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Westworld’s second episode proves it's an open-world game about human behavior

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The psychology is the best part of the show

HBO

Warning: The following will contain spoilers for what happened in the most recent episode of Westworld.

If Sunday night’s episode of Westworld made you want to run out and play Grand Theft Auto or Skyrim, you’re not alone. That open-world concept feeling wasn't an accidental design, and the second episode of the season is the first time we’re seeing the visitors of Westworld capitalize on those ideas and values.

The first episode teased the concept that anything goes, including vicious acts like murder, but in the second episode, "Chestnut," tackled the varying levels of ease or discomfort visitors to the park had with settling in. Westworld is a show, above all else, about the freedom to roam, explore and act on your wildest impulses or dreams. Much like when playing a game that doesn’t necessarily punish users for being morally reprehensible, one of the most interesting parts of Westworld is watching to see how quickly visitors are willing to shed their consciences and submerge themselves into a totally depraved mindset.

One of the most important parts of Sunday’s episode is the introduction of William (Jimmi Simpson) and Logan (Ben Barnes). 

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The two have essentially taken on James Brolin and Richard Benjamin’s characters from the original film, and it’s their different approach to the insanity of Westworld that provides the best look at the ambiguous nature of the entire theme park. Whereas Logan gives into his primal desires without so much as a second thought, William is much more contemplative, questioning everything they do before moving forward. If the pilot was an example of the horribleness that people surround themselves with in Westworld, the second episode is a reminder that the level of humanity in all of us ranges.

The best part about the second episode is that it doesn’t necessarily focus on the mystery surrounding the park and its inhabitants, but instead takes time to remind audiences that it’s worth paying attention to how characters interact with each other in Westworld. Much like an open-world game, the choices that present themselves to people are endless, and it’s up to the player to decide what type of path they want to head down. They can stick to the linear story and not engage with the people they meet. They can choose to be a good Samaritan and help out those in need, becoming a local hero. Or, if they so wish, they can go on a murderous rampage or be as violent as they wish because, for the most part, there won’t be any consequences.

The second episode of Westworld captures all of the hesitations that go into those decisions and uses the introduction of William and Logan to show off the two extremes of how visitors can act. It’s easy to draw a line between the design of Westworld and the design of a game like Grand Theft Auto, and that’s not a coincidence. At New York Comic Con this past weekend, executive producers Lisa Joy Nolan and Jonathan Nolan talked about playing games like Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption as research for the series. Jonathan Nolan said while he was used to players diving right into the madness of GTA, he thought it was interesting to see his wife take it easy, stopping at traffic lights and taking in the scenery.


Nolan added that the most interesting part of open-world video games, and what they wanted to accomplish with Westworld, was showing that a large group of people don’t act in simulations the same way they do in real life. This is never clearer than in the second episode, where the dire consequences these choices have are actually addressed head on. The theology surrounding the creation of Westworld is also a subject that comes into play during the second episode, and is one of the the most interesting theme that we’ve been introduced to in the past two episodes.

Of course, that isn’t the only thing going on in Westworld. There was some progress made on the main mystery that makes up the narrative arc of the show. The Man in Black, for example, is trying to get to the "deeper world" that exists within the theme park and will stop at nothing to get there. In his quest, he recruits an old "friend" named Lawrence and, in an attempt to get Lawrence to lead him to the deeper world, slaughters an entire village of hosts to prove his dominance.

"Chestnut" also gives us some more insight into the glitches affecting Dolores and her ability to see through the fog of what Westworld really is. She’s not sleeping through the night and resetting, like she’s supposed to, and her burgeoning self-realization is upsetting everyone in charge of the theme park. With Ford set to introduce his own new narrative to the park, things are about to change in Westworld, and it’s apparent there may be some bigger issues looming if the AI machines begin to realize what’s actually going on.

Still, the most intriguing part of Westworld continues to be its unrelenting approach to discussing the psychology of the human mind and our behavior when control is completely relinquished to us. It seems like that’s the angle that the producers are most interested in exploring, and I can only hope that the narrative doesn’t overtake the exploration aspects of the series.

After all, the best part of an open-world game is exploring and seeing what you can get away with, and in that way, Westworld is a fantastic open-world project.