Sir Sam's Court: What WWE Could Learn From Red Dead Redemption 2

Sir Sam’s Court: What WWE Could Learn From Red Dead Redemption 2

Two weeks ago Rockstar Games released its latest video game, the western epic Red Dead Redemption 2 to massive critical and popular acclaim. Not only has the game recorded the most successful opening weekend for any entertainment franchise in history, tallying $725 million in sales in just three days but is the most well reviewed video game ever according to review aggregator Metacritic.

I’ve been playing it since release and just like any movie, tv show or game there are a few things that the WWE could learn from the success of this monumental franchise. So saddle up your finest stallion and slap on your best cowboy hat, today Sir Sam’s Court is venturing deep into the Wild West.

Take things slow but know when to bring the intensity.

One of Red Dead Redemption’s most striking features is the incredibly slow pacing of the game. In a world where most video games allow you to zip around the map, running left and right or just letting you to teleport right where you need to be, Red Dead makes you walk or ride wherever you need to go.

That may sound inconvenient at best or a massive waste of time at worst but with the dialled down pace comes a level of immersion and atmosphere that just isn’t present in most modern open world games. The game’s protagonist Arthur has an incredible weight to everything he does which makes you take your time and notice the details that have gone into this incredible world and story.

This pace for the majority of the game is contrasted by the sudden intensity that comes with combat that can spring up at any second. These sharp changes accentuate the intensity of combat and force your brain that is used to a rambling pace to make snap judgements.

By comparison the WWE’s idea of pacing is most often storytelling on fast forward. Plot twists happen at the drop of a hat, matches come together out of nowhere, characters change allegiances with no seeming prior notice or foreshadowing. It is that or zero development at all and constant stagnation of character.

Both of these approaches make it hard to get truly invested in the story or character acs of the wrestlers, as if it exists at all any developments seem to come out of nowhere. I would argue this has significantly contributed to the general indifference a lot of fans feel towards the WWE right now.

For examples of this think about the flip flopping character of Nia Jax, Bobby Lashley’s heel turn out of nowhere or the disenchantment people felt when Braun Strowman seemingly turned heel on a dime. On the flip side both AJ Styles and Finn Balor have developed in no discernible way for over a year and both wrestlers who were once red hot have taken a hit to their popularity as a result.

It isn’t that the WWE can’t get it right. Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose are in a story that has grown and developed for five straight years, each year building off what happened in the last. In NXT it looks like Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa have started a similar sort of long term character arc. It is no mistake that these are two of the stories us fans have been most invested in this year.

The WWE needs to take the lead from Red Dead Redemption 2, always keep a forward sense of momentum but use the weekly show as a chance to do things slowly and give us a plan to appreciate what is happening.

Get to know the characters through smaller stories then bring them together.

A large part of the early going in Red Dead Redemption is small missions with the side characters that make up your gang: hunting with Charles or Hosea, taking a trio of ladies from camp into the nearest town or taking a long horse ride with Javier to search for John. These small missions are full of dialogue as you ride next to these characters, fleshing out their back story, showing their motives and giving us an idea of who they are.

The payoff comes when you have a big mission or camp party where all these fleshed out characters come together and start interacting with each other. It not only makes you care more about the individual characters but makes the big set pieces feel more alive and meaningful.

The wrestling year has obvious high and low points where the stage is bigger and smaller but that doesn’t mean the matches that come when less eyes on them don’t need to mean anything. Too often the WWE goes into holding mode between the bigger matches when they could be using these ‘side stories’ to contribute to larger arcs that characters are on.

To be fair to the WWE, they do sometimes actually do this but just never, ever mention the significance of these smaller stories. Just last year Seth Rollins mini-feuds with Samoa Joe and Bray Wyatt gave him smaller doses of success and humility that built out his arc between his major triumph over Triple H at Wrestlemania towards the emotional reunion with Dean Ambrose at Summer Slam.  During this ‘dead period’ Ambrose, a loner at the time, learnt he needed someone to have his back through his battles with The Miztourage. Not that you would have heard any of these details from the WWE commentary team.

It is as simple as stringing these smaller plot threads together to create a sense of continuity across broader character arcs. Then when the biggest matches of the year come about the characters will be more fleshed out and the audience more invested in the larger story being told.

Past greats have their place but not as the center of attention.

Red Dead Redemption 2 is a prequel to the incredibly successful original Red Dead Redemption which came out all the way back in 2010 to similar popular and critical acclaim. One of the highlights of the game was the story of the main protagonist John Marston as he hunted down the remnants of The Van der Linde Gang. Players loved his story and naturally wanted to see more from the character so when Rockstar announced Marston would not be the protagonist of the next game in the series there were some parts of the fanbase that met the news with disappointment.

However, that sentiment has well and truly dried up because Rockstar realised one big thing, they had already told the best John Marston story they could so it was time to tell someone else’s story. Marston is part of this adventure and it is interesting to see his relationship with the rest of the gang we know he will one day take out however he is firmly a side character. This departure from Marston not only allows Rockstar to tell a new, fresh tale but I would argue even benefits Marston’s character and role in the original, reframing him and giving his prominence in the gang’s final death more emphasis.

It is probably pretty easy to see where I am heading with this.

The WWE has a nostalgia problem. In the last two months, three PPVs have been headlined wholly or in part by stars of yesteryear. This is far from an abnormal trend. The last time Wrestlemania was headlined exclusively by full time wrestlers was 2011 and only two wrestlers that debuted since 2010 have wrestled in the main event of the biggest show of the year.

It is hard to argue against some of the results that have been achieved in the short term by the WWE however we are quickly reaching a point of severely diminished returns. Of the three main events at those PPVs featuring past stars, only one walked away with a pass mark, two of them featuring some of the best wrestlers to ever grace the squared circles were embarrassing parodies of what these performers were once capable of doing. None of those main events will do anything to create new fans or stem the tide of disenchanted fans now leaving the WWE.

This is actually a lesson the WWE has learnt in the past but somehow forgotten. It’s most popular periods have been when it has left the past in the past and embraced the new faces of Hogan in the 80s, Austin and Rock in the 90s and Cena in the 00s. Even though the nostalgia of the past may create a certain level of short term interest, almost by definition it will never surpass what it was originally.

Rockstar is one of the most celebrated video game developers ever and I would argue that part of that is that they have never featured the same character in the lead role twice. Every game feels fresh and they can continue to build and build on their successes to greater and greater returns.\

It’s okay to have a laugh but not all the time.

Rockstar are the undisputed kings of video game comedy. Their hilariously dark satire of the 80s through to the 2010’s in various iterations of Grand Theft Auto are legendary, as are their takes on so many video game tropes. Red Dead Redemption 2 is no different, featuring a number of infinitely mockable characters for you to interact with, as well as a smattering of missions that are more light hearted in nature to act as a contrast to the more serious tone of the majority of the game.

Every TV or video game show needs these kind of moments to lighten the tone and provide respite from the more serious points of the narrative. West Wing has Josh and Donna, Breaking Bad has Jesse yelling obscenities, Game of Thrones has Tyrion’s perfectly timed one liners and amongst other things Red Dead has a hilarious drinking mission with Lenny. Crucially though none of these come at the expense of the characters involved, they don’t make them look foolish and they remain believable when they get back into the serious meat of the story.

Unfortunately when the WWE goes for comedy the trend to go at it with all the subtlety of a sledge hammer and skill of a hungover council worker.

Most of the time it is completely based around making wrestlers look silly, foolish or appear as the butt of a joke despite the fact they are also meant to be serious athletes. Think an entire tag division including The Revival having a food fight at an imaginary BBQ in the middle of the ring. On top of that if someone strikes on one NEW thing that gets a genuine laugh on the DAY, expect that same once NEW joke to get rolled out every single DAY for months on end until not only is it no longer funny but is actively annoying. At times it feels like entire divisions get trapped in endless cycle of increasingly less funny gags.

Comedy can be a great part of wrestling, wrestlers like The Rock, Chris Jericho and John Cena have used it as a reliable part of their act but ultimately the WWE is a serious world and it should remain that way the majority of the time. Most importantly if the writers don’t have a NEW joke toDAY then they need to stop cutting the legs out from under their characters by constantly making them look silly.

Thanks for reading. Let me know what you think of Red Dead Redemption 2 and what the WWE could learn from it in the comments below or on Twitter @Sir_Samuel.

We also have a video game section in the LOP forums so if you wanted to talk more about your experiences in Red Dead then you can get to the thread here.

We are also always looking for writers for LOP so if you have thoughts about the WWE or pro wrestling why not try writing a column in the Columns Forum. It is where every single writer on this site got their start and is a fantastic community to be a part of. If you’d like to know what it is like down there I might suggest starting on this excellent piece by former main page writer and forum Legend Prime Time, Why So Serious.

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