Jonathan Nolan, brother of Christopher and co-writer of The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, and Interstellar, has previously discussed how he used video games as an inspiration for HBO’s reboot of Westworld. Previously, Nolan cited Red Dead Redemption and BioShock as two games that helped shape his vision for Westworld. But speaking to Vice, the showrunner revealed he was also fascinated by the independent lives that Bethesda created for NPCs in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
I was fascinated by the concept of writing a story in which the protagonists’ actions aren’t part of the story. In games like The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, Red Dead Redemption, or the sandbox games that BioWare make, morality is a variable. How do you write a story in which the hero’s moral component exists on a spectrum? That’s a fascinating challenge.
I’m also fascinated by how non-player-characters in video games have their own lives. In Skyrim, when you walk into a village, you aren’t necessarily the most important person there. The NPCs have lives that happen whether you’re there or not. I was listening to directors’ commentary from Ken Levine about building BioShock Infinite and the affection that game developers and designers develop for their characters. It’s a qualitatively different relationship than the one screenwriters have with their characters, because video game characters don’t just recite dialogue—they do shit, and the players interact with them.
Nolan expanded on this theme in a separate interview with IGN, where he said that “life [is] ever more beginning to resemble a game” and that some people have started to live their lives according to the rules of a fantasy universe:
For me, the jumping off point of starting with the Host… Everyone’s favorite party conversation brainteaser these days is “Are we living in a simulation?” I get tired of that question fairly easily because in a sufficiently robust simulation there’d be no way of answering of course. But the idea that our lives could be programmatic, that there could be rules at play that we’re not familiar with, that we don’t understand, is something I’ve long been fascinated by – and so is the idea of fate and the idea of an unseen hand that’s guiding events. Here, it’s a very literal thing.
Before we had children, I was a gamer back in the day, and I think that was the other aspect of what drew me to the original concept, was the idea of life ever more beginning to resemble a game. That with enough wealth and sufficient technological advancement that you could get to a point where you live, as a lot of people do, a significant portion of your life in a fantasy universe, whether it’s World of Warcraft or the new VR games that are just coming out.
You really dissolve into that experience and live your life inside – not a real world but a curated world. One that’s distinct from the real world because there’s intention there, there are rules. There is a narrative. Life, real life, resists narrative through lines. There aren’t hidden levels. There’s just f**king chaos. But in the game universe there are always deeper levels of meaning. So for us it was like a candy store. There were all these ideas that we wanted to play with in one series.
New episodes of Westworld will premiere every Sunday on HBO. Have you noticed the show’s parallels to video games? Let us know in the comments.