When the first Watch_Dogs games was revealed, it spurred a lot of editorials and opinion pieces regarding its subject matter. In hindsight it’s remarkable that the thematics of Ubisoft’s creation hadn’t been used in videogames before in such prominent manner.
It’s a textbook method, to utilise the fears and insecurities present in society. Popular media has been doing this for ages. The Cold War inspired writers for tales about nuclear mishaps, the Second World War brought forth iconic heroes like Captain America, the financial crisis of 2008 saw a surge in post-apocalyptic stories, combined with Swine and Bird Flu scares it made us think about pandemics, zombies and doomsday prepping.
Watch_Dogs taps into our concern over privacy. Are my photos safe when I store them in the cloud? Can I talk about private stuff on Facebook or is my data being collected? Is Homeland Security listening in on my calls? Or can hackers break into my online banking account?
The first Watch_Dogs game was promising but didn’t fully satisfy. The hacking was linear, the story forgettable and the focus a lot on car chases and shoot-outs. And it did never really go deep into the psyche of the hacker. Why are we doing this? What is going on that (the abuse of) technology is what matters here? It didn’t help that the protagonist was a typical cynic that didn’t take sides, while the most interesting element of the story was the Anonymous-like hacker group “DedSec”.
The trailer for the Watch_Dogs sequel looks promising. It seems to want and take the issues of the first game head-on. I was reminded of the successful Assassin’s Creed II, that improved so much from its predecessor.
Protagonist Marcus Holloway from Oakland is an actual member of DedSec. He looks energetic and upbeat, unlike the grouchy, bitter Aiden Pearce. He has an agenda but wants to have fun too. He can do parkour, seems to be a thrill seeker and keen on gadgets like drones and 3D printers. The whole atmosphere of the trailer is bright and dynamic, unlike the more moody and obscure undertone of the ones that announced the original game.
But what stuck with me most is the amount of nods to contemporary culture. It’s not just vaguely set in the modern day, or the near future, but very specifically this very day and age. This story could not have been written five years ago. Apart from the aforementioned drone and 3D printer (which is printing a handgun) we see a selfie stick, a domestic robot, vaguely similar to the recently announced Zenbo by ASUS, large data centers, and someone (possibly) someone being swatted. Add the numerous visual effects that seem to resemble ASCII art and internet memes and the self-driving car (or at least with very advance on-board computing).
Marcus looks like an embodiment of the new generation that’s scaring the hell out of the current ruling class. He is a tech-savvy millennial, grown up with internet and the associated culture. DedSec is that anarchistic, slightly left leaning liberal movement with a certain disregard for danger and cyberpunk aesthetic. Mix of branded and thrift store clothing, messenger bags with pins, snapbacks and oversized glasses. He probably vapes, broadcasts on Periscope and listens to indie hiphop.
We’ve only seen a trailer, but the premise looks interesting and relevant. The trailer conveys an atmosphere that is not just a quick cash-in on fads and pop culture, but a conscious and sophisticated effort to make a game that’s aware of the world we live in.
The developers promised a game that’s not a flat-out message to the players about the dangers of hacking and data mining but more a living, breathing world (pardon me for the tacky buzzwords) that shows these aspects of modern society and let us form and opinion for ourselves.
We have to wait and see how true this is. We are promised more freedom, what does that mean? Does Watch_Dogs dare to go into the realms of cyber-bullying, 4chan and the fappening? I like to think it will make us mostly enjoy the game, and maybe frighten us a bit.