When #Westworld first premiered back in October, it quickly became #HBO's newest smash hit — the intriguing series had us hooked by Episode 1. And there's been a hive of theory activity surrounding its mind-bending antics, with fans puzzling over everything from the mysterious Maze to the true identity of Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright).
The show is also packed with extra-textual references, most notably the famous repeating line — "These violent delights have violent ends" — taken from William Shakespeare's tragic romance Romeo and Juliet. And there's many an influence felt here, from shades of Blade Runner to brushstrokes of the original movie.
But show creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy also drew inspiration from some pretty unique sources, ones that aren't really all that surprising when we consider how the mode of the Westworld park is mapped out. Namely, video games.
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For all its flaws, Westworld is undeniably a pretty cerebral series. Its core concept hinges on that little gap in the uncanny valley — the distance between human and robot. Consciousness, morality, class struggles and hedonism line the walls of each episode, increasingly so as we move towards unraveling the mystery of the Maze and Arnold.
Bearing that in mind, it's perhaps not so much of a surprise to learn that Ken Levine's well-loved Objectivist and Orwellian series #BioShock had an effect on the thought process going into Westworld. Speaking at the New York Comic Con earlier this year, Jonathan Nolan mentioned the series as a source of inspiration — calling BioShock Infinite "among the most literate and thoughtful pieces of entertainment I’ve seen in the last ten years."
In particular, BioShock had an effect on the way the producers approached the Westworld "NPCs" — the Hosts who reside in the park for the amusement of the human "players." Nolan recalled hearing Levine speak about creating and programming entire conversations between NPCs in BioShock, conversations that players might not even noticed as they played through the game — unless they paused for a moment to do so.
"I was [with] Ken Levine, the designer of those games, talking about the non-player characters — Elizabeth, specifically, in BioShock Infinite. In a scene, I think I had just run through and shot everyone and kept going. And he was talking about how much craft had gone into all the conversations that the non-player characters had, and all their dreams and aspirations. And I just thought, Oh, isn't that tragic? Isn't that sad? And the player just ignores it all. The bastards."
The attention to detail struck Nolan, and we see a similar level of attention from the Host's creators in Westworld, especially in the most recent episode "The Adversary," which saw Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton) being exposed to the details of her own attributes matrix.
And — as spotted by Redditor Raptoropteryx — Westworld Episode 3 appeared to actually feature a BioShock Easter Egg. A pale-faced bust seen briefly in Dr. Robert Ford's office seemed to bear a resemble to a certain character from the first game — the mustached thespian Sander Cohen.
The white faced busts do appear numerous times in connection with Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins) though, so this could just be a coincidence. Although, with Westworld's penchant for Easter Eggs, it could very well be a deliberate name drop (or a face drop, if you will).
But BioShock isn't the only series that left a mark on Westworld. At Comic Con Nolan and Joy also discussed the games of developer Rockstar — specifically their Grand Theft Auto series and #RedDeadRedemption, which is soon to have its long awaited sequel.
Both Nolan and Joy played the open-world games whilst researching Westworld, although it seems either side of the husband-and-wife team have different approaches to their gameplay methods:
Nolan: "I'm happy to report that my wife is the world's most boring 'Grand Theft Auto' player. I've never seen anyone who actually obeyed the traffic signals. She's like, 'Can I help her across the street?'"
Joy: "The city looks beautiful, if you just slow it down and take your time! A lot of work that went into it; it's gorgeous!"
This was indeed the most important thing that they learned from playing the games — the divide between players who are out for blood and those who just want to enjoy the scenery. Indeed this marks the difference between Logan (Ben Barnes) and William (Jimmi Simpson). As Barnes chimed in during the panel, Logan sees the park as a "Grand Theft Auto mission of indulgence," while William is a more passive player (or at least, he was to begin with).
For the Nolans — and for many of us Westworld fans — the way in which the consequence-free mode of video games can reveal hidden personality traits is a very interesting and integral part of the show's mythology. Such was the case when William finally gave into his darker side in Episode 5 — "Contrapasso" — and indeed it begs the question: If we visited Westworld, what would we learn about ourselves?
What do you think of Westworld so far? Sound off in the comments, and check out the promo for Westworld Episode 7, "Trump L'Oeil" below!