Watchdogs, the newest release by French videogame developer Ubisoft, explores the future of smart cities, delving into complex questions around privacy and personal property in the Internet of Things.
For Millennials, the primary audience for this game, the importance of privacy and personal data protection cannot be overstated. In 2013, 85% of Millennials agreed that, “our society has become too dependent on technology, and doesn’t know how to function without it” while agreement that “I am concerned that the information I put on social-networking sites will be misused by others” jumped from 58% to 70% between 2012 and 2013 (The Futures Company, U.S. Yankelovich MONITOR Study). Despite their obsession with technology and smart devices, this group is keenly aware of the potential implications of an interconnected world.
Set in a not-too-distant future Chicago, now fully integrated into a single computer system called “ctOS,” Watchdogs protagonist Aiden Pierce, a hacker with a violent past, is out to avenge the murder of his family. A player can hack into ctOS through Pierce’s cellphone and gain instant access to manipulate anyone’s digital life, including bank accounts, phone calls, personal photos, and more. The game leaves the decision making entirely up to the player, allowing them to develop Pierce into an archetypal Batman-like superhero or a crime lord. With an action-oriented, open-world environment and over 60 different hacking skills incorporated, the opportunities for manipulation and control seem endless.
Watchdogs left E3 this year with over 90 awards and nominations and is touted as one of the hottest game releases of 2014. While the graphics and high-intensity play contributed greatly to its success, the game’s complex subject matter speaks to a deeper question around the sovereignty of personal identity in a world controlled by the Internet of Things.