Ubisoft's new open-world game, Watch Dogs, creates a fresh new spin on the themes of privacy and hacking. In the game, players use computer hacking skills to navigate a city controlled by data and surveillance networks. In addition to old fashioned good guys vs. bad guys adventure, the game also addresses interesting questions about our own interconnected world. The company even promoted the game with a stand-alone site, called "Digital Shadows" which estimated how "hackable" a Facebook profile was, and what its worth was to the social media giant.
The Wire spoke to the Ubisoft team to get some background on the making of Watch Dogs. To begin, the setting is a slightly sci-fi version of Chicago, although one that might not be that far-fetched. "It takes place in modern day Chicago. There's a central operating system. It connects and collects every piece of computerized data about you. There are cities that have similar systems to this. Chicago isn't one of them yet, but it has more surveillance cameras than any other city in the country. So we chose Chicago as the location for the game."
This central surveillance system is the key to the plot, and an unusual feature for a game of this type. Rather than just use weapons like guns, cars, knives and brute force, the city itself can turn into the weaponry. The hero in the game has access to pretty much anything that can be found on a computer server. "All data from social media, police reports, phone conversations, and bank accounts can be used. The system also controls infrastructure, things like traffic lights, subway systems, gas lines. Our hero, Aiden Pearce, is able to hack into this system and use this system as a weapon."
Watch Dogs also incorporates facial recognition software as a tool to help the main character. When a face is scanned, you learn about the person and make decisions accordingly: "If you have a DUI, or adopted a dog, the system knows and shows this. The main character, you, can pull up any person, both enemies and good guys. If he needs cash, he can access their bank accounts, and choose to use it or not based on their profile. If its a tech billionaire, you may decide to pull from their account, but if it's a mom or a person who is fighting cancer, you might choose to skip that bank account. There's a moral implication."