What Watch_Dogs 2 can teach us about friendships and assumptions

Watch_Dogs 2 exists within a universe where personal privacy no longer exists. Where corporations, the government, your friends and family can access information about you; devoid of context.

In this world, it’s easy to make assessments, judgements and assumptions about a person while ignoring who they really are. Marcus Holloway (aka Retr0) and the San Francisco chapter of DedSec are waging a war on Blume and ctOS and are trying to take back privacy. Beyond that, the hacker group all share close friendships and welcome newcomers as they live largely without judgement.

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On paper, or in ctOS’ code, a lot of the characters in Watch_Dogs 2 appear disturbed, worthless or criminal. Through spending time with them, the player is slowly shown that judging people based on a few random facts can’t be accurate. Watch_Dogs 2 also puts a heavy emphasis on the importance of friendships, a support network and family.

In the first title, Aiden Pearce was alone, friendless and trusting of nobody. He was depressing and boring and all around pretty awful. Not that you should expect someone to be the life if the party after they’ve suffered a loss like he had, but Pearce refused to let anyone in. He built up a wall around himself and thus doomed himself to his fate.

In Watch_Dogs 2, it’s almost as if Ubisoft is saying, “Ok, look guys. We know that Aiden sucked. We know he was boring and depressing. But, like, that’s cause he didn’t have anyone. He was a loner. But look! DedSec is a team now. They have fun, they laugh together and they’re all friends. Friends are the best. Yay hacker friends, super team.”

Well maybe not exactly that, but something along those lines and it’s pretty damn true. Friends, true friends are hugely important to people’s happiness and mental health. True friends can mean the difference between a good day and a bad one. They can even save your life. Watch_Dogs 2 knows this and puts the DedSec friendship circle front and centre. It even shows how being the loner, a false friend and a snake is the wrong choice.

Take the antagonist for example; Dušan Nemic. First of all, his name is a dead giveaway that Ubisoft doesn’t think much of him and he has a man bun. He’s actually the worst and everything he does makes him even more of the worst, but he’s also alone. Sure he has lackeys and people he bullies into doing his dirty work, but there’s no one in the entire game that you could truly call his friend. And that’s his undoing.

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Marcus and co always work together, for each other and toward a common goal. They help each other when they fall down, they teach each other and they never turn their backs on one another. No matter what happens. That’s a true sign of friendship and it’s one of Watch_Dogs 2‘s stronger themes, even in the face of its vicious attack on our everyday loss of privacy.

Another strong theme, as mentioned, is the idea that people are more than the sum of their data and their stats on paper. The entire story is set in motion by Marcus’ being wrongfully found guilty of a crime base on assumptions. Watch_Dogs 2 tries to teach players from the outset that assumptions are dangerous and reckless.

Horatio works for Nudle (the game’s stand-in for Google) and is shown to be treated unfairly or in a biased fashion by his co-workers because of the colour of his skin. On standing on the campus for the first time Marcus even comments on how much he and Horatio stand-out. What follows is a humorous exchange as they do their best impression of ‘white people.’

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Josh is autistic which in the eyes of many would make him disabled, but he proves to be the most effective and dedicated hacker in DedSec. Marcus (and the player) could easily have written him off, but Ubisoft take the time to show Josh as a human being, not a caricature nor mere quota filler.

While these themes are present and players can and will likely relate to and feel for the characters in Watch_Dogs 2, there’s no guarantee that those feelings will cross the digital threshold and pass into real-life. Players can and should treat people in their lives with a similar deference as they do characters in video games. Even more so. Often times, that’s not the case unfortunately.

Watch_Dogs 2 is, at face value, a game about meme abusing, hacker-core weirdos waging war on ‘big data.’ But as you peel back the layers there’s a much greater depth. Ubisoft is telling players that it values friendships and that people are often more than they seem, but often times they aren’t.

Be kind, make friends and live well.

Watch_Dogs 2 was played using a promotional download code provided to PowerUp! by Ubisoft.

1 COMMENT

  1. I think the discussions around the characters in Watch Dogs 2 should be much more critical.

    Yes the San Francisco DedSec chapter does give the game a bit more life, but I would argue that it has more to do with the tone of the game than the characters themselves. Which manages to mimick Grand Theft Auto almost to a T. Perhaps staying a slight more serious.

    First off the characters are all quite bland. Especially Marcus. While Aiden was brooding and boring Marcus is bland and boring. He has no personality. He gets no backstory and his rise to “leader” in a sense, seems to be highly unlikely. In the fact that he has no reason to even be there in the first place. Well at least no reason that gets explored in any way.

    This to me comes to the forefront in how they deal with the only main characters death.

    We are in spoiler territory here I guess, but I will try to stay non descript.

    It felt extremely rushed. The character they killed got no character building beforehand and is the least featured character of the group. The emotional impact that it is supposed to convey is utterly removed because of the randomness of how it happens, it is not really related to the story at all, and it gets forgotten almost instantly after.

    Ubisoft did good in creating a more entertaining game for sure, but we should be careful of giving them praise when it comes to their character work, because although Aiden was terrible. This blandness is perhaps worse. More entertaining yes, but worse non the less.

Leo Stevenson
Leo Stevensonhttps://powerup-gaming.com/
I've been playing games for the past 27 years and have been writing for almost as long. Combining two passions in the way I'm able is a true privilege. PowerUp! is a labour of love and one I am so excited to share.

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