Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Rant about Westworld

Oh boy.

Westworld is a cool show about artificial intelligence, horror, and westerns in general.  It's beautiful.  The acting is great.  It is the kind of awesome Science Fiction that My People (the geeks who hide and enjoy this sort of thing).  

I mean, it's like BSG in terms of feel.  It's riveting.  And it's a deep, thinking thing, right?


I finished Westworld.  As I told a friend, I don't know how to describe my current opinion on it.

I found it interesting, dramatic and etc, all those things you say about a dark sci fi show these days.  Ever since BSG made the mold, you do key into the rhythm.

I like it, but because it's a great analogy for tabletop gaming.  Not the questions on AI.  I dislike the fake west the show uses.  But it's set dressing, but the fakeness of it compared to actual history seems crystal clear to me.

It makes sense that the show would wield bad Wild West cliches like a sledgehammer.  I don't like those cliches, but it's obvious they exist as part of the park's escapist appeal.  The guests remind me of the more uncomfortable gamers I've gamed with.  In one or two cases, I identify more with a guest character- I've been that player character in a game.

  The one person who finds breaking the emersion for the sake of a joke to be offensive.

Westworld avoids talking about it, but the park's methodologies line up more with a tabletop RPG than video games.  Of course, video games want that same sort of interactivity.  Like RPGs, though, Westworld and video games also want narrative control.

Well, not all RPGs.  Game Mastery isn't 100% the same as managing the hosts in Westworld.  But some scenes verbatim mimic instances I've experienced as a DM.

It's the moments of cruelty and utter malice from human guests to robot NPCs that remind me.  It reminds me of my teen gaming years.  There is a part of players who sit down to a game of D&D and they become depraved monsters.  They destroy towns, create chaos and are like unto a storm upon the shared imaginary game world.

The Storyteller as Monster

Westworld does offend me in one way.  Westworld's first season uses stories.  Not in a pleasant metaphor.  It goes right down to the basic Crichton ideal.  The thought of human entertainment having this horrific component to it.

The monster in it is the storyteller.

Not the robots.  Not the humans, per se.  The one who created the world, its god, and master, is a storyteller.  Anthony Hopkins' Ford creates the narrative of Westworld as a park.  He walks it and making whatever tales he wants it.  Even his name is a reference to creation in so many ways.

The one who is pulling the strings.  The one using the Hosts and providing obstacles is the Storyteller.  The main antagonist is a storyteller.  And it's implied that the tales, the stories being done, are lies. 

It's a sacrilege to me.  I enjoyed Westworld.  But part of the end theme was that the nature of human stories didn't ennoble us.   Instead, damns our servants.  That when humans are part of a story, it scars other intelligent beings, even when we have the choice not to.

But I hoped there was something deeper to be found than "our lies cause suffering."  Recent news suggests its costs might keep another season from coming.  I dislike the notion of scifi being kept by costs.  

On the other hand, I like the idea of just a singlular season for a show.  Smaller is better in some cases.