Gamers out there will surely recognize familiar elements in Westworld HBO: gun-toting violence, exclusive open-world freedom, and rampant mischievousness. But in a world just so apt for a video game – will Westworld HBO ever see the light of gaming?
We may have to dissect Westworld first. How did we arrive at such a question?
Westworld HBO is the newest science fiction series from husband-and-wife duo Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy. They explained in a New York Comic-Con panel that Westworld HBO took a lot of inspiration from Grand Theft Auto. It seemed their contrasting behaviors set marks on the ideals the show will present.
The premise of Westworld HBO is quite simple in itself. Content creators around the world are starting to profit from hyper-realistic “parks.” At some time in the future, a company creates a Wild West-themed park (appropriately named Westworld) with its own unique amenities. Human “guests” will have to pay a huge price for the capacity to walk in the park populated by synthetic “hosts” that are androids.
The catch is, they can do everything they want. In player terms, this means murdering and even screwing everyone they can see.
Westworld HBO’s story jumps as hosts begin to show signs of strange behaviors after an update. Some of them start recognizing signs of “self-awareness,” which more or less involves memories of being tortured and raped over and over again by the town’s occupants.
According to Kotaku, the world of Westworld HBO tells so much about gaming culture nowadays – and perhaps in the future. We may finally have a means of entertainment that will allow us to kill actual virtual citizens. This means we may finally come to a time where our usual apathetic musings towards GTA will be met with abstract and philosophical cues.
Unfamiliar yet too familiar
Viewers – and mostly players – are put in the shoes of William, who is a first-time guest, in the second episode. He appropriately asks before he is thrust in if there’s an “orientation.” Apparently there isn’t, and it’s choices aboard.
Players will know this is a common trope along open-world games. Some games, such as Watch Dogs and Red Dead Redemption, have good narratives, but others like Skyrim offer too vast a world to just dwell on the main story. The same is with Westworld HBO: there are no rules, only choices.
Others may hate the Man in Black. He is an iconic character in a usual black suit that normally indulges in acts of cruelty towards virtual citizens. But he is just “another” gamer.
Like us, he may have “evolved” from casual gamer to someone dedicated to find more Easter Eggs and surprises. In fact, Westworld encourages this kind of behavior.
According to a fictional Delos Incorporated website, guests have three “packages” to choose from, each with their corresponding prices. There’s a Standard package, which merits guests a hat, a weapon and a “purpose” during their stay. A Silver package helps them “reach” the “deeper” narratives, or perhaps stories behind the already fictional Westworld mythos. Lastly is the Gold package, which allows them paths towards the “outer fringes” of the park.
If the website “map” is to be trusted, this might lead to other aspects of the company’s inner workings. In fact, there’s a ton of sprawling floors that range from quarters to elements such as Design and Narrative.
However, in Westworld, death is an option.
Westworld HBO: Beyond Death
According to the Delos contract, guests are still more likely to die “from lightning strike” than in one of their parks. However, guests may still die for a lot of reasons – such as “accidental” hanging or drowning, falling from heights, and other means.
While Delos owns all weapons and equipment, “tampering” with them transfers liability to guests. And every time they leave the park, Delos has rights to own everything you secrete inside the place: such as skin cells, bodily fluids, hair samples, saliva, sweat and even blood.
Suspicious? Yes, but not the point.
Deep inside Westworld HBO is the perennial conflict inside games. There’s a central conflict among the staff of the theme park if they should include a narrative within the game. While the lead writer wants guests to experience a story for themselves, the executives want guests to make their own stories.
The executive explained people return to Westworld because of the details they don’t easily see and the marvels they don’t realize. This is similar to how Lisa Joy plays Grand Theft Auto. Jonathan Nolan even called her the “more boring” player, as she even stops for traffic lights.
But Lisa tells him the beauty is there “if you slow down” and take time. This is true for some players who try to walk around the premises of GTA V‘s Los Santos. There is a kind of “life” within the city itself, one player can’t see if they just focus on missions.
Perhaps Westworld HBO is too powerful a series because of its lingering questions about narrative, game design and artificial intelligence. Game creators often make a “layer” of humanity to their games. This is why there is blood, and why their logic has “personalities.”
Meanwhile, us players want to be in control of the game, which is why we like cheats and manipulate the data. Which begs the question: How will we deal with games if their artificial intelligence is realistic enough?
A Westworld “game”?
The answer is: No, there is no game – yet. But Westworld HBO offers too advanced and diverse a dynamic that it merits a video game. Perhaps the best way to display the theme park in a video game is to make one where, while it is open world, the questions above still matter.
Maybe we can make a game that, while it is open world, every NPC matters. Maybe a random passer-by has a child waiting for her at home, or the local bartender goes out to hang out with his friends every night. A cow you just killed is actually a little girl’s best friend.
While Westworld HBO still doesn’t have a game, it does want us to question the way we look at the games we play. Are we doing our NPCs justice?