The Last of the Buffalo

The Last Buffalo

In Red Dead Redemption, John Marston can ride from the shimmering heat of Mexico's deserts to a snow-blanketed coniferous forest in less than ten minutes. A few minutes later and he's in the Great Plains, picking poppies and watching in horror as his trusty horse gets gored in the flank by an ornery boar. The familiar set pieces of the Wild West are shrunken down and juxtaposed tightly together, the game world a microcosm of everything you might expect to see while watching a day-long marathon of Gunsmoke and Lone Ranger reruns.

It is little surprise, then, to find that the approximately 60 million American bison that were nearly hunted to extinction in Real Life are represented here as a herd of just twenty buffalo. The uncanny thing is that there will never be any more.

See, John Marston is a hunter. He stabs angry cougars with knives and shoots vultures out of the clear blue sky with unerring accuracy. This man was made to harvest the bounty of the great outdoors; he is poked and prodded and challenged to murder beasts and collect their bits and pieces for fun and profit. John Marston turns beaver pelts into the tentative wings of human flight and armadillo shells into fancy hats for the fashionable townie bourgeoisie.

While John hunts, the wildlife respawns. He can go to the place where his map tells him there will be boar and, lo and behold, there will be boar. He may need to wait until sunset for them to appear, but he waits without question because the map says boar congregate here. There will be boar. There will always be boar, with their stupid piggy faces and gouging tusks and delicious potential to become bacon. There will always be birds. There will always be cougars. John can carve a bloody swath through entire ecosystems and go to bed guilt-free, because he'll be saddling up tomorrow morning to go ravage the world's stockpile again with absolutely no consequence.

Even Red Dead Redemption's humans are blessed with everlasting life, assuming they aren't already dead by design. John can duel a shopkeeper out on Main Street, USA, killing him with six bullets to the face, and the shopkeeper will be back within five days -- slightly longer than it took Jesus to respawn, but still quite impressive. The victim returns to sell horse titles to the man who murdered him last week because, well, somebody has to tend shop. Conversely, many of the ne'er-do-wells that John meets are earmarked for an early grave: Marston may refuse to shoot them himself, but there are always other actors in the scene who are willing and able (and scripted) to step in to deliver fate's bullet.

Death is preordained, or it is temporary.

Not so with the buffalo. When John first encounters the herd ambling across the Great Plains, they are the single largest group of animals he has ever seen. John shoots and skins one, because that's what he does when he comes across a new species. And now there are only nineteen buffalo left in the world.

The American bison were whittled down over many decades, their tongues and hides and bones shipped east. Every hunter did their part; a pitter-patter of drops in the bucket that swelled with demand until fewer than 300 free-roaming bison remained. Nobody could claim to have single-handedly enacted extinction, although the greedy tried their best.

In Red Dead Redemption, the continued existence of the Great Plains buffalo is placed exclusively in Marston's hands. The very first buffalo John shot, just to see how many bullets it could soak up? That might as well be three million bison gone forever. Accidentally shoot another while fending off lawless pursuers? Another three million bison slain. With the herd proportions so very askew in this microcosmic representation, the consequences of John's actions are magnified profoundly. He can, with a few rifle clips, finish the job so nearly completed more than a hundred years ago.

Which brings us to the question of why, by God, might any player want to finish what the 19th century could not and extinguish the buffalo for good?

Manifest Destiny, of course. An achievement for 5 Gamerscore and the belief that the world exists to be reshaped as one sees fit. A digital reward for a digital extinction of a species that lives on a game disc. It's just a video game. As soon as the PC version is released, people will find a way to mod the buffalo back in and probably give them jetpacks too.

So why does it feel so achingly terrible to ride the Great Plains in the meantime, treading the paths where the buffalo once roamed?

Credit: This article was inspired by a remorseful post by GWJ forum member bombsfall.

Comments

The sad thing is, I didn't even know about the achievement beforehand. I just wanted to sell the bison remains south of the border for some extra cash. So yes, I exterminated the bison for reasons similar to those that led to their over-hunted status in the first place.

Bravo Chris. I want to sink my teeth into this game more than every now.

Soon as I realised it was an easy 5 points those Bison were DOOOOOOMED

For the record, I also tied a woman up and left her on the railway tracks for another easy 5.

Spoiler:

...and in the game

bombsfall wrote:

The sad thing is, I didn't even know about the achievement beforehand. I just wanted to sell the bison remains south of the border for some extra cash. So yes, I exterminated the bison for reasons similar to those that led to their over-hunted status in the first place.

Were they worth much? I couldn't be bothered looting all those corpses afterwards.

stevenmack wrote:

Were they worth much? I couldn't be bothered looting all those corpses afterwards.

Something like $38 for the skin, $36 each for the horns and meat. It came out to about $100 a pop if you can get all three consumables. This was also how I found out about the "More Than A Fistful" achievement.

bombsfall wrote:

The sad thing is, I didn't even know about the achievement beforehand.

It's actually one of the 'hidden' achievements (although that status doesn't mean a whole lot given the prolific amount of online chatter about this game). Also I just spoiled it with this article.

I haven't unlocked it myself. By the time I got to the Great Plains I had about $7000 more than I could ever spend, so I could afford to think a little bit about environmental sustainability.

The herd did, however, suffer greatly when my horse died of exhaustion and threw me and my hogtied bounty to the ground. I had a desperate gunfight with a bunch of pursuers, with the buffalo between us. Thanks to autoaim and a lack of discretion on my part, more than half of the herd got blasted with stray bullets.

I ended up carrying the bounty into town on my back, leaving an unfortunate massacre behind me on the Plains.

When I can't get my hands on a game I want, I start to resent it—the game, I mean. "Stupid game," I think, "what a stupid game. If it won't let me buy it, I won't play it, I don't need to play this stupid impossible-to-find game." RDR has been everywhere, on websites, in magazines, in podcasts, everywhere but in a goddamn store. It has been sold out for two weeks in my city, and I can't find a copy anywhere. The more I look, and don't find, the angrier I get.

One movie channel was showing Clint Eastwood westerns all weekend. I watched Pale Rider and The Outlaw Josey Wales, and not playing RDR. My wife comes home from work and asks me if I found my game today. There is only a mournful look on my face as, in the background, the TV immediately—knowingly—plays an ad for RDR. I must stress, that actually happened yesterday.

You would think I'd have rage quit my search by now, bought Super Mario Galaxy 2, and be done with it. But goddamn if an article like this doesn't come up, so compelling is it, reminding me I do have to play this game. I am compelled.

The stores will get shipments tomorrow or Wednesday. I'll go back out again. Great writing, Clem.

Gravey wrote:

It has been sold out for two weeks in my city, and I can't find a copy anywhere. The more I look, and don't find, the angrier I get.
...
My wife comes home from work and asks me if I found my game today. There is only a mournful look on my face as, in the background, the TV immediately—knowingly—plays an ad for RDR. I must stress, that actually happened yesterday.

For some reason that made me think of this for the first time in years

...probably doesn't help though

stevenmack wrote:

For some reason that made me think of this for the first time in years

...probably doesn't help though :(

It made me laugh, and I'll be reminded of it when I trudge from store to store (maybe not?) tomorrow.

Is there something wrong with Amazon? Or do they not deliver to "GV1469.3"?

Wait, since when has RDR been confirmed for PC? I've been waiting for this to come to it, but there hasn't been an official announcement, has there? Frickin' Rockstar! Bring it to your playerbase!

Great story. The things we do for achievements.

Bison are tasty, btw.

hbi2k wrote:

Is there something wrong with Amazon? Or do they not deliver to "GV1469.3"?

Maybe things keep getting lost between the mailroom and the shelf. (GV1469.3 is a Library of Congress classification for materials about video games.)

At a coincidental dinner in Northern Michigan, on Saturday, I discovered that the Buffalo Burger at Hilltop Saloon had also become extinct. I had to settle for an Elk Burger which, although delicious, didn't taste nearly as taboo.

If you can't find the game at the traditional gaming outlets (Best Buy, Game Stop, et all), you can always try big-box department stores. Whenever I can't find a new release at one of the aforementioned stores, Walmart or Target always has a copy. I figure that most people don't think to look there, and they don't do pre-orders, so it always seems to work out.

Edit: nevermind, they have a few Wallmarts in BC. No Targets though.

Amoebic wrote:

Edit: nevermind, they have a few Wallmarts in BC. No Targets though.

And no Wal-Marts in Vancouver. I think it's a bylaw or something. The closest thing is London Drugs, and they're sold out too. I don't do Amazon because normally it's faster for me to swing by any of a dozen stores on the way home from work to grab a game than wait for it to be mailed.

Anyway. Here's what 5 GS will get you:

IMAGE(http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f8/Bison_skull_pile%2C_ca1870.png)

^^^ I can't figure out if that's just creepy or sad.

It's both.

One of my favorite buffalo herds inhabits the inner ring of the cyclotron at Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois. We are unlocking the secrets of high energy physics all around them. In college I had a fit of inspiration while seeing the cyclotron from a flight home in the fall, and this was the result.

The Buffalo Hunt
(A Painting by Carl Wimar)

I actually saw them today, Carl.
Call them bison or whatever.
I saw them!
As the 707 tipped its wings
and turned north toward O'Hare
I saw them,
a tiny know of brown amidst
redundant suburban sprawl.
They huddled there on the white plain
At a thousand feet their breath seemed like
clouds of wispy mushrooms in the air.

As we descended I saw their faces, Carl.
I saw then
that same fear as when the braves
chased with guns and spears bared,
eyes wide and nostrils flared they ran on
across the plains.
I saw them
as they ducked
covered before the winter wind.

Here there were fences, to be sure.
But what bounded their eistence
were three concentric circles,
named after Enrico.
I saw them,
living next to Top and Bottom,
Left and Riht,
Happy and Sad, six
distant cousins of
a fat man and a little boy.

I saw them, Carl,
and then I understood their fear.

I just wanted to give a little golf clap to Chris for this article and for the period-appropriate There Will Be Blood reference.

I've encountered bison (and moose, elk, and grizzlies) at fairly close quarters when I lived outside Yellowstone Park for a couple years. The combination of awe and fear at being in their presence, unarmed, miles from Anywhere Indoors, is something I'll take to my grave. I'm thankful they didn't all get slaughtered.

I was closest to bison. Twice, I had to wade rivers (the Yellowstone and the Firehole) when a herd decided to graze near where we were fishing. They were supremely unconcerned with us, but we weren't about to try and stand our ground. They're big.

I also had to shoo bison off the driveway of the bar where I worked. A herd had wandered west of the park, and they would lie down on the plowed driveway where the sun had heated the gravel, surrounded by four feet of snow. I'd beep the horn, they wouldn't move. I'd ask nicely, and then yell, and they wouldn't move. I'd get out of the truck and walk toward them, always calculating exactly how fast I could get back inside (refusing to admit they'd probably be faster than me), and they'd slowly turn their heads and look at me with their big, cloudy, heavy-lidded eyes. And then I'd take one more step, and the cloudy covering on the eye would snap open to reveal a huge shiny black glittering eye, entirely focused on me. It was...unsettling. And I'd stand there, trying not to flee, trying not to pee, until they heaved themselves up, shuffled off a few feet, and graciously allowed me to drive past.

I'd unlock the bar and get a drink and step back onto the porch, still shaky, 20 feet away from the herd, smoke a cigarette, and watch them. I thought that moving to Montana to flyfish for a while was destined to be the best decision I ever made in my life. And I was right, until my daughter was born.

I think I'd have to pass on the 5 GS.

Gravey wrote:
Amoebic wrote:

Edit: nevermind, they have a few Wallmarts in BC. No Targets though.

And no Wal-Marts in Vancouver. I think it's a bylaw or something. The closest thing is London Drugs, and they're sold out too. I don't do Amazon because normally it's faster for me to swing by any of a dozen stores on the way home from work to grab a game than wait for it to be mailed.

Have you checked the HMV downtown? They're surprisingly reliable for video games. I've picked up a few games there that were out of stock at Future Shop or EB.

muttonchop wrote:
Gravey wrote:
Amoebic wrote:

Edit: nevermind, they have a few Wallmarts in BC. No Targets though.

And no Wal-Marts in Vancouver. I think it's a bylaw or something. The closest thing is London Drugs, and they're sold out too. I don't do Amazon because normally it's faster for me to swing by any of a dozen stores on the way home from work to grab a game than wait for it to be mailed.

Have you checked the HMV downtown? They're surprisingly reliable for video games. I've picked up a few games there that were out of stock at Future Shop or EB.

Went there on Sunday. Actually, it was a but yes, I get the impression that it's a very popular game.

When I got this achievement, it was an interesting occurrence. I had no idea the achievement existed, and was devastated when it happened. So devastated infant that I shut off the console and re-loaded. Now was it the bad feeling I got, or the fact that some of the buffalo bodies vanished, and I couldn't skin them, that made me re-boot the console, one will never know. I do know however that I know treat them as a precious resource. I also hope that the buffalo start getting freaky and re-populate.

That would be cool if a patch or some DLC allowed for the extremely rare baby buffalo to show up and follow the herd around.

Gravey wrote:
muttonchop wrote:
Gravey wrote:
Amoebic wrote:

Edit: nevermind, they have a few Wallmarts in BC. No Targets though.

And no Wal-Marts in Vancouver. I think it's a bylaw or something. The closest thing is London Drugs, and they're sold out too. I don't do Amazon because normally it's faster for me to swing by any of a dozen stores on the way home from work to grab a game than wait for it to be mailed.

Have you checked the HMV downtown? They're surprisingly reliable for video games. I've picked up a few games there that were out of stock at Future Shop or EB.

Went there on Sunday. Actually, it was a but yes, I get the impression that it's a very popular game.

GRAVEY!
I'm heading up to Vancouver this weekend. If I'm able to pick you up a copy of RDR, we should meet up! Send me a PM if you're interested.

Amoebic wrote:

GRAVEY!
I'm heading up to Vancouver this weekend. If I'm able to pick you up a copy of RDR, we should meet up! Send me a PM if you're interested.

Crisis resolved, foreign aid no longer necessary!

For me - i actually killed the whole herd a couple times. After the first massacre, the achievement didn't pop - so I reloaded and got to shooting again.

Blackwater feasted that night on high-protien-buffalo steaks!

I can't wait to be equipped with a jetpack in the PC version (and not go extinct)!

The name of the achievement is what gets me, I rather keep the achievement off my list