I wasn't sure about potential spoilers, so I went ahead and marked the post as such to be on the safe side.
WARNING: WALL OF TEXT
FOREWORD: WHY I'M DOING THIS
Howdy, partners. I don't know if you're like me, but if you are, then your mind wanders extensively when you're taking in the inescapable beauty of RDR2. I'm a huge fan of history, Old West history especially so. Also, I make maps for a living. Geography and history appeal to my mind very acutely, so this is the area my mind tends to wander in.
I went into RDR2 aware of R*'s habit for creating lifelike environments; I've spent the last 5 or so years of playing GTA5 roaming around, seeing a location, and thinking, "Hey, I've been there!" Knowing R*'s penchant for detail and accuracy, I was also aware of they hype surrounding RDR2 this entire year; people have only been calling it the "most detailed" game ever created every day on every website since February.
With all this in mind, when I started playing the game back in October and experiencing the scenery for the first time, I would find myself thinking the same thing as with GTA5: "Hey, I've been there!" Only this time, unlike in GTA5 where I knew exactly which parts of Los Angeles and the surrounding areas the game was representing to me, there was more uncertainty. It was more like deja vu, thinking to myself, "I know I've been there, but where was it?"
In my following of the RDR community, I've seen a handful of attempts to equate the in-game locations to real-life counterparts, but none of them have completely sated me. You see, I have this mythic vision in my head when I'm playing RDR2, where I can mentally place myself somewhere in the real world based on what I observe within the game. I've found that my opinions differ quite a bit from others' that I've seen around, so I wanted to throw my hat in the ring. Not as a way to say "I'm right and everyone else is wrong," but to add my knowledge to the collective discussion about this subject, because I've seen that I'm not the only one out there asking these questions.
A NOTE ABOUT MY METHODS, AND SOME GENERAL OBSERVATIONS
First of all, I'm fully aware that R* created the world of RDR as a collection or amalgamation of real places and regions, and therefore not every game location will have an exact real-life counterpart. It's difficult for me personally as a geographer, but it's necessary to accept the fact that the world of the game is NOT simply a scaled-down version of the United States and Mexico. Compromises had to be made for scale when making the game environment, because after all, this is a story-driven action game, not Microsoft Flight Simulator.
Second, I'll be taking an unpopular stance – unpopular at least in regards to most other opinions I've read. I'm aware of the existence of "states" as such within the game: New Austin, New Hannover, West Elizabeth, and Lemoyne. I'll be rejecting the idea that these "states" are legitimate analogues of any real, single American state, but rather combinations of several states, for reasons you'll see below.
Third, I won't be basing my conclusions 100% on geography, but I'll also take into account in-game lore to find matches. From my playing these past 2 months, I've found that what the locations mean to the characters contained within the game matter just as much as what they mean to me.
Fourth, I've been fortunate enough in my life to have lived and traveled in a lot of U.S. states. I meant it when I said that a lot of these locations cause me to think, "Hey, I've been there!" So a lot of what I'm basing my conclusions on are the things I've seen with my own eyes.
These locations can be accurately matched based on inferred details from the game as well as commentary made about the game.
1. Bayou Nwa
Louisiana, specifically the area including and surrounding New Orleans. Saint Denis as a representation of New Orleans has been covered so frequently that I don't have any more details to add.
2. San Luis River
Rio Grande River. The most prominent riverine boundary between the US and Mexico.
2. MY OWN DEDUCTIONS
1. Ambarino / Grizzlies West
Northern Colorado and western Wyoming. The mountains in Grizzlies West strongly resemble "high country" along the border between Colorado and Wyoming, especially in the Medicine Bow and Arapahoe National Forests. The mountains feature low-prominence peaks consistent with the ranges in these areas, and feature several glacial moraine bodies of water that are frequently found there. Lack of major settlements make more specific placement than this.
2. Ambarino / Grizzlies East & New Hanover / Cumberland Forest
Black Hills of South Dakota and Wyoming. Three Sisters gave me the strongest clue to this region, closely resembling The Needles) in the Black Hills. Elsewhere, the Wapiti sacred site that Rains Fall and Arthur visit, located northwest of O'Creagh's Run, indicate that the region is culturally significant to the Wapiti, a Lakota-speaking people. The Black Hills have long been a sacred location to the Lakota of the northern Midwest, once included by treaty within the confines of the Great Sioux Reservation but taken away, along with other lands, by several acts passed by the US Government. Rains Fall alludes to these broken treaties at several points, including in reference to the present location of the Wapiti Reservation, which had been moved several times as a result of these broken treaties.
3. New Hanover / The Heartlands
Eastern Colorado. The high terrain features in the western part of the Heartlands appears to be eroded sandstone in the manner found in areas around Colorado Springs and Pueblo, CO, specifically Garden of the Gods and Red Rock Canyon. Moving further east drops you into rolling plains and occasional prominent buttes in eastern Colorado, like ones found in the Pawnee National Grasslands.
Valentine represents a generalized cattle-boom town, more characteristic of the mid-1800s than the very end of the century, however the location of Valentine in the context of the previous paragraph lends itself to several examples that still exist today, like Canon City, CO. The cow-town feel, especially with the stockyards in Valentine, would have been characteristic of settlements that developed along the Goodnight-Loving Trail that ran through Colorado. The settlements that were able to persist were usually serviced by both rail and stage lines, like Valentine.
4. New Hanover / Roanoke Ridge
Eastern Kentucky, southeast Missouri, northeast Arkansas. The hilly areas lend themselves strongly to the geography of the Ozarks, as well as the culture, which you'll find in examples like the Butcher's Creek community, who live in a manner similar to many turn-of-the-century communities in the Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Kentucky hills. Also to consider is the economy, which appears to rely on coal mining coming out of the Annesburg settlement, which was and still is common in eastern Kentucky and aided by the presence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, much like the Kamassa and Lannahechee Rivers in the game.
Also notable is Fort Brennard, headquarters of the Lemoyne Raiders. A specific letter looted from a Lemoyne Raider indicates that the Raiders are considered by many to be "Border Ruffians." This title was applied to guerilla bands operating out of Missouri before and during the Civil War in an effort to undermine democracy in Kansas, and later to support the regular Confederate army when violence did break out. This leads me, personally, to believe that parts of Roanoke Ridge represent Missouri. Also notable is that many Border Ruffians who did not cease their raiding and violent ways after the Civil War turned to crime, including individuals like Jesse and Frank James, as well as the Younger brothers.
5. Lemoyne / Scarlett Meadows
Georgia, specifically the rural areas around Atlanta. This one was really interesting. Scarlett Meadows is incredibly unique in its geography, one of the most notable reasons why is its soil. Dark brown/red soil is abundant, and a lot of areas in the US claim this kind of soil. However, the soil type (Ultisoil) is most prominent in the southeastern US. Interestingly, one of the subtypes of Ultisoil is called Cecil), present and prominent in the Piedmont) region of the US. Cecil Rhodes was a British imperialist and white supremacist, and the settlement of Rhodes is in this region.
Also noteworthy is the spelling of Scarlett, normally with one 't' when referring to the color, however one of the main characters in the novel 'Gone With The Wind' was Scarlett O'Hara, set on a plantation near Atlanta during and after the Civil War. The town of Jonesboro in Georgia was the basis for the fictional plantation in the book, and even today there are several attractions related to the book in the city. Additionally, the Stately Oaks historic site in Jonesboro has a resemblance to the Gray family manor at Caliga Hall.
Finally, Stone Mountain near Atlanta carries a resemblance to Face Rock north of Rhodes, in that it is an isolated rock or knob rising abruptly from the surrounding terrain.
6. West Elizabeth / Big Valley
Front Range of the Colorado Rockies. Little Creek River closely resembles the terrain around the Big Thompson River in northern Colorado. The presence of the nearby settlement of Strawberry bears a close resemblance to the resort town of Breckenridge, which was originally established in response to a gold rush in that area. Several random encounters along the Little Creek River and the nearby Dakota River involve prospectors panning for, and finding, gold. It was only after the gold veins had been mined out that Breckenridge became more known as a resort destination, however. Trinidad and Durango, CO are also fairly good candidates for Strawberry, thanks to local proximity to rivers in the way that Hawk's Eye Creek runs through the settlement in the game.
7. West Elizabeth / Tall Trees
Northern New Mexico. Specifically, the Carson National Forest which covers a large area north of Santa Fe. Being both covered in hilly, heavily-forested areas, but also containing mountainous terrain (Cochinay and surrounding areas in the game, Sangre de Cristo Mountains in real life) make this the best candidate to me.
8. New Austin / Hennigan's Stead
West Texas and eastern New Mexico. In assessing the areas from RDR1, I'll likely be less verbose since they've been covered pretty extensively.
9. New Austin / Cholla Springs
Southern New Mexico. Specifically, the area around Las Cruces, which is also what I believe to be a close analogue to Armadillo. The abundance of cacti in the area make it clear that this is a desert environment, while Pike's Basin is startlingly similar to the nearby Dripping Springs Natural Area. Additionally, the Organ Mountains bear strong resemblance to the mountains surrounding the impassible northern border of Cholla Springs.
10. New Austin / Rio Bravo and Gaptooth Ridge
Southern Arizona. The abundance of Saguaro Cacti in this region and other natural features are strongly reminiscent of the Sonoran Desert. Also, the presence of Fort Mercer strategically along the Mexican border is very similar to Fort Huachuca. Finally, I believe that Tumbleweed is meant to be an analogue for Tombstone, AZ. Both towns sit in hilly terrain rising above the desert floor in most places, both towns had reputations for being somewhat lawless, and both towns degraded over time. By the time of RDR1, Tumbleweed is essentially abandoned save for some gang activity, much like the town of Tombstone suffered following the failure of silver mining in the area.
3. WHERE I HAVE NO IDEA
You've probably noticed the Great Plains area, especially Blackwater, missing from my analysis. This area, in all honesty confounded me. I'm nearly sure that Great Plains is an amalgamation of Texas and Oklahoma, but what troubled me was Blackwater. I've had reason to suspect that Blackwater was based on several real-life cities, such as Texas City (based on location and layout), Houston (based on political significance), and Oklahoma City (also based on political significance). Blackwater is obviously a politically significant city and the seat of state government in the game, as it's referenced multiple times that Nate Johns is defending his title of governor, and the various government buildings that occupy the north end of the town in the game. What makes this detail important is that, if West Elizabeth were a territory and not a state, a governor would have been appointed, not elected. If Nate Johns was already incumbent governor by RDR1, 1912, he would have been elected in 1908. Oklahoma was admitted to the Union as a state in 1907.
(However, it's also possible that the title of Governor was would have been a new creation had West Elizabeth become a state in 1912, and Nate Johns would have been running for the inaugural title. The 2 states to join the Union in 1912 were Arizona and New Mexico. I don't believe that Great Plains is analogue to either of these states, but I would be remiss if I didn't include that information here after everything else I've written.)
AFTERWORD: WHAT DOES ANY OF THIS MEAN
I don't know, truth be told. I love geography, I love history, I love Americana, I love the Old West. These are just things I think that I felt like sharing. You might think R* had no real-world analogues in mind when they made the game in the first place, and that all the game locations are completely fictitious, made-up places to explore in the context of some American West fantasy land. That's okay if you think that. Sometimes when I'm playing, I get to wrapped around the axle thinking about this subject, and I remind myself, "A bunch of dudes in a design studio made up this whole world, it could mean anything, you dingus." I understand where you're coming from if you think that, too.
But…I don't know. Part of my, a large part, wants to believe that I'm actually riding around parts of America that I recognize, it is actually 1899, and I can behave as myself would probably behave if I were around back then. The world in RDR2 is just simply that amazing, and beautiful, and diverse, that I can get a little carried away with my thoughts.
Also, I'm with my relatives for Christmas and I'd rather think about the game than talk to anyone.
Discuss if you'd like, point out flaws if you'd like, don't call me a dingus though because I'm aware that I'm a dingus.
© Post "I’d like to share my serious analysis of RDR’s geography and what I believe are its real-world analogues" for game Red Dead Redemption 2.
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