Watch Dogs – part 1: Philosophy and culture of information misuse

07 Jul

Watch Dogs

Watch Dogs was the game that made the biggest WOW-impact on me and many others at this year’s E3. It is a complex game with features, story and a game world that reaches from philosophy, meta references, information exploitation, to superb graphics and traffic jams caused by you! In this first part of my in-depth analysis of Watch Dogs and its game world I focus on the soft side of the game; philosophy, cultural references and meta exposures.

Neuromancer and Ghost in the Shell: Tech philosophy

Ever since I read Neuromancer by Williams Gibson for the first time around 15 years ago I have been fascinated by the possibility of using all the information that exist in the world, for different purposes. Neuromancer‘s coolest parts were about diving into the net, somehow disconnecting the mind and its powers from the physical body and even more amazingly, connecting and fully submerging into the information flow of the connected networks.

Another cultural piece of art that have had a big impact on me concerning the philosophical side of ever-stretching and bottomless information highways is the Anime movie Ghost in the shell (originally a Manga series). It takes place in Neo-Japan, where a robot/mannequin is somehow possessed by a self aware and self functioning mind (the “ghost”); maybe better to put it like this: the ghost, known as the puppet master, has a way of connecting to the vast networks that interconnects almost everything and everyone. It chooses the material host it can use, and since there are a lot of robots and humans with cybernetic implants, the choices and the implications are limitless.

Ghost in the Shell

Modern day with a sci-fi reality

So, what has this to do with Watch Dogs you wonder? Even though Watch Dogs presumably will take place in modern day (or very near-future) Chicago, it shows in a great way how the science fictional realities of above mentioned Neuromancer and Ghost in the Shell are becoming less and less fictional. Today most people use technology to such extent that they leave big electronic traces and footsteps behind them wherever they go or whatever they do. Of course, some people leave intentional footsteps such as updating social networks with their more or less exact positions and doings, but even if you don’t belong in the previous group it is almost impossible to do much in modern day society without leaving some kind of trace behind you. Note that I haven’t even discussed the fact that many phone operators, Internet providers and other providers of technological services are more or less forced to store these traces we leave everywhere.

Watch Dogs - CCTV

On a smaller scale you can just think of the websites that you visit, each visit being “recorded”; most of the time quite innocently used, but it could presumably be used in very dark and sinister ways if the information would fall into wrong hands. If you then start thinking about the large scale electronic information networks that handle bigger, infrastructural systems such as traffic co-ordination, electrical grids, water supply, and TV and radio transmissions it is easy to be scared of the “modern world”, imagining what could happen if the control of these networks and systems would collapse or even worse, be controlled by a person with a motive contrary to common sense and reasoning.

Differences and similarities

Even if you probably won’t dive into the information as in Neuromancer or possess a mannequin to be able to move around as in Ghost in the Shell, the similarities between Watch Dogs and mentioned book and movie is quite striking. In Watch Dogs you play as Aiden Pearce (although, multiplayer will much likely introduce additional characters) who has managed to “get” access to Chicago’s infrastructural and information systems, with extensions from mobile phone systems, traffic lights to movement of bridges. The background story is still quite blurry, but the access to the city’s interconnected systems is controlled by few corporations which must likely do what they want with the information; if not openly then inside the dark corridors of the top secure secret locations and structures.

Watch Dogs - Phone

Aiden Pearce can, with his powerful smart phone access the systems and use them to his advantage when searching for, “hunting” after and interfering with his personal targets and aims. In a metaphorical sense his exploitation of the interconnected systems and ability to turn the everlasting information flow into something useful can be compared to how the protagonist of Neuromancer or the “bad guy” of Ghost in the Shell also takes advantage of society’s (and thus the people’s) high usage and dependency of technology in so many areas of life.

Meta referrals to itself

It is very interesting and almost funny, that the game most likely will have support for connection to tablets and mobile phones, on which the player can see where other players are located. This is an interesting game ingredient, but from a “meta” point of view this really shows how we deliberately and most intentionally want to expose ourselves to each other; although in this case just in a fictional game, but the activities in the game is real in the game world and the other players can see where your character is in real time.

Next part

If you are longing for more on technology, the game world or the actual action in Watch Dogs then stay tuned for the coming article in the article series about one of next (or next next) year’s most wanted and coolest looking game!


Posted by on July 7, 2012 in Article


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2 responses to “Watch Dogs – part 1: Philosophy and culture of information misuse

  1. Eric

    July 9, 2012 at 2:50 am

    Great writeup, you’ve got me even more excited to play this game. I wasn’t aware of the real life usage of tablets/smartphones — that’s actually quite funny. Curious how all of that will play out.

    It’s interesting that you mention Ghost in the Shell. My girlfriend just recommended I check that out the other day. Guess I’m going to have to do so sooner rather than later. 🙂

    • Anders

      July 9, 2012 at 7:53 am

      Thanks man! Yeah, it is the diversity and different levels that this game will feature which makes it more interesting than “just another GTA” 😉
      Your girlfriend is totally right, Ghost in the Shell is a movie that you should watch! It is a drama/philosophical view of information misuse, hacking and “who-we-really-are”, but it also has great actions scenes and is beautifully drawn.


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