— By Carly Twehous —
Here’s an idea:
What would you pay to have your every fantasy—no matter how good, bad, or ugly it may be—come to life right in front of you?
What story would you give anything to live, to be a part of?
Why not forget your own life for awhile? Take a trip to Mars, or go back in time to meet Butch and Sundance in their glory days, whatever floats your boat. Hero or villain, it really doesn’t matter. There are no consequences either way.
If you’ve ever felt that unquenchable pull to be somewhere else—to be someone else—Westworld is exactly the vacation you’ve been searching for.
This is your perfect fantasy and a judgment-free zone.
That is, if you’re willing to pay for it.
On the surface, this Bizzaro-Earth, holo-deck world is the vacation package of a lifetime. It’s a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure novel on a massive scale. Just choose the backdrop and wham! A whole new world, where you are basically a minor deity.
Except uninhibited fantasy always has a high price of admittance.
Once you’re on the holo-deck, styled after the Old West, artificially intelligent, life-like robots called ‘Hosts’ cater to the clients’ every whim. These Hosts are so life-like, they’re nearly indistinguishable from humans and provide the client with a fully immersive experience. Although earning its HBO rating in a much more disturbing and clinical manner than the likes of its predecessors, Westworld clients can kill Hosts with absolutely no consequences, all in the realm of fantasy.
Little by little, uninhibited fantasy strips away what little humanity these clients had to begin with.
A comprehensive network of Westworld employees—mostly computer programmers and robotics engineers—work around the clock to reset and refurbish Hosts after they are ‘killed’ or eliminated from a certain client’s story. These employees are the behind-the-scenes ghosts who tweak storyline glitches and meticulously uphold Westworld’s veil of realism promised in every brochure.
But, of course, ‘no consequences’ is only part of the sales pitch and ‘reality’ is a lot closer to the surface than the brochures would have the clients believe.
Little by little, Hosts are taking the stories into their own hands and are remembering the atrocities committed against them in past resets. Slowly but surely, that whatever illusion separating the predominantly despicable clients from the human-in-all-but-name Hosts is shattered, leaving the audience with an uncomfortable hatred of their own kind and a strange sympathy for the artificial intelligence that’s just a bit too human.
Even before James Cameron’s thrilling 1991 Terminator sequel that made audiences all around the world fall in love with a robot who we definitely wanted dead in the first movie, science-fiction writers loved exploring that boundary separating man from machine. The Terminator franchise certainly stands out as both a best and worse case scenario of the introduction of artificial intelligence. Star Trek did so with its introduction of Data, the beloved android of The Next Generation spin-off that eventually reached a level of humanity that he was able to sacrifice himself for his crew—and not just because that was the most pragmatic thing to do. Even Star Wars, to an extent, relies on very human-like robots who have an identity far exceeding their nature.
These kinds of stories are philosophically intriguing and haunt audiences for generations. Westworld, almost even more so, because those humans playing God are so utterly despicable we have no problems rooting for the Hosts, even though their fate is almost certainly sealed in their creation.
Hosts were made by greedy men, so tired of their own existence that they thought they’d take raw creation into their own hands. How can they hope to exceed their own nature, let alone prove to be truly human, when those who have human nature by birthright so blatantly abuse that gift?
“Are you real?” asks Frankenstein to his monster.
“If you can’t tell, does it really matter?”
We all know the ending to that particular tale.