into playing Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption, a game that I had skipped with great gusto, not having enjoyed Grand Theft Auto IV. I like Red Dead better, and I was inspired to write my fellow Marston a letter, in character (ish). Here’s our initial exchange, hopefully to be continued.

Hey HZAB0t

Back and forth letters about games are so hot right now. It’s a ridiculous affectation on the part of people who (like us) think too much about games, but I also think it’s kind of funny—and ripe for satire. So without further adieu, I present you the first letter in what I hope will be an ongoing series between John “Gish” Marston and John “Max” Marston. Monosyllables make better nicknames.

Kind regards,

"I am looking down a hall of mirrors..."

Dear Mister John “Gish” Marston,

I hope this message finds you well. You west coast city folk are oft occupied with concerns both complex and morally dubious, which I imagine must take its toll on a man. Do not allow this to test your spirits, however, but instead recall what our blind Scottish father always told us when we were young: “Keep a dram in your glass and a whore on her bed, and let the bastards have it when their backs are turned.” Of course, Pa was perhaps no lodestone to set your moral compass by.

As for my own trials, I have faced more than a few of late. At your behest, I have undertaken to pursue my former companions. You know, the ones from the gang? Bill Williamson, and presumably several other fellows. It is the damnedest thing, but I cannot recall their names just now, having not yet heard anyone speak them. Some government men are forcing me to do this by threatening my family, whom I presumably love.

Due to gross incompetence, I allowed myself to be gutshot by Bill Williamson early on in this pursuit. As it was a cutscene bullet, the wound was serious. Fortunately, a woman rancher saved me. She has taken a liking to me, no doubt because I am polite and implausibly verbose for a bounty hunter with mysterious political connections and a heavy burden of conscience.

Speaking of exposition, have you noticed that times are changing? For they surely are. The Indian wars are largely over, and old women and preachers are fond of smugly relating this fact on trains. In addition to railroads and steamboats, we now have horseless carriages and telephonic discourse lines—even down here in Armadillo. Which I take to be a version of Amarillo Texas, despite the fact that the prevalent cactus include Saguaro, which grow primarily in Arizona and Mexico.

There I go again, finding fault. Inaccurate cactus notwithstanding, it is a beautiful country. Everything is highly detailed, and I can see quite far. I would be remiss not to mention the way that the muscles flex and ripple in my horses’ hindquarters—it’s quite thrilling to observe.

I frequently hear music when no diegetic source is present, and for a time I feared I might be going mad. Upon further reflection, I take this to be a genre convention of the Western and am willing to accept it.

But I fear I’m getting off track, and out of character. I was endeavoring to speak of the work I have found, in lieu of pursuing my primary goal. To begin with, I have shot many things, including a buck, an owl and a coyote. Oh, and several horse-thieves. It seems to be a fashion among the horse-thieves in this area to carry between $4 and $5 on their persons. You have to wonder how that sort of thing gets started.

I quite like the Sheriff here in Armadillo. He and I have much in common. We both have ill-advised facial hair, and we are both well voice-acted. I hope we will remain friends, and that he will neither die tragically nor prove to be corrupt and standing in the way of my quest (when I see fit to return to it, that is). I was going to see him the other night when I ran into a woman who had somehow lost her son. Upon investigation, it appears the boy has been eaten by cannibals. I have not seen fit to inform the Sheriff or the distraught mother, yet I feel that I have done the honorable thing somehow.

I hope to hear of your own adventures soon. I believe that you are further along in your quest than I, and perhaps you have some wisdom or insight to share. Can a man change his fate, when that fate has been decided by the Housers? Perhaps we’ll know in time.

Fondly, I remain,
Your alternate self,
John “Max” Marston



Thanks so much for forwarding these excellent exchanges, particularly those between Bissell and Ferrari. Fascinating stuff, and very interesting to hear two fellows who fall on different sides of a divide that I hope and continually attempt to straddle hashing out and working through their differences. I’m also pleased to be turned on to Paste, which is quite the informed blog that goes beyond simple gaming news.


Dear Mister John “Max” Marston,

Terrific to hear from you, dear friend. It has been too long since last we exchanged both pleasantries and details of our personal journeys, and it is very good to hear of both your current station and progress through the glorious American southwest. While I am too much of a heathen and a self-determinist to claim that this is God’s country, I would be a downright liar were I to tell you that this expansive land did not move me spiritually. There’s always something to do around Armadillo–where I have also found myself recently–but one of the true joys I receive daily is in traveling between the missions Bonnie MacFarlane, the Armadillo sheriff, and the fair townsfolk have for me. There is a resplendent nature and meditative quality to galloping these barely formed roads on my trusty stallion, and therein lies what I might term a “pleasure in process” or a “meditation in movement.” I can reflect on myself, my station in life, and the serenity of the landscape while I travel through it, only to be brought back harshly and directly to my senses when attacked by sickly wolves or highwaymen.

Recently, I’ve passed the time raiding canyon outposts and mining shafts populated with criminals and vagabonds. Dreaming I was a man named Niko, living inside an urban nightmare, allowed me to have an innate knowledge of gunplay that exceeds my own rather limited experience. You will recall how cocky a man I can be. Walking into a mine shaft with my volcanic pistol or rifle drawn, I have successfully laid waste to numerous cretins and boxes of TNT with the same excessive zeal, frequently attempting not to hide behind barriers in the completion of securing a machine gun or finding hidden treasure. This emboldens me as a rogue gunfighter and bounty hunter. Blowing off a man’s hat and head while fully exposed is the equivalent of giving the middle finger to these uncontrollable impediments to progress and the tightly regimented world within which both they and I live. No doubt as I continue exploring the vastness of what I assume to be Texas, I will have to become more cautious, strategizing more and not walking into gunfire with careless abandon and an unwholesome confidence.

One other comment, before I allow you to return to your adventures. I have noticed that the natural laws of Armadillo are frequently violable. For example, attempting to jump my horse over a rather low fence, I embarrassingly did not vault high enough, and instead caught the horse’s midsection on the upper rung of the fence–And there the horse remained, seeming to float as if possessed by a spirit!! Also, raiding a canyon recently, I completed my task, ridding the world of a horde of lecherous thieves. After being informed of my success, both my horse and myself were inexplicably visited by the Reaper. My only explanation is that this was a fever dream; I awoke to find my horse tethered outside Ms. Bonnie MacFarlane’s farm.

Anyhow, time is short and I have preparations to make for the morrow. I look forward to continuing our discussion, and hearing more concerning your progress.

Sincerely yours,
Your alternate self,
John “Gish” Marston