We as citizens of the world live in odd times, as we live in the day and age where Americans are being spied upon by their own government through the NSA and its PRISM program. As the world moves towards more of a digital future the subject of privacy becomes more and more of a hot button issue for everyone, which will eventually spill over into videogames. The internet has brought the world closer together, even if the US media is ignoring the riots in Turkey and Brazil, social media provides a peek into the truth of just how big they are.
The big news over the past week has been a former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden, blowing the whistle on the NSA’s invasion of privacy towards US citizens through leaking out confidential information about just what the NSA is doing. There is more and more reason to fear “big brother” in the digital age, which only makes Ubisoft’s upcoming title Watch Dogs all the more relevant. The reality of Watch Dogs is our reality right now, we just might not be fully aware of it.
Watch Dogs takes place in a quasi-futuristic alternate Chicago where everything is monitored by an information network that the protagonist, Aiden Pearce, hacks to his advantage as he uncovers the truth behind who is controlling the technology that everyone relies upon. Through the glimpses of gameplay that we’ve seen so far we’ve seen Aiden able to hack into bank accounts and cell phones of average citizens as well as pull up extremely personal information about them that is kept within government databases. Stuff that people wouldn’t freely share, but is available on this network.
While Watch Dogs is a work of science fiction and might sound extreme at times, most good science fiction is based upon historical events and will usually have some solid insight as to what could happen if we continue upon the path that we are headed on. For Watch Dogs that stark reality is almost not science fiction at this point, but in fact a distortion of reality. With government agencies having the ability to monitor the personal communications of every citizen without a real reason, the chances of a government having this kind of information and control over citizen’s lives is becoming more and more of a reality.
For a game like Watch Dogs to even be conceived there has to be truth to some of the concepts and fears inside of the game. In a post 9/11 world where Americans have lived under the Patriot Act and many other intrusive policies under the guise of “safety” and “counter-terrorism” the topic of privacy has been pushed from a fringe issue to one that is on the tip of everyone’s tongue. It is rare for a videogame to tackle a subject that is actually this relevant and political, but we sit here, waiting for Watch Dogs to come out so we can hack phones, steal from ATMs and mess with a city’s infrastructure knowing in the back of our minds that there is more truth to the game than we’d like to imagine.