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CAS seminar: Dr John Wills (Kent) “Bam. Shot Me”: Depictions of the American West in Early Video Games

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Location: S0.18 Social Sciences building, University of Warwick

Presentation, discussion, refreshments. All are welcome.


This research paper tackles how computer and video games in the 1970s used the history of the American West as their inspiration, and through a familiar historical narrative, helped introduce a nation to a new medium of digital play. In particular, it looks at The Oregon Trail (1971+), an education title designed for school use, and Boot Hill (1977), a Midway arcade game. Both games proved highly successful thanks to their fusion of new technology with old storytelling.

However, the two titles offered highly divergent takes on the American experience; one based around a recreation of a slow and strategic crossing of the Plains (the game amounting to a form of ‘mundane realism’), the other, a speedy showdown of gunfighter action (that helped pioneer the ‘shooter’ video game genre and link games with violence). Together, the titles offer valuable insight into early video game culture and the enduring hold of frontier mythology. The paper draws from research for a forthcoming book entitled Gamer Nation.

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