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Red Dead Online’s Stew Bowl Challenge is a beautiful, meditative journey

A man’s gotta eat

Redditor RJskillz92, credited as the creator of the Stew Bowl Challenge. RJskillz92 via YouTube
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Red Dead Redemption 2 is a game with a lot going on. Some would say that the game’s proclivity toward action tends to overshadow its more serene aspects, others that the arc of the main questline itself artificially limits the experience of a breathtaking game world. It’s a situation made even more challenging in Red Dead Online, the game’s multiplayer component. How do you take your time in a world custom-made for player-versus-player confrontation, and for griefing, at nearly every turn?

One person seems to have found a way forward, and all it took was a hearty stew.

In Red Dead Redemption 2, stew is available at the main camp of the Van der Linde Gang. Once a day or so you can pick up a bowl along with a cup of hot coffee, fill your belly, and receive a decent buff for your troubles. But, in Red Dead Online, stew plays a more minor role. As a player who goes by the handle Slonitram points out on, there’s only one bowl of stew readily available in the starting town of Valentine, and picking it up puts you at a major disadvantage.

“You can carry the stew bowl around as far as you desire, but only by walking,” Slonitram writes. “You can’t run, you can’t get on your horse, wagon, whatever. You are locked to walking.”

Of course, limitations tend to breed creativity. It’s with that limitation in mind that he and others created The Stew Bowl Challenge, a journey from Valentine to the saloon in Saint Denis that requires players to carry that singular bowl of stew the entire way. The trip was first attempted a few weeks back by a Reddit user named RJskillz92, only to be perfected later by Slonitram himself.

“The Stew Bowl Challenge is meant to test your patience, at the same time [it makes] you see the game in a different way,” Slonitram continues, “Take in the atmosphere around you, listen to the trains in the distance, the chirps of birds, the calls of deers, the snail pace at which your character walks, accompained [sic] by their noble steed behind them (or not). Come across players who may stop to look at you and wonder what the hell you are doing. Feel the tension of every encounter.”

Watching the nearly nine-minute video, which was sped up before being posted on YouTube, that tension is palpable. Slonitram makes a conscious decision to stick to the road, fully in view of other players on the server. He wanders through multiple gunfights unscathed. At one point he pauses to let a posse of armed players pass him by, only to have them spring a trap further down the road by flushing out a pair of AI-controlled bandits he would have otherwise been defenseless against.

It’s been a few months since I fired up Red Dead Redemption 2, and even longer still since I tried my hand at Red Dead Online. The beautiful landscapes and the subtle variations of color at dawn and dusk visible during Slonitram’s run of The Stew Bowl Challenge — as well as the hilarity on display in previous failed attempts — reminds me of why I’ve kept the 100-plus gigabyte install on my PlayStation 4. Maybe I’ll mosey back into Valentine myself and give it a try some time soon.