Let’s play a game that we’ll call, “Count The Genres”. Video games do a pretty good job of covering their bases in terms of the copious amount of scenarios and storylines they deal with. You have your run-of-the-mill sci-fi game, fantasy plots set in mystical realms, hospital simulations, farming sims, sports, you name it, there is probably a video game that touches on it in some way. There is one genre though that I am constantly amazed by the lack of coverage it receives and that is, the Western. How many Western themed games can you name?
I am curious as to why the Western genre gets as little love from electronic gaming as it does. This is especially true when you consider how romanticized the genre has been in books, radio, and film since the turn of the century. If one were to examine television from the Fifties and Sixties, shows like, “Gunsmoke”, “Rawhide”, and “Bonanza” were mainstays. The Seventies and Eighties brought viewers “Little House on The Prairie”. My question is, why in hell aren’t there more Western video games? I am befuddled by this lack of prairie doggin’, whiskey drinkin’, gun totin’ awesomeness for a few reasons.
If you wanted to, you could make a pretty decent parallel between peoples’ motivations to go West and why people play video games to begin with. There was definitely a sense of escapism to be had upon crossing through the Cumberland Gap and essentially leaving civilization as people then knew it. There was also a great deal of adventure and fear of the unknown that lay in front of you. Do we not play video games to get all of those same sensations? Sure, the pioneers faced real danger and peril compared to their gamer counterparts. I have played through Oregon Trail enough to know death-dealing diarrhea was one wagon length away at all times during those journeys. I just think it is odd that one of the greatest American adventures doesn’t get the attention that other enduring genres are treated to all the time.
The fact that there are so many sci-fi titles compared to Westerns is especially baffling. If placed in the realm of reality, science fiction has the potential to be infinitely more boring than life in the West. Sitting in a spaceship doing nothing for extended periods of travel or rolling slowly in a wagon over a land that was home to Indians, poisonous snakes, flooding, starvation, the rickets, and f’ing bears. What sounds like a more awesome game to you? Why do we even need to turn to fantasy settings for action when we have time periods like the Western Expansion of the United States? You can’t tell me the story of Lewis and Clark wouldn’t make a badass game, I am not even going to mention Daniel Boone. That dude’s son was kidnapped and tortured by indians and Boone kept on adventuring. Need another example? James Bowie. How many people do you know that have a bigass knife named after them? Not only that but witness this:
The dude had his portrait done with him holding brass knuckles. American. Badass.
Another thing that irks me as an RPG fan is that a role playing game based in the West could be extremely open-ended and huge. Yes, I know Red Dead Redemption is coming out and it is supposedly the biggest land area Rockstar has ever constructed but anyone that thinks Red Dead Redemption is going to be a true RPG needs to have their head examined. But hey, I will take what I can get and I pre-ordered the game. By the way, don’t think I overlooked the Wild Arms series. I just find it novel that the only people who thought the Wild West would be a good RPG setting would be Japanese.
Now it is time for some academic honesty. Yes, I live in Idaho. Yes, I am a history teacher/nerd. The funniest part is that I am not even that big of a Western fan, I just think it is interesting that such a big part of the American psyche and history gets overlooked in modern gaming. In the past couple of years that has changed a bit with titles like the Call of Juarez series, Gun, and the Red Dead series but you look at the amount of fantasy games kicked out in the same time period and the West is dizzyingly outgunned by elves, wizards, and dwarves.
I would actually be very happy if game developers looked at other historical time periods and locales in American history. Hell, look at New York city in the years between 1895 and 1905 and tell me that wouldn’t make a cool game if someone put their mind to it. Grand Theft Auto: Tammany Hall Stories. There was just as much corruption, drugs, killing, and general creepiness in New York then as there is in the modern day, if not more so.
Getting back to the Western game, I guess there is just part of me that thinks if we can have 722,561 games based on World War II, we can do better than a few dozen games based in the 100 year period between 1800 and 1900. Something that held true for those traveling West still holds true for game developers today, that huge chunk of land and that time period is anything that you want to make of it, ambition is the only determining factor.
Need proof that gaming is severely lacking Westerns, look at this and count how many have been made in the last decade: