It’s no secret that video-game DNA exists in the genetic code of Westworld. Games influenced the show's creators in ways both assumed and established and are a useful lens for examining the show’s characters and narrative structure. But what should you play if you enjoy Westworld and want to experience the sort of interactive storytelling that has inspired it? That depends on what you get out of Westworld — or the kind of guest you would be, were you to visit this strange and unsettling theme park.
Red Dead Redemption (Xbox 360 / PlayStation 3)
The obvious choice. For whatever reason, Westerns aren’t that popular of a genre in video games — so while Red Dead Redemption and its open world is one of the very best, it’s also the best by default. Made by Rockstar Games, the creators of Grand Theft Auto, Red Dead Redemption is the story of John Marston, a man blackmailed by crooked government agents into rounding up his old gang for them. The experience of playing Red Dead is a lot like a guest’s first experience in Westworld: There’s an opening train ride, a small town full of stories unfolding, and a frontier that gets more dangerous the farther out you go. It’s a bit janky by today’s standards, but Red Dead Redemption is the best video-game representation of Western tropes and aesthetics. (A sequel is inbound next year, and might hold you over in the final stretch before season two kicks off.)
The Witcher 3 (Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC)
When we compare Westworld to video games, we’re usually talking about massive, open-world games — ones in which you navigate a character around a huge sandbox full of places to go and things to do, with stories and mysteries to stumble upon. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is the game you play if you trust a guy like Westworld’s Robert Ford* to be the master storyteller he says he is, and want to throw yourself headfirst into his stories.
While The Witcher 3 (don’t worry about the other two) is a fantasy game that may not seem all that similar to Westworld, it is very much the pinnacle of open-world role-playing games that Westworld sets out to emulate. Everything about The Witcher 3 screams quality: Its world is gorgeous, its writing is deft, with stories that run the gamut from funny to tragic to strange. Even the bad guys in The Witcher 3 are often as sympathetic as they are reprehensible, and the choices the game asks you to make are often difficult, with repercussions you won’t always see coming. There is real humanity at the heart of almost every story in The Witcher 3, with all of the hope, despair, hilarity, sex, violence, and ugliness that comes with it.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Xbox 360 & One, PlayStation 3 & 4, PC) / Fallout 4 (Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC)
Let’s say you’re more like Westworld’s resident Nice Guy, William: someone who can maybe appreciate a place like Westworld, but cannot suspend disbelief enough to really buy into the character you’re supposed to be, or aren’t willing to throw yourself headlong into full-on role play. Then you should check out The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim or Fallout 4. Both are made by Bethesda Game Studios and are structured more or less the same way, with worlds more geared towards exploration and a loose story that’s more of a suggestion than a mandate. You don’t play a well-defined character so much as a stand-in for yourself, kitted out to reflect your wardrobe and weapon choices. Go with Skyrim if you want the gorgeous sort of Nordic fantasy that most power-metal songs are about, and Fallout if you prefer Mad Max with goofy '50s-retro future gizmos. Either way, your goal in both games eventually becomes more or less the same: Get lost. Be surprised at what you find. Imagine what your life would be like in a world like this.
Bioshock (Xbox 360 & One, PlayStation 3 & 4, PC)
Many of the games on this list are sprawling affairs that introduce you to an interesting world and encourage you to immerse yourself in it, whether via compelling characters and plots or just sheer wonder. But if you want to experience that richness on a more directed path, with more straightforward goals, few games do it better than Bioshock. A first-person shooter set in the 1960s, Bioshock casts you as Jack, the sole survivor of a plane crash in the mid-Atlantic who discovers the underwater city of Rapture. A Randian dystopia where hedonism and science have run amok, Rapture’s citizens have essentially genetically altered themselves into monsters, and you’ll have to use their tech to give Jack the powers to survive them — presenting a moral quandary in embracing Rapture’s amoral grasp of humanity. A thoughtful game with memorable set pieces and one of the best plot twists in gaming, Bioshock is seminal stuff, perfect for the Westworld watcher who loves audacious, memorable plots and mind-bending turns.
Ico (PlayStation 2 & 3)
The most interesting thing about comparing Westworld to video games is that Westworld is clearly less interested in the people playing the game than it is the artificial life they use and abuse. It’s a show about caring for a person that’s not supposed to be real, only to find out there really isn’t much separating us from them. Directed by games auteur Fumito Ueda, Ico is a modern masterpiece designed with that express purpose in mind: to have you care for an artificial character that’s placed in the world with you. In Ico, you play a horned boy who is cast out from his village and winds up trapped in a castle with a girl with magical powers. Together, you must escape, and to get her to come with you, you must hold her hand — an action that players take by holding down a button. Let go of the button, and you let go of her hand. This simple but compelling form of interaction allows for powerful nonverbal storytelling, the kind of stuff you can only really do through video games. There isn’t a single intelligible word spoken between the two leads in Ico, but it remains one of the most affecting character dynamics in video games, a simple yet moving way of conveying trust and understanding in a medium often accused of being solely interested in deviance.
The Dark Souls Trilogy (Various Xbox and PlayStation platforms, PC) / Bloodborne (PlayStation 4)
You know "the maze"? That huge, brutal, sprawling, and barely explained puzzle the Man in Black is trying to solve in Westworld? The Dark Souls games are like that. A franchise by developer From Software, the Dark Souls trilogy is a dark medieval fantasy in which you are a barely human warrior fighting through damned cities and abandoned fortresses. Your main goal is to survive, but in your efforts — which will be numerous, because these games are quite hard — the intrigue of the world around you will draw you in and make you wonder why is this all here? “Something bad happened here” is more or less the only explicit story you’ll get from these games, but there is a purpose and tragedy to the games’ design and aesthetic that inspires internet sleuths and daydreamers, many of whom have worked to piece together the grand mystery of the Souls games across forums and on YouTube.
While technically a trilogy, you can play any Dark Souls game and get the full Souls experience — but if you want something more streamlined and self-contained, check out Bloodborne, which trades medieval fantasy for Lovecraftian gothic horror and a much simpler system that isn’t as concerned with Dark Souls's complex array of statistics and gear.
*The article originally misidentified Anthony Hopkins's character. We regret the error.