I’m currently obsessed with the western genre. This happened to me back in 2010 with the release of Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption, and it’s happening again right now thanks to Quentin Taratino’s latest film, Django Unchained. Having seen the film twice in a matter of days, I now find myself constantly listening to western-inspired music through Spotify (Django Unchained soundtrack FTW) and can’t get outlaws, cowboys, horses and stagecoaches out of my head. I could probably even make a joke about having a fever and the only prescription being cow related…
But you get the point.
So all this cowboy love has got me thinking – why are there so few video game westerns? With Google as my ally, I did some research and it looks like there have only been a little over 20 video game westerns ever made, ranging from Oregon Trail (aka the great dysentery simulator), to an adaption of Back to the Future III, to a number of “full motion video games”/light gun affairs, and culminating in what’s arguably the best video game western ever made, Red Dead Redemption in 2010.
That might seem like a lot, but with the way the video game industry loves to exploit things, especially successes in the case of Red Dead, it’s a wonder we haven’t seen a greater push for western video games since.
Perfect for exploring morally-gray characters.
It’s no secret a vast majority of mainstream titles revolve around using guns to blast caps in the asses of “bad guys.” Sometimes we’re even cast as said villain and told to shoot the good guys instead, as well as innocent bystanders from time to time. This can often create a moral fracture between the player and a game’s hero.
Take, for example, Uncharted’s Nathan Drake. Drake is obviously the protagonist of the Uncharted series, yet because of how the game is built, players are encouraged to always shoot first and never ask questions. Nathan Drake has killed so many people over the course of the Uncharted games, and when you stop to really think about it, it makes it kind of hard to really see him as the “lovable rogue” he’s cast as, as opposed to the mass murderer he honestly is.
There’s a reason I bring this up: westerns are one of the ripest eras for tackling characters of morally gray fiber. There isn’t much that separates a hero from a villain in the Old West (see: Red Dead Redemption), as the two terms can be throw around quite freely as long as there’s perspective to back it up. Therefore, the western, by default, kind of removes that discontent players experience in games such as Uncharted and the like.
Untapped story potential in the Old West.
The Old West offers plenty of untapped storytelling potential, too, whether you’re exploring the years building up to the Civil War and after, or touching on the turn of the century and the “death” of the Old West, as was the case with Red Dead Redemption. No matter which era you choose, you’ll get a thematically rich playground that provides an exceptional backdrop for interesting character studies.
Furthermore, one of the (many) reasons the Assassin’s Creed franchise has resonated with fans is because of the liberties it’s taken with history and how it incorporates that alternate take to construct a fascinating “what if” kind of tale. Who’s to say that can’t be done with events ranging from the late 1850s to the early 1900s? It honestly shocks me that this hasn’t been done yet.
What are they waiting for?
It’s honestly a shock to me that we haven’t seen any more westerns greenlit by publishers following the success, both critically and commercially, of Red Dead Redemption. It’s such a fascinating period in American history, and seems like the perfect backdrop for developers interested in exploring the shooter genre. Maybe in the wake of Django Unchained’s success, we’ll see more games publishers and developers tapping into the Old West. And if that’s merely a pipe dream, then at least we can cross our fingers that Rockstar has a sequel to Red Dead hidden up their sleeve.
Erik Norris is the Gaming Editor for CraveOnline. You can follow him on Twitter @Regular_Erik.