Title text: Sitting here idly trying to figure out how the population of the Old West in the late 1800s compares to the number of Red Dead Redemption 2 players.
The "western" genre refers to narrative works set in the American "Old West", which is loosely defined as North America (particularly the United States) west of the Mississippi River between the years of 1865 (when the Civil War ended) and 1895 (when the US Census officially declared the frontier to be closed). These dates are naturally somewhat arbitrary, but most works in the genre are set more or less in that relatively narrow window of time. This definition may be too narrow, however, as many events related to the American West took place before the Civil War. The fur trade was significant in the western frontier from the early 1800s to about 1845. The Oregon Trail saw its first wagon trail in 1836, and along with variants such as the California and Utah/Mormon trail, was regularly and heavily used beginning around 1845-1847. The California Gold Rush took place in 1849. Stories of fur trapping, wagon trains, and mining all feature heavily in the "western" genre, making the disparity between the length of real history and the length of historical fiction less great.
This era in American history was marked by aggressive settling of western lands. The US had pursued an expansionist policy known as "Manifest Destiny", which had the primary goal of extending US borders across the continent. This led to various strategies to increase the lands under US control (ranging from diplomatic efforts to expansionist wars), displacing, containing, and eliminating native peoples from the land, and encouraging American settlement in the western territories. Settlers were encouraged to go west with the promise of cheap or free land for agriculture, mineral riches, and freedom from the dangers of large cities.
These sparsely populated lands quickly gained a reputation for being dangerous, unpredictable, and violent. The men and women who settled them were admired as rugged individualists, civilizing a wild frontier through hard work, courage and persistence. The mythos of the "wild west" arguably continues to impact American culture to this day.
The timeline in this strip suggests that the Western genre began almost immediately after the frontier closed. This matches the "official" timeline. The first critically recognized Western novel, The Virginian, was published in 1902, and one of the earliest silent films, The Great Train Robbery, was made in 1903. However, it should be noted that pulp novels and magazines set in the frontier, as well as "Wild West Shows" that toured the eastern states and Europe had begun decades earlier. And the end of the "Wild West" era can be considered to have lasted into the 1910's, or even the 1920's. In other words, Westerns were an established genre while the real western frontier was still in existence. The genre transitioned from a contemporary setting to a historical one without significant disruption.
The Western genre has varied in popularity, but has never gone away, and continued to produce popular works throughout the 20th century and into the 21st. Artists who grew up admiring Western heroes have proceeded to use the genre for their own visions, and have reinterpreted the setting across multiple generations, and an evolving media landscape. Literature, music and live performances gave way to film, then television, and now video games. This strip points out the irony that the actual Old West took place over a fairly limited time and space, but the setting has managed to accommodate a genre that's maintained popularity for over a century (at least three times as long as the actual frontier era) and is consumed both throughout the US and across the world.
The title text is in reference to the popular video game Red Dead Redemption 2, which takes place in an Old West setting. Red Dead Redemption 2 has already sold in excess of 24 million copies, while at the 1890 census the entire West - even going by the widest definition, counting every state and territory west of the Mississippi - had a population of just 16.8 million. The region now counted by the US Census Bureau as the "Western United States" was even smaller, at just 3.64 million. Assuming every copy sold represents one player (some sold may not have been played, but others sold may account for multiple players), not only are there more RDR2 players than there were people in the Wild West at its height, there may be more than lived in the region at all during the frontier years.
- [A horizontal timeline spanning between the years 1840 and 2020. Every decade is indicated by a tick below the line, and labeled every 50 years. Two ranges are highlighted by brackets and labeled:]
- The "Wild West" era
- Western films, books, video games, etc
- [Caption below the panel:]
- It's weird to realize that the Western genre has now existed for three times longer than the period it's based on.
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