It's fair to suggest that I'm obsessed with the history of my home town. At the moment, there's a ton of building work going on - a couple of the icons of my childhood are being torn down to make way for high-rise flats, and it's changing faster than at any other point in my life. Getting to witness change like that is the benefit - or downside - of living in the same place more or less your whole life.
Indeed, my house is built on land which used to belong to a local miser called Daniel Dancer, whose only real friend was one Lady Tempest, the widow of a Yorkshire baronet. His reputation for hoarding - hiding his money in piles of pig shit, strapping hay to his body in lieu of having to purchase clothes etc. - was such that he became the basis for Dickens' Ebeneezer Scrooge.
I've read quite a lot about Daniel Dancer, and though his miserly ways were no doubt the result of something which would today be classified as a mental illness, I love the notion that where I live was once wild and rural and unpoliced, and populated by characters who could've stepped out of a novel.
It's part of why I love so much of America, because so much of it is still, even today, completely isolated from the rest of the world. So much of it doesn't even feel real. There are huge swathes that are just... empty. You can drive for hours and not see another car, just mile upon mile of the most stunning open country.
It's also no coincidence that it's in many of those areas where the NRA and Trump have been able to get a foothold, and why there's such a suspicion of a liberal Washington elite wanting to take away their freedoms.
And the thing is, playing Red Dead Redemption 2 is helping me to understand it.
I was 12 when I first visited America, and even at that age I found its wide horizons incredibly seductive.
Since then, I've done a couple of short road trips, both times in the exact same part of the country; the big chunk of the west that's made up of desert and mountains and forests.
Though Red Dead Redemption 2 is broadly set more in the East, I'm getting the same feeling playing it as I did driving with my dad from Arizona, through Utah, to Colorado. It's a feeling of freedom, but also a sort of glorious, untouchable, isolation, punctuated by small smears of civilisation - one-road towns, and Native American reservations (you can always tell when you've crossed into one, because the maintenance quality of the roads suddenly takes a nosedive).
For me, the game evokes that in a way nothing else ever has. I've even stopped using the controversial cinematic mode when travelling from place to place, because I want to stay in control of where I'm going. If I see something off to the side of the road, or wish to take a detour across country, I want to have the freedom to do so. It's incredibly appealing, and I now totally get what Rockstar was aiming for.
It loses so much of what I'm enjoying the second it hits (spoilers) the city of Saint Denis. Every time I had a mission which required me to go into Saint Denis - essentially a placeholder for old New Orleans - my heart sank.
Don't get me wrong, what they've done with it is stunning. It feels alive, with trams, and theatres, and hotels. And I love how they've captured a sense of civilisation encroaching upon the literal WILD West. What I've realised though is that there's something in me - perhaps in all of us - which rejects city life, and highlights how unnatural it is.
I've realised that I don't want to be surrounded by buildings, other than the four walls of my home. I want to be out there, with nothing but sky above me, not worrying about the cops coming down on me if my stupid horse accidentally knocks somebody over. In Saint Denis, suddenly there are consequences for my actions. I'm no longer steered by my own moral compass, but forced to adhered to rules and laws which have been imposed upon me.
I strongly suspect that Rockstar didn't stumble upon all this by accident, and knew exactly what it was doing.
I think this was intentional, the very backbone of the game's story, almost as if they're trying to make you understand the lure of frontier life. It's even-handed in its depiction; there's no judgement or critique in any of what RDR2 - indeed, being an outlaw is shown here as a tough, transient, existence, far from absolute freedom. But what they do is hold up a mirror to the civilisation most of us live within, and lets us draw our own conclusions.
Yes, there's electricity, and vehicles which don't need horses, and medicine, and you can get a haircut... but what have we lost in return for all that?
In 2018, we didn't chose the laws or culture we were born into. From the day we arrive, we're being told what we can and cannot do, what's good, what's bad (and who is good and who is bad). In some respects, I think we all have a universal urge to escape from that - what is ambition if not an urge to rise above it? People dream of becoming millionaires so they don't have to abide by the same limitations as the rabble. Money, we believe, buys us liberty, but that also brings its own cage.
But before you can get that, unless you're born into it, you have to work within the rules. Unless you reject civilisation altogether - which you can do that if you wish in RDR2; it's up to you whether you just turn your back on the looming 20th Century, and go live off the land.
That's absolute freedom, and I feel that loss of it every time I see Saint Denis up ahead.