Watch Dogs is more well known for its showing at E3 2012 than for setting the gaming world on fire when it released in 2014. It got solid scores from most reviewers, but was mostly viewed as a GTA clone with some hacking elements mixed in. That’s not too far off the mark.
However, with all of the craziness surrounding Facebook – from Mark Zuckerberg being dragged before Congress to the revelation that Facebook has fired multiple employees for spying on users – the game has new relevance for someone playing it in 2018.
As part of my efforts to whittle down my ever-increasing backlog I decided to tackle this game. I got it as part of Xbox Games with Gold, so it was no big deal if I didn’t have fun with it. A few hours into my playthrough the light started to shine its brightest on Facebook and its scandals. The world it built and the message it was trying to get across immediately had more impact.
The city of Chicago is powered by a city-wide operating system, CentOS. By infiltrating this network players have the ability to use connected parts of the environment to their advantage. Although that’s not its only use, as it’s also possible to use the network to learn information about its citizens and have a peek into their personal lives.
I knew of this feature but thought it would be too boring to use. Boy, was I wrong. Despite the fact that I am a fervent believer in personal privacy I immediately started scanning anyone in the vicinity. The game makes this more attractive by sometimes displaying deeper information when you hover over someone for more than a few moments.
Just having the ability to do this at will changed my behavior. It’s because you get a glimpse into who someone really is. Learning something they wouldn’t willingly disclose, even if it was something benign, like a fear of heights. The digging into the lives of random people doesn’t stop on the streets, though.
One of the many side missions is called Privacy Invasion, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. Players are typically confronted with a simple puzzle to simulate the hacking part before being able to commandeer a camera within the person’s home. With the proliferation of the Internet of Things in the last 2-3 years it makes it hit home more than it would have in 2014.
One of the moments that stuck with me was a Privacy Invasion into the home of someone who was dealing with an illness. As they lay sprawled on the floor a call comes in from a family member to check in on them, requesting they come visit the rest of the family. This moment is jarring because you could be witnessing their final moments, or that this person passed before hearing from their family. It’s seriously dark. This is one of many Privacy Invasions.
It’s pretty wild that Watch Dogs was on point on so much regarding surveillance, especially the corporate kind. It’s likely that had it released earlier this year it would’ve had more impact than it did with its initial release. If you have Xbox Games with Gold then check out your games section to see if this game is in there. If it is, play it. Just be prepared to be creeped out.