What Western Horror Games Say About U.S. Culture
The U.S. is having a reckoning with the past. Most cultures love to gas themselves up when it comes to their origin stories and no one has more gas than Americans. Our collective narrative, not to mention what we’re taught in schools, glosses over or leaves out a ton of the worst parts of our history. The Wild West is one of the most storied times in our nation’s often totally BS yarn. But the truth often comes out in surprising ways. The recent influx of games set in the Old West involving horror elements, are revealing a cultural dialogue with the horrors of the past.
As a culture our fascination with the Old West has waxed and waned. The last great Cowboy Craze was during the 50’s and 60’s when, oh would you look at that, we were having a cultural reckoning about civil rights and individual freedoms vs. societal conformity. At that time, the cowboys were faced with evil men who sought to subjugate others, be they women, native folks, or settlers. The evils cowboys are facing in modern games are of the more ghoulish variety. It’s no mistake that zombies, aka horrors long thought buried rising up to threaten and torment, are one of the most common enemies in gaming today.
The atrocities committed against the Native peoples of the United States are a stain we’ll always have. Unless we’re being taught about them in our schools and more actively acknowledging them in our government and discussing them in our society, they’re war crimes that could be repeated again. The trend in horror Westerns is starting up a dialogue in a new way.
A slew of games set in the dusty plains of a bygone era have come out recently, and there’s more on the horizon. Weird West, where you defeat horrific baddies in a darkling desert, Blood West, where you reclaim territory from undead legions, even Red Dead Redemption 2 featured hidden elements of horror and mystery. The yet to be released Evil West sees a grizzled gunslinger facing supernatural hordes, the genre is only growing. While blasting zombies won’t change our culture, these games are certainly something to look towards to begin the conversations we need to have.