A faded black "X" still marks my left pinkie finger, the one I suggested – with almost no hesitation – should be chopped off if the need were to arise.
More than the white cowboy hat, the short conversation with a hostess in a dimly lit saloon, the whiskey and brandy drinks, that black X is the strongest reminder of my short visit to the fictional, but for a brief time very real, Westworld.
Westworld: The Experience is a bit of immersive theater shrouded in the glamor of HBO's popular, soon-to-return series of the same name.
The visit to Westworld started where it ended, on an unremarkable stretch of littered sidewalk in midtown New York City.
The show has drawn quite a bit of attention from video game players and video game makers for its remarkable depiction of the ultimate sort of video game – a living world where role-playing comes with real consequences for the fake humans, or hosts as they’re known in the fiction.
If the video game metaphor is apt, than this New York Comic-Con event felt more like the early moments of such a game when a player is more focused on deciding who their character is going to be then on losing themselves in the world.
After checking in with a faux-host inside a small office, I was asked to wait in a room that had been decorated with an array of western weapons and costumes. After a moment, we were shown a video that showed tantalizing snippets of the coming season of the show. Then, one by one, we were brought to a room to meet with an advisor.
The roughly five-minute session was more psychological test than bawdy or brawling visit to the old west, but it offered interesting insight into a segment of the fictional world that is rarely shown on screen. Just how do they get visitors to let go of their inhibitions and enjoy their time in Westworld.
My meeting ended with a decision that a white, not black, hat was the right one for me. I was then brought into another waiting room with walls lined with host heads.
A few minutes later, a group of us were led to an elevator which opened on a tunnel leading to a pair of saloon-style swinging doors. Inside, we found ourselves in Sweetwater's Mariposa Saloon. Two women dressed in period clothes greeted us and brought us over to a bar where we were served three drinks of increasing strength, chatted and then were finally escorted out of the room by guards warning us of a malfunction and to stay away from the hosts.
Another elevator ride and we found ourselves back on the New York City sidewalk, blinking in the sun, still wearing our hats.
Throughout the rest of the day I couldn’t help but occasionally look over at my hand and that pinky marked with a black X.
How unsettling, I thought, must it be to really journey to Westworld and then come back to the real world. How would one ever know if they had ever left, what was real or unreal?
The slightly unnerving experience isn't just for journalists. If you have the interest, time and luck, anyone aged 21 or older can try it for themselves.
An appointment desk for the experience will pop up in different locations each morning near the Javits Center in New York City, with locations teased in advance on the @WestworldHBO Facebook page and Twitter handle. The desk will be open Saturday, October 7th; and Sunday, October 8th beginning at 9:00am ET until all slots for the day have been filled. Appointments are first come, first served.