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The Games that Inspired HBO’s Westworld

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HBO’s new hit series Westworld has wowed audiences with its thought provoking narrative and engaging cast. The underlying themes of robotic ethics and the limits of human greed and ambition are what make the show so terrifying and wonderful. However, the ideals expressed in the show weren’t simply pulled from thin air, as showrunner Jonathan Nolan was heavily influenced by other forms of entertainment that grappled with the same themes, mainly video games.

Of the multitude of video games that could have had an influence on Westworld, the three that stand out the most are Bioshock, Red Dead Redemption, and System Shock. While the connections to Red Dead may seem the most glaring, it is rather the elements from the other two titles that are the most intriguing. The plot of Westworld revolves around a theme park designed to look like the American wild west. Human park goers intermix with a wide array of vividly lifelike androids called Hosts. The Hosts exist strictly for the pleasure of the attendees, as the humans are able to live out their wildest fantasies, no matter how violent or perverted.   systemshock1

The philosophical sticking point addressed throughout the series revolves around the idea of man playing god, and having to pay the price for his mistakes. By the end of the first episode both the audience and main characters are left asking themselves: what would happen if the Hosts became conscious of their own existence, and what would they do if they could hurt the park guests? This idea of androids realizing their true potential, and turning against their human masters, is the same driving force behind the System Shock series. Just as the A.I. SHODAN became fully aware of her true potential and strength in System Shock 2, so to do the androids of Westworld become aware of their horrific existence within the confines of the park. What’s more, the ignorance of man towards what the androids are truly capable of ties directly into the plot lines of both System Shock and Westworld. Park guests don’t think twice about the actions they take against the Hosts, seeing as how they believe they are just mindless husks with no concept of human emotion or logic.

One of the prominent plot lines running throughout the show revolves around the park’s creator, Dr. Robert Ford, trying to maintain the utopian playground that the park was meant to be. However, his efforts begin to crumble as the Hosts become self-aware, and outside human interference sends things into disarray. This refers back to the plot line of Bioshock, as billionaire Andrew Ryan sought to create a utopian society free from the shackles of religion and government, only to witness it brought down by bigotry and the quest for perfection. Dr. Ford’s obsession with keeping his guest immersed in the world he’s created conflicts with keeping the Hosts inhuman. The more lifelike he makes the androids, the bigger chance they have of realizing their own synthetic humanity. The most exciting part about this connection with Bioshock is seeing if the show will deliver the same impactful revelations that made Irrational’s landmark game so fantastic. There are already several mysterious subplots developing within the show, and the level of detail put into exposing Dr. Ford’s true intentions, as well as the hidden agendas of some of the guests, will be interesting to watch unfold.

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The third and most obvious influence on Westworld is Rockstar’s masterpiece game Red Dead Redemption. The story-driven open world western gave players the chance to live out their wildest cowboy fantasies in the American Southwest and Mexico.  This plays right into the narrative of Westworld, as the park is quite literally built around the same premise. However, the connection between the game and show is more self-aware than with the other two games. The show almost acts as a theatrical representation of what players would do in the game. What’s more, the actions of some of the guests in the show highlight the darker side of human emotion and power. While killing animated people inside the game may seem trivial and harmless, watching it happen in the show brings out the true inhumanity in these actions.

Westworld receives an increasing amount of critical praise with every passing episode, and it would be wrong not to think that part of this stems from what inspired it. Without the influence of the aforementioned titles, the show would not have taken the intricate form that it now inhabits. The success of this show is further testament to how strong its influences are, and how polished and rewarding the end result will be.

Carston is a freelance writer hailing from the always humid Sunshine State. He enjoys RPGs, grand strategy games, 80's New Wave and post-punk, and anything PlayStation related. If Game of Thrones, Mass Effect, or Chinese food are your thing, find him on Twitter @RolandDucant.

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Matt De Azevedo

    December 20, 2016 at 8:05 pm

    “The idea that games had any kind of influence on this is just so ignorant and in a sense prideful.” – RabbitFly

    “I never laid any claim that I knew what influenced the creators of this show. ” – RabbitFly

    Sooo… um… which is it? One second you’re claiming that you KNOW games didn’t have “any kind of influence” on the show, and the next second your saying you don’t know what influenced the creators. It’s funny that you call the writer of this article “prideful”, then when you’re proven categorically incorrect, you come back here and try to backpedal and defend yourself rather than manning up and admitting ignorance.

    Yeah, we all know philosophical thought didn’t originate from BioShock, but guess what, BioShock can be a person’s gateway into philosophy, and thus could lead to BioShock being an inspirational work to them. Either way, the writers can be seen on film stating video games as an influence. Case closed.

    • RabbitFly

      February 2, 2017 at 2:08 pm

      Where are you getting this? That first quote does not in any way show me laying claim to know the influencers of the creators.

      It is clearly referencing the idea of games being the inspiration. The idea does not constittute laying down facts or claims. You understand that right?

      The fact that I find the idea prideful and ignorrant again does not constitute a claim of factual evidence. If anything it is me pointing out that the original claim is an idea without any real evidence.

      The fact that the writers state that the video games was an influence does not in any way excuse the lack of effort of this article. It is possible the writers were influenced by video games, but certainly not for the reasons stated in this article. Which was my original point.

      I am not backpedaling. I find this article ignorrant and prideful. This type of writing is exactly why Video Games are not getting the respect they deserve from the rest of the entertainment business.

      Perhaps I was crass, I usually try not to be, but I guess ignorrance in writing is one of my personal pet peeves.

      • ex fact0r

        February 4, 2017 at 5:04 am

        Holy shit, you’re dense as a rock. The first quote doesn’t show you laying claim to know the influences of the creators? Is English your 14th language or something? That’s EXACTLY what that quote shows. In that quote you are literally saying that video games DID NOT influence them (even though they did). That is literally–and undeniably–what you said. And yet again in this most recent post you claim to know what the creators are thinking by saying “It is possible the writers were influenced by video games, but certainly not for the reasons stated in this article”. You don’t know how video games influenced them. Stop pretending you do. You’ve proven time and time again to be nothing more than a self contradicting hypocrite; you keep throwing around the term “ignorant”, but it’s obvious that the person with the least knowledge on the subject here is none other than you. But, sadly, it’s clear as day that you won’t man up and simply admit to your folly, so continue roaming the internet, trolling about. I’m sure you feel very fulfilled at the end of the day. Peace bro.

        • RabbitFly

          February 4, 2017 at 8:17 pm

          let’s talk about the English language for a minute. Seeing as you think your understanding of it is superior to mine, which I am willing to see as a possibility. However you do not seem to understand what literally means.

          Again. I said that the idea of something is ignorant, that is not a statement of fact. Which means it cannot be me asserting any literal value to someones thought. I never presumed to know what anyone was thinking. I was pointing out how asserting how someone is thinking in itself is bad, especially considering the lack of research.

          The article is asserting that something is influenced by Red Dead Redemption for the very fact of being a western. When the show is literally an adaption of a 1973 movie. You know from the heyday of the western genre.

          That takes a much bigger leap of faith than the general idea of taking influence from video games. It assumes that the writers would have to be ignorant to the very source material they are adapting. Hence the “ignorant” comment.

          It is much more likely that what the writers were alluding to was how the story resolves around a futuristic version of virtual reality.

          Again I am saying it is a more likely scenario, that is not asserting any literal value to someones thought.

          Anyways, I have admitted that I was overly crass in my delivery. I
          will take that on my shoulders. However that doesn’t change the fact
          that the article was badly written and illogical.

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