The gaming industry has touched on plenty of genres throughout the years, from horror and action-adventure to shooter games and high-fantasy. But recently, there has been a surge in games for a particular category — the Wild West. For instance, Western-themed mobile games such as Wild West: New Frontier, West Gunfighter, and Governor of Poker have surged in popularity. Moreover, the great minds behind Shadow Warrior — Flying Wild Hog — just dropped a trailer for Evil West during Game Awards 2020. Plus, a new Desperado game was even launched last year. But how did the Western genre grow to the powerhouse that it is today? Let’s take a quick trip down memory lane.
The Oregon Trail is a 2,000-mile route from Missouri to Oregon City, which mid-18th century Americans used to emigrate to the west. This is also the title of the very first Western-inspired game in history. The Oregon Trail is an ongoing series that began in 1971 and was designed to teach middle-schoolers the realities of the old pioneer life. You play as a wagon leader in charge of leading your group to Oregon. However, as it was predominantly an educational title, the gaming market didn’t really pick it up — much less the setting it was based on.
Enter Indiana Jones, a seasoned archeologist that made the Wild West look cool and dangerous. The first movie of the series, Raiders of the Lost Ark, became the highest-grossing film of 1981, earning $330.5 million worldwide. In 1982, action-adventure game Raiders of the Lost Ark was released for the Atari 2600, piloting a long line of Indiana Jones games with every film release. There are even a bunch that aren’t even based on a movie per se, like The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones and Facebook’s Indiana Jones Adventure World. Indiana Jones pushed the Western genre into mainstream entertainment — including games. Many iconic video games set in the Wild West, such as Outlaws (1997) and Call of Juarez (2005), are all inspired by Indiana Jones. But even then, Western-inspired games were few and far between — with consumers lucky if they even got one new title a year.
Because of this, gaming publisher Rockstar Games figured that the industry needed its own Indiana Jones — so they first gave us Red Harlow in Red Dead Revolver (2006). Harlow was a grittier, cooler Indiana Jones. He didn’t get in brawls, preferring to rely on his trusted revolver instead. The game got mixed reviews, however, due to its arcade-like elements and FPS mechanics. Four years later, Rockstar created a reboot in the form of Red Dead Redemption. It was open-world, and the gameplay was a lot more cinematic. It also gave us the valiant Arthur Morgan, whose popularity would later rival Jones. Red Dead Redemption boasted a ton of sales, going on to win that year’s VGX Game of the Year Award.
It took Rockstar a full eight years to deliver the next Red Dead Redemption game, but by then, the industry was already smitten with the Arthur “Dead Eye” Morgan fantasy. In turn, this has inspired a lot of Western-inspired titles across many digital gaming platforms throughout the years. For example, Goat Games, the creator of bestselling mobile game War and Magic, has recently extended its scope to the Western genre. Wild West Heroes (2020) is a strategy idle RPG that lets players form a team of cowboys to defend their town with. It has over 100,000+ downloads to date. The huge selection of titles on Foxy Games includes a lot of Western ones, too, such as Tomb of Dead, John Hunter, and Slingo Showdown. Despite their similarity in genre, each game’s unique play style guarantees a new experience every time. Even online card games like Arkadium’s Poker Hold’em have also chosen the Wild West as their setting to amplify the tension between players. Recently developed Western-themed video games such as Far Cry, Hunt: Showdown, and Luckslinger are also a testament to the genre’s popularity. Looking back, the Wild West wasn’t always the most enticing theme to pick up in mainstream entertainment. But it took two cowboys for the gaming industry to truly appreciate it. Today, its influence has stretched to all corners of the industry, and will continue to do so in the coming years. Check out RFD TV for more entertainment posts and other news featuring rural America.