Watch Dogs 2 feel odd. It came out on the November 28th, last year, in an interesting political climate. It came out after the Brexit vote, and after the US election. It came out in a period of social and political volatility, during which people are tired and increasingly polarized. It came out during a time when people have been increasingly frustrated by the systems that are meant to serve them. Such a great opportunity…
The game departs from Watch Dog’s broody, too serious tone and silly vigilante story to a funny, oddball hacktivism group that feels like a family, full of color. The art team did a great job selling the DedSec activist brand, which is much separate from DedSec’s propaganda as a hacker group without feeling too on-the-nose. It helps that the game keeps, for the most part, a lighter tone.
And while there are plenty of jokes and laughs, I can’t help but wonder if, back when the game was first drafted, if the studio set out to push forward a message with it. Not “join a hacker group and save the world” kind of message – that is a constraint of the series they had to work with – but perhaps more a call to action. The game asks plenty of questions regarding what we do and who we allow to have our information, and in its odd way presents the perils of having such an extensive, interconnected system in terms of security1. Of note is the question of how much influence should companies have in the success of an election, one of the most important aspects of any modern democracies.
We live in the world of soundbites and information overload. We live in a world where fake news are a thing, where corrections don’t get anywhere near as much views as the original article, and memes are the standard communication tool of communication. For a regular person, it is a daunting task to control the flow of information and filter out the good from the bad (not to mention doing so without creating a personal echo chamber). Slowly, information curators become more and more important in our quest to become informed. And, slowly, it seems as if we can trust media organizations less and less.
In game, DedSec positions itself as an outside-the-system group that exposes the truth to the people. An alternative to the corporate-influenced media and social networks. It asks the people to trust them, to believe them. Sadly, the game does not engage much in the inherent issue of trusting such an organization in a world where organizations can’t be trusted to respect your interest or be honest. It also doesn’t explore the realities of activist work, which it could have.
It is a shame that Watch Dogs 2 is still burdened with the need to be a power fantasy. Hence why I am not convinced it is trying to say something. I wish it was advocating for activist – we definitely need people to be much more invested in politics and ensuring their rights are protected. And it’d be nice if it was actually putting forward anarchism, because as it stands, it is a game about cool haxxors sticking it to the man that’s so much about that power fantasy, it is merely a cool story. If it works as a starting conversation for some, great. I also understand that the game has been in development for a long time and there is no way the developers could have foreseen, much less bet on the current events, nor do I expect a Triple-A studio to take a hard stance on anything. And, sure, the companies have clear parallels to the real world… I just wish it would do a bit more2.
1 The hacking mini-game is still as terrible as ever…
2 Perhaps a bit more like Bay12’s Liberal Crime Squad.