HBO’s Westworld averaged near 12 million viewers per episode during its first season — not bad for a hyperviolent yet oddly cerebral TV show that focuses on moral questions around A.I. from the robots’ point of view. Created by the husband-and-wife team of Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy and executive-produced by J.J. Abrams, the series offers up worlds within worlds, riddles within riddles, and characters who are caught in endless loops that they’re not supposed to remember — but clearly are beginning to.
What’s remarkable from the lab’s perspective is not just how layered the story is but how layered the storytelling itself becomes: Even as the show delves into ethical issues between action sequences, it also explores the nature of interactive narrative and the possibilities that come into play when you take audiences behind the screen and into the workings of the Westworld theme park and of Delos, the corporation that owns it.
“Interactive fiction — whether the kind you find in video games or the sort that Nolan and Joy had to invent and run beneath the narrative hood of ‘Westworld’’s overarching story — presents peculiar challenges. . . . The problem is that so many video games choose to tell stories about small groups of people blasting their way through large groups of people — which is the very activity many of the fictional visitors to Westworld decide to pursue for themselves. These sorts of stories, no matter how artfully they’re presented, are always pretty conceptually dumb, and I say that as someone who enjoys writing them. The fascinating achievement of ‘Westworld’ is that it dares to take seriously the creative and experiential dilemmas that interactive video-game stories pose.”