So, the other weekend, I was in Oakland and met up with the wonderful Ryan F. Macklin from the Internet. Over dinner, he brought up Kenneth Hite‘s analyses of the Western as a genre. Granted, me telling you this is third hand, but the big points I took away were that:

  • the Western is, at its core, about the gun as a civilizing tool, that makes its user inevitably and irrevocably someone outside that civilization,
  • the Western is the national story of this country.

Once you’ve characterized a Western in those terms, you sure do see them everywhere. It’s a particular angle on “power corrupts”, and a particularly American angle. The hero has to ride off into the sunset, because by the very nature of how he has and exercises power, he cannot live in the world that power creates for other people.

But not every story we tell is that kind of story, of course. Some of my favorite dramas are resolutely not of this model, such as Avatar: the Last Airbender. And some, the ones that really interest me right now, verge on this concept of the Western, but struggle against it.

Consider, if you will, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The beating heart of this show is a message about how power sets one apart (in this case, mystical power, but in the Slayer’s power is much like the power afforded by a gun). But it doesn’t stop there: it goes on to say that community, belonging, and friends will keep you alive and sane and moral. That, however much the road of the Western beckons, you have to be a bit of the world you’re fighting for, to know why you fight for it.

It’s this borderline story that intrigues me. When playing a game, I don’t want to just fight for a world I can never partake in. I want to have a character whose strengths and weaknesses stem from their connections to the world, but who is liminal enough to fight for that world against the things outside it.

Obviously, this isn’t all games or all people’s desire! But I think it’s what Et in Arcadia Ego needs, ultimately, to be. It is about characters who exist on the edges, between the rulebound society of the English Regency, and the oathbound society of fairies, and who are fighting to defend the former from the latter.

So, it’s kind of a Western, albeit a Byronic Western.

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  • If you want to read more about Ken’s thoughts on the Western:

    The axioms: http://princeofcairo.livejournal.com/4483.html
    “The Western is, and has been since before its birth, about the essential conflict inherent in the following axioms: You must pick up the gun to defend civilization against barbarism. Those who pick up the gun are barbarians.”
    The ten Westerns to watch from a Western scholar perspective and where they fit: http://princeofcairo.livejournal.com/130537.html

    And from a Lovecraftian horror context, his e-book Dubious Shards
    http://atomicovermind.com/main/?page_id=178

    – Ryan