Dinosaurs, or at least paleontology, makes an appearance in the newest and hottest video game out by RockStar games. There are a gazillion things to do and move through in it but I want to uncover a tiny piece of the fun. SPOILER warning for anyone who wants to play blind, there are video walkthroughs and maps ahead.
In actuality I am spoiling it for myself. I don’t own the game yet and even if I do get it, between writing my dissertation and raising my nearly 5 month old son, I don’t foresee a lot of time at the controls. Those are just the current excuses really, I have never been an involved gamer as such. I loved Red Dead Redemption and played it a good bit, but have been asleep in the bunkhouse since before we moved to Oklahoma in 2012. The last game I played all the way through was the first Uncharted, which was the only reason I ended up back in the console game (ha!) at all. But, I’m not here to tell you about my terrible gaming habits, I am here to talk about paleontology in video games.
I want to play this game for a host of reasons and was content to let it all boil over and go away before I actually saddled up, but the more people I knew playing because telling me things like “you could be in this,” “this looks like where we grew up,” and “I think about you when I play this” I guess I had to start looking. Then the bones came.
So, I started hitting the tube to find the info. It’s a pretty straightforward collecting side quest of sorts. You meet an amateur paleontologist trying to prove her “ideas” to the stubborn members of the university. If you are reading closely you noticed the “her” there. That is huge for a game to have a female paleontologist, amateur or not, get some screen time. Even though, as many of us have noticed/said, she isn’t adhering to modern best practices.
Once you meet her and you help her load some stuff into the wagon you are off on your journey. Now, paleontology in the American West just happens to be one the huge chunks of my life as a researcher both in the field (Utah’s Uinta Basin, and Laredo, TX) and in the library (so many great books, and the Bone Wars is about far more than the tantrums), so I was wondering how they played this one out.
There aren’t bone beds or localities per se as it would be kind of pointless to have all 30 of your bones in one place. Or, realistically 30 bones at all. They are literally scattered all over the map which means they are (likely) from different eras and formations and by the looks of some creatures.
Once you have traipsed all over this country you mail the locations back to our paleontological quest giver who then speeds the buckboard outland to collect everything (you can get your invitation to see it finished after one elapsed in game day according to the walk throughs).
This is where the magic happens and is at once better and worse than I could have imagined. All the elation of there being a female paleontologist there for a hit for Women in historical Geoscience is a bit blunted by the monstrosity that she cobbles together a la Albert Koch. The thing matches her description from the beginning–with wings, fins, and three pairs of legs. It is glorious and I want to figure out what all models I need to make one now, and where the extinct dinosaurid walrus came from (which is rendered rather well by the way).
The tie back to Koch may or may not be intentional as I don’t know anyone at RockStar or have any of the wherewithal to get an interview, but it is a great time to bring up the nature of such chimeras were not uncommon in the mid 19th century. Things like the fiji mermaid for example. Probably the most famous paleontological ones, the hyrdarchos and the missourium, belong to Albert Koch. There are many good essays and collections that cover Koch’s work, including this much more detailed post by my friend Ben Miller (@Bhmllr):
Where you can read more about these images:
The most recent thing I have seen on Koch comes from Lukas Rieppel in a chapter of Science Museums in Transition
of course you can always let Koch tell you himself through through Ernst Stadler’s translation of Koch’s journal.
The whole ordeal plays out in shorthand of Albert Koch attempting to do in St Louis, what P.T. Barnum was doing in New York. Fre REd Dead Redemption 2 though, the anatomical or, indeed, sane accuracy of the paleontological specimen (Totalisaurus, remember?) or whatever your Linkian payoff is for the quest doesn’t really matter because you get to hunt fossils in a video game, and I know a lot of us would just like to do that over and over. And, knowing that if there ever was a Bone Wars video game there would be much more dynamite.
If you want to see Koch’s missourium today, or at least the parts that are left from it, visit the Natural History Museum in London, he unassumingly lives out his days as a regular mastodon. There was a beautiful animation of the reconstruction done for Natural History Museum Alive a couple years ago. Which I thought I had uploaded to youtube in much better quality.
The videos and screenshots were clipped for brevity from their original source, if you want walkthroughs give them a shot, they look pretty thorough.
and the full map and other details from PowerPyx.com