“I’ve always loved Westerns.” This statement was made by Haris Orkin, lead writer and voice director for the upcoming Western video game Call of Juarez: Gunslinger (2013), in a recent conversation he had with westernsreboot.com. Enjoyment of a genre typically leads to a deeper understanding of it. From the time Orkin gave to discuss his involvement with the soon-to-be-released Call of Juarez: Gunslinger, it appears that insight will be offered on a number of levels.

Haris Orkin grew up in Chicago, Illinois and has a background that includes a degree in English and Economics as well as studies in Creative Writing at the University of Southern California. Orkin is now based in California.

Orkin has been involved with the Call of Juarez franchise since the first game in the series was released in 2006. Orkin worked in collaboration with artist and writer Pawel Selinger on the first three installments and is now lead writer for this fourth game in the series. In that lead role Orkin collaborated on the Gunslinger story and script with Techland writer Rafal Orkan (no relation).

Developed by Techland and published by Ubisoft, Call of Juarez: Gunslinger is a first-person game in which players take on the role of bounty hunter Silas Greaves in the 19th century American West. Gameplay occurs in what is in fact a narrative flashback – while Greaves recounts his past deeds to listeners in 1910, players live out the earlier events. Those experiences include the tracking of real-life Old West outlaws such as Billy the Kid, Jesse James and Butch Cassidy.

Screenshot – Call of Juarez: Gunslinger (2013)

The collaboration of Orkin with Techland and Ubisoft has created a game that acknowledges the mythic component of Western history, story-telling and the genre itself. Players will discover in the gameplay that there are real differences between what the older Greaves initially describes and what the player experiences during the actual event. As Greaves narrates, his stories will be questioned and contradicted by those listening in 1910. The world of gameplay then changes as the story is adjusted – for example, in one segment, rain starts to fall as that detail is clarified in Greaves’ narration.

The following clip provides the opening 10 minutes to the game and demonstrates the mix of Call of Juarez: Gunslinger ‘s narration and gameplay. (Note: includes some mature images and language):

Orkin shared that gamers will be “playing a couple levels of reality”. There is the story as told by Greaves in 1910 and there is your experience as a player which includes the disconnect between Greaves’ story or a dime novel account and the actual events as experienced. Then there are the “Nuggets of Truth” that relate to the real-life historical figures players encounter – at different points in the game, players can find and read various collectible documents that provide the current historical consensus as to a given Old West figure.

In the estimation of this writer, what Call of Juarez: Gunslinger is attempting is both ambitious and exciting – the game is seeking to create an organic experience of Western myth. Players will live out how a Western story is told, embellished, corrected and then checked against the historical record. Has this process not been an undercurrent of the Western genre since its inception? This is a commendable goal and if interest is sparked to lead a player – especially those of a younger demographic – to take the time to further research historical figures and the 19th century American West, then Call of Juarez: Gunslinger is offering an interaction with subject material that moves the game to another level. Such is the power of the Western genre, in this writer’s view, to engage individuals with the actual history of the North American continent.

This writer asked Orkin what potential he saw for players to learn about the historical West and the Western genre with this game – his response follows:

 “For most people, their image of the Old West is based on what they’ve seen in Hollywood Westerns.  That mythology started fifty years before that with dime novels.  That’s no accident.  People have made a lot of money over the years mythologizing the history and heroes of the West.  But that’s nothing new and it wasn’t only just about making money.   People have always told grand stories about heroes and villains as a way to make us feel safe and shape our understanding of the world. The Greek myths.  Beowulf.  Robin Hood.   It’s entertaining, but it’s also meant to be instructive. 

 That tradition continued with the creation of the American West.  The dime novels and later Hollywood Westerns tended to reinforce the conventional values of the time like patriotism, bravery, and self-reliance.  Of course, they also reinforced racism, sexism, and American nationalism. (All brilliantly pointed out in Bioshock Infinity.)  The revisionist Westerns turned that upside down and confronted the hypocrisy and didn’t shy away from the racism of the time or the Native American genocide.

 That’s pretty much the central theme of Call of Juarez: Gunslinger.  The collision between truth and myth.  The famous quote from John Ford’s “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence” applies perfectly.  “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” One of the characters in the saloon has read all the dime novels written about Silas Greaves and wants to know if those stories are true.  Greaves goes about setting the record straight, but he embellishes as well and when he’s challenged,  the stories change and so does the world in the game.” 

Call of Juarez: Gunslinger is slated for a downloadable release on May 22nd and will be available for Xbox 360, Sony PlayStaion3 and PC platforms. For Part Two of this article, please visit this link: CoJ-PT2

(Copyright – Chad Beharriell)


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