After writing about why today’s video games suck, I was wondering if I was turning into a grumpy old man. There was rumbling around the net that Glenn Beck was bashing on Watch Dogs, how it was teaching kids to be hackers. Where are the heroes? Where’s Superman? Honestly, I had a similar feeling. I haven’t played any of the Grand Theft Auto series because I don’t want to play as a criminal. Why can’t a decent open world game be centered around a champion? Even better, why not make it truly open? Play as the character you want to be.
From what I read about Watch Dogs, it seemed that the majority of Watch Dogs could be played without killing people. That seemed interesting to me. Aiden Pierce didn’t have to hack the bank accounts of the citizens of Chicago either. He could be a good guy. Maybe he is not like Superman, but he is something like Batman.
Yet, the game did have a dark feeling to it. The very first action in the game is to shoot Maurice – the man that killed your niece. Of course, the gun is empty, but the game doesn’t tell you that. There doesn’t seem to be a way to skip this part of the game either. You can’t shoot off to the side. It’s a very peculiar way to introduce a player to the game. From there, it continues to get weird. One character after another seems to be shady. While I thought the graphics were amazing – even on the aging PlayStation 3 – this didn’t feel like an inviting world. Perhaps this is a good thing. Watch Dogs is incredibly lifelike. It seem we are just a few tech-generations away from plugging directly into the matrix.
One of the main reasons that I started playing Watch Dogs was because of the TV show Person of Interest. It’s phenomenal entertainment. Even though Person of Interest is fiction, it plays like a documentary on the issues of our age. In a world with Edward Snowden, the NSA, terrorism, bank bailouts and other modern dramas, shouldn’t we be thinking and talking about these issues? To be fair to Ubisoft, the story of Watch Dogs does seem to portray Aiden as somewhat of a good guy. They typically give the player the option to do the right thing.
Glenn does have a point though. The play style is borderline voyeurism. What gives Aiden the right to spy on the citizens? Isn’t he punishing criminals by committing criminal acts? That’s when I wondered – why couldn’t Aiden be an undercover cop instead? In other forms of media, like movies and TV shows, police regularly commandeer vehicles. That’s a moral alternative to carjacking. Also, cop cars are already in the game. An officer wouldn’t need to steal a car. Plus, the police can legally use guns. The police use cameras to monitor for crimes. Why couldn’t Watch Dogs let you play as a member of law enforcement?
That’s when I noticed a difference between Person of Interest and Watch Dogs. In Person of Interest, John Reese (played by Jim Caviezel) starts off as a bad guy. He has Harold Finch (played by Michael Emerson) to act as the moral compass. A former dirty cop, Lionel Fusco (played by Kevin Chapman) is now a good guy on the team. Person of Interest is a story of redemption, which is very Christian. I’m surprised to see that Glenn Beck didn’t pick up on that with Watch Dogs. Aiden is also a character that struggles with right and wrong. While Watch Dogs doesn’t have the good guy team comparable to Person of Interest, Aiden’s love for his family does show a redeeming quality.
Does Glenn have a legitimate problem with this game, or is it cool to bash what’s popular?
I think conservatives make a big mistake when they dismiss video games – and technology in general – as evil. I remember the fuss around violence in 80’s cartoons. Yet, I feel that those shows were educational. Transformers, GI Joe, Thundercats – this was inspiration for me to do the right thing. People aren’t born with an inherent ability to do the right thing. It has to be learned. Video games can be a great teaching aid, as it lets players learn how to overcome adversity, figure out puzzles, experience consequences in a safe environment, play in a team and other important aspects of living in a society. I think it’s important that game developers understand the importance of their role in society, but I also think Glenn Beck should dial it back a bit.
Video games can create a more lifelike experience. When I watch shows like 24, when Jack Bauer is torturing the bad guy for information, it’s kinda cliché. As a viewer, I have little sympathy for the bad guy. But when I play as Aiden, with the gun drawn on Maurice, it creates a totally difference feeling. When the guy is whimpering in the corner, when I have to pull the trigger, it feels wrong. Suddenly, the ethical dilemma is clearer. Sure it’s just a video game, but this gets people talking. What if a system like ctOS is unleashed on a major city?
Mass media can get big conversations going. A great example is the movie “The Siege”, which was surprisingly filmed before 9/11. Perhaps all the terrorists want us to do is “shred the constitution a little”.
Does Glenn, a conservative/libertarian, really want to be on the side of censorship? Does he really want America to go backwards? Is the right answer to give up on video games and the Internet in general? No, that’s madness. That’s un-American. Without the Internet, I’d be out of a job. Without video games, I might not have the intelligence or experience to do my job. Sure, Watch Dogs is a game with faults, but I think Glenn went too far. Glenn, maybe try being more optimistic.
He was kinda right about Watch Dogs teaching kids to be hackers though. The Internet is buzzing about a modder (going by the alias “TheWorst”) who figured out a way to restore the high quality graphics in Watch Dogs. Lots of gamers were complaining that the graphics didn’t quite match the quality of the E3 demo. A small mod can activate the high level settings (PC version) that were hidden on the disk. Isn’t that ironic? Players have to hack the game to get the full value of it.