How ‘Westworld’ Tells the Story of GamerGate

     November 3, 2016


Lisa Joy, co-creator of Westworld, recently made an interesting comment about the Man in Black. “He’s looking at this as just a game and he’s an expert-level gamer,” she said. “Just like a life-saving doctor can play Grand Theft Auto really violently doesn’t mean he can’t be a wonderful doctor and parent outside that world.”

Westworld may be a place for the 1% to indulge in sex, murder, and adventure. But, at the end of the day, it is a game — and just like gaming, this too is a man’s world.

Think of the amusement park as a real-world RPG. You choose everything about your character, including your clothes, your weapons, and whether you’re the hero (the white hat) or the villain (the black hat). Then you are let loose on the world to forge your own path with each action you take affecting your karma points and story trajectory.


Image via HBO

This is a game made by men for men. As soon as Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) begins to dream beyond the confines of her loop, Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins) brings her in, strips her naked, and reminds her that she lives in his dream. As a host, women can be like Dolores, something for men to rescue or for men to ravage in the worst way possible. They can be like Maeve (Thandie Newton), something for men to abuse and discard. In the rare case, they can be like Armistice (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal), an outlaw with a snake tattoo, but even she is a stepping stone to further the storyline of the Man in Black.

As guests, women fade into the background. There’s Marti (Bojana Novakovic), a gunslinger who accompanied Teddy (James Marsden) on a mission, but it doesn’t look like she’ll be coming back. Then there’s the wife of Craig (Currie Graham), that guy who ruined Hector’s (Rodrigo Santoro’s) speech in the first episode by putting a bullet through his neck, but she easily grew tired of their time in the park. Why? Because this world wasn’t built for her.

This is happening in our world, too. GamerGate was coined in the gaming world after Zoe Quinn, a developer, was brutally harassed and threatened online. A quick Google search will unearth numerous other horror stories of women in geek fields facing harassment that, on a good day, includes comments like, “This is no place for a lady” and “Go kill yourself.” On a bad day, it’s much, much worse. Mockingbird comic writer Chelsea Cain is a recent victim. On leaving Twitter over online harassment, she wrote, in part, “Comics readers are 99% the best people you’d ever want to meet. The other 1% can be really mean.”

What makes Westworld so scary is that it’s built for this 1%. Yes, they really mean the highest tier of wealth, but most guests are closeted trolls. They treat women as objects because, as robots, they are objects, and the more bored they get, the more brutal their treatment of them becomes. The Man in Black may be some renowned philanthropic health physician of some kind in the outside world, but in the game — when he’s “on vacation” — he turns into a pestilence in the hopes of making Westworld more “fun.”


Image via HBO

What makes Westworld so scary is that his behavior isn’t so different from what gamers do to virtual characters. Actual gaming developers are pushing the boundaries of 3D technology and virtual reality. So, is it so farfetched to imagine a future, however distant, in which we have our own version of Westworld?

Elsie (Shannon Woodard) offered a chilling remark in the second episode when repairing Maeve: “Can you imagine how fucked we’d be if these poor assholes ever remembered what the guests do to them?” Victims of GamerGate and Westworld do remember what they endure, yet they have few means of defense. What happens when they face their tormenters face to face? Something like when Maeve wakes and confronts her “butchers.”

The two men cutting her open on the slab cower in fear when she pulls a scalpel on them. When she wakes again at the end of “Contrapasso,” she’s more composed and dangerous because she made the revelation that many victims still haven’t accepted: that what is done to her on a daily basis is pretty messed up. As the mystery of Westworld continues to unfold, it seems as though it’s turning into a GamerGate revenge story.

Dolores, too, is experiencing an awakening. While the orgy commences in Pariah, she sits disinterested on a sofa with her male companions because, again, this wasn’t made for her enjoyment. As chaos breaks out, she and William (Jimmi Simpson) attempt to escape but are blocked by a wall of former Confederate soldiers seeking payment for their betrayal. Dolores breaks from her pre-programmed damsel persona and kills them all.

“You say people come here to change the story of their lives,” she says. “I imagined a story where I didn’t have to be the damsel.”

Lord help everyone in Westworld if the Man in Black fulfills his promise of introducing “real stakes” to this game.