OUR news-cycle always seems to find plenty of time for errant celebrities, literary award winners or ratings-topping reality-TV formats.

So it’s extraordinary to note how poorly covered the launch of the computer game Red Dead Redemption 2 has been.

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It has literally marked up the biggest single opening weekend in entertainment history. The game has grossed $725 million, with 17 million units sold in 10 days (as much as the first game sold in total). And the pace is hardly slowing.

The result of four years of work, involving two thousand employees across all of the computer game company Rock Star’s studios (including their Edinburgh base), this is a blockbuster cultural artefact. But there’s been barely a peep about it, outwith the usual niche outlets, in the mainstream media.

This is a long-standing problem. Most arts and culture editorial staff still attain their positions by demonstrating their literacy in the traditional art forms – books, theatre, musics, with film and latterly TV grudgingly added to the canon.

The case could easily be made that the most momentous contemporary video games are grand syntheses of many of these traditional arts. As Wagner once said of opera, they can often be gesamtkunstwerks – total artworks. Games then add their own aesthetics of exploration, interactivity and adventure.

And all of this is enabled by the most cutting-edge technologies (involving digital simulation and artificial intelligence).

What might mildly irritate these games-makers (only mildly, as the cash pours in torrentially) is that this particular product is a mighty manifestation of a deeply respected cultural genre: the American Western.

Similarly to Grand Theft Auto (one of Scotland’s most remarkable, but also troubling, cultural exports), Red Dead Redemption is – as the gamers might call it – an “Open World Human Nature Simulator”.

That is, their aim is to visualise a turn-of-the-century American West, encompassing villages and dense New-Orleans-type cities, pristine countryside and wild animals (both human and non-human). They then let the main protagonist adventure through it, triggering storylines large and small, all centred on the fate of an outlaw gang (of which he is a fitful member).

I’ve yet to get my hands on the new game, though I have been sampling some of the many thousands of hours of gameplay already posted up on gamers’ channels like Twitch, and on YouTube.

At the very least, it seems as if the aim of Aaron Garbut, art director of the game based in the Edinburgh headquarters of RockStar North, has been realised. “We don’t think of it as a game to be played through,” he said to Edge magazine a few months ago. “It’s a place for you to get lost in.”

What players are posting up are long, horse-bound treks through startlingly rendered natural environments. During these, the troubled (though violent) soul of Arthur Morgan engages with a society on the cusp of modernity, his outlaw tendencies an increasing anachronism within it.

Reviewers are converging to salute Red Dead’s ground-breaking ambition to get their gamers and players to feel that they are exploring an entirely believable reality – even at the risk of tedium and hard-labour on the part of the user.

I look forward to getting stuck in. But I’m interested in the wider implications of their ambition. How much is the joy of gaming about getting lost in the hyper-reality of the game? According to several gameplay accounts of Red Dead Redemption 2, it feels as if the immersive ambitions of the gamemakers are chafing against the plasticky limitations of TV screens and button-covered controllers. The standard controls seem to have been made deliberately less responsive. A rifle has to be laboriously recocked before it can be fired. A command for the hero to take cover involves much hesitation and stumbling.

RockStar have concentrated on designing the cowboys’ horses not just to be photo-realistic, but behaviourally realistic too. They are skittish and require calming, they get injured and need care, they bravely defend their masters.

Yet all this is triggered by means of the somewhat bathetic routine of clicking Xs and Os, tilting controllers and pressing pads.

I am surprised we’re still here. What happened to the virtual reality revolution, so trumpeted a scant few years ago? Where are those neuroscience-driven skull caps that were supposed to pick up our mental instructions and convey them directly to a game world? Why isn’t Star Trek’s Holodeck visible on the horizon?

Given that Red Dead has been in development for the past four years, and that its emphasis has been on building this vast world of the American West, they can be forgiven for just tailoring their product to what exists. That job was big enough.

But I am intrigued by the fact of certain limits in contemporary games culture, as much as by their astounding achievements and simulations. Maybe we actually don’t want to lose ourselves too deeply in our games.

Certainly, if you look at science fiction movies, this possibility is flagged up as something dangerous. When humans become overcommitted to their virtual universes at the expense of their actual worlds, watch out.

The Matrix is the obvious example. But consider this year’s Ready Player One (directed by Steven Spielberg). Here, the young protagonist pulls on an all-body suit and a wrap-around helmet – a complete interface which enables him to disappear fully into an alternative reality. Meanwhile his social environment is a gerry-built shanty town: it’s evidently (and barely) survived some form of eco-disaster.

Or consider the Blade Runner sequel. Set in 2046, the hero has a passionate relationship with his holographic virtual girlfriend. It becomes hugely poignant as her programme (and their relationship) begins to unravel. And all around them, the real city decays under permanent rainfall.

So, as great science fiction can do, we have been thoroughly warned about the future-gaming we might not want. I wonder if one of the enduring attractions of the game experience is exactly how domestically banal its context is.

The fact that the controls can be chucked on the couch while you go for a cuppa, or that for all the high-definition versimilitude it’s just a screen in your room, might be a feature – not a bug. This is opposed to the image of a strapped-down Keanu Reeves, with virtual worlds pouring into Neo’s mind from a port at the base of his skull.

The computer game experience still isn’t that far away from our most childish (and formative) play moments. These are still objects in a room we pick up. Their design meets our imagination, and our physical skills. Human agency and intent is still centre-stage with video games. We haven’t been sucked up into the Matrix yet.

Never say never, of course. The recent wave of virtual reality headsets and platforms – Oculus, Magic Leap, Hololens – have had many billions pumped into their development. Yet they still look like a clunky visit to the robot hairdresser. And this combined with a level of physical vulnerability when you play them – which just doesn’t feel very sociable or attractive.

But at some point, the display devices will be as light as a pair of wrap-around shades. We will don our sensor body suits as easily as winter thermals, or lycra gym-wear. Then the entire affluent world might disappear down an immersive rabbit-hole (as the rest of the planet bakes itself to death).

Until then, we should enjoy the fact that we can still step towards (and away) from the complex entertainments that the very best of computer games have become. They’re actually still in the realm of artworks to be contemplated, not techno-hallucinations that will finally sweep us away from reality.

All the more reason for arts editorials to push away their e-book readers, and pick up the game controllers.

Red Dead Redemption is available in all games stories, online and offline, right now.