Watch Dogs is an action-adventure video game series produced by the video game company Ubisoft. The first installment of the series, Watch Dogs, was released in May of 2014 and was followed by Watch Dogs 2, which was released in November 2016. The original installment was released for all major systems including Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U and PC while the sequel was only released for current generation consoles (Playstation 4 and Xbox One) and PC.
Set in contemporary United States, each game tells the story of a male computer scientist turned street vigilante. The games follow a traditional third-person shooter, open world play style, that allows the player to explore and investigate the game’s world. While the game is classified as a shooter, it finds its identity in its focus on computer hacking. Throughout the game, the player’s character hacks into and takes advantage of a highly computerized and connected society. Hacks include robbing ATM machines, electronic theft, altering traffic lights, exploding power lines, and hacking cameras. While the game revolves around a central protagonist, the player is forced to partake in these unethical behaviors more and more as each game progresses.
- 1 Story
- 2 Gameplay
- 3 Public Reception and Awards
- 4 Ethical Implications
- 5 External Links
- 6 References
The first installment of the series, Watch Dogs, follows the story of a man by the name of Aiden Pearce. Living in a version Chicago, Illinois that is now the most technologically advanced city in the world, Aiden makes a living as a “grey hat” hacker; a hacker who uses his or her skills for the good and sometimes the bad of society.
After hacking into and exploiting Chicago’s extremely advanced Central Operating System (referred to as the ctOS throughout the game) Aiden became known as somewhat of a vigilante. The ctOS acts as an advanced system that connects all electronics in the city together. Once infiltrating the system, Aiden had access to anything he wanted in Chicago and began taking on more dangerous tasks. Eventually, one mission, alongside his partner Damien Brenks went wrong and a bounty was placed on his head. In an attempt on his life, hitmen caused Aiden to lose control of his vehicle and end up in a crash that would eventually kill his niece, Lena.
The game begins roughly a year after the incident as Aiden decides to come out of hiding and seek vengeance against those who killed Lena. The open world style of the game gives the player a lot of freedom as to what type of person they want Aiden to be, but ultimately, the player is forced to embrace Aiden’s new identity as “The Fox”—a violent and cunning vigilante, willing to kill anyone in his path to revenge.
As the game nears its conclusion, Aiden finally gets what he wanted. Through painstaking hacking and forcefully retrieving information from his adversaries, Aiden was able to track down the man who started this all—Dermot “Lucky” Quinn. Quinn was not only the one who hired the hitmen who killed Lena, he was a notorious human-trafficker in Chicago. Quinn’s criminal history acts as yet another motivator for Aiden, as he used this information as a way to justify his pursuit of revenge. In the closing scenes of the game, Aiden corners Quinn into his final safe room—one constructed of impenetrable glass. Face to face for the first time, Aiden pulls off one final trick, hacking into Quinn’s pacemaker and forcing out information as he slowly and painfully ends his life.
The game ends with Aiden leaking evidence of government corruption (retrieved from Quinn in his dying moments) and the suicide of the leading government official behind the leak—Chicago mayor Donovan Rushmore. Finally, Blume Corporation (the company behind ctOS) announces that ctOS will begin to expand into cities across the world.
Watch Dogs 2
The second game of the series picks up, in terms of timing, where Watch Dogs left off. Watch Dogs 2 takes place in San Francisco and follows the story line of a new protagonist named Marcus Holloway. Like Aiden Pearce, Holloway is a young, extremely talented hacker who straddles the line of good and evil.
While the two games generally follow a similar play style with similar game mechanics as well, the second installment places a larger emphasis on remote controlled technology. Many side missions as well as main missions require the player to control one of Holloway's various remote control (RC) devices. Specific devices include Holloway's Quadcopter and RC car. Both devices are equipped with streaming cameras that Holloway uses to maintain control from afar.
Both installments of the series focus heavily on the single player aspect of the game. The player can roam the world freely in multiple ways. While Watch Dogs features mostly foot and vehicle exploration (trucks, cars, motorcycles) Watch Dogs 2 expands on this by introducing some new tech. Players in Watch Dogs 2 can choose to explore San Francisco from the perspective of Holloway’s QuadCopter or RC car as well.
Hacking is a central part to the game as well. Across both games, the player does most of their hacking through the protagonists highly advanced smart phone. By simply holding down the hack button (square on Playstation, X on Xbox) the player is able to perform a number of hacks. For example by focusing on any random civilian and holding the hack button, the player is able to steal banking information and instantly add cash to their own inventory. Looking at a traffic light and holding the hack button can turn all lights green and cause a pileup of cars at the intersection—a very useful hack when attempting to evade the police. The two games feature over 25 hackable items alongside a wide variety of hacking techniques.
Weapon play is another important aspect to the series. Watch Dogs features 50 playable weapon types ranging from wrenches, to submachine guns, to electromagnetic pulse guns. Although Watch Dogs 2 features only 30 weapons, each one is much more customizable through the use of Holloway’s 3D printer. Players are able to fight in many different ways. Running and firing, firing from behind cover, and hand to hand combat are all viable options throughout the game.
Multiplayer surely takes a back seat to single player in terms of priority. In Watch Dogs the multiplayer content includes a variety of cooperative hacking missions, an eight player free-roam mode, and car racing. Watch Dogs 2 expands upon multiplayer player slightly by introducing another mode “Bounty Hunter.” In Bounty Hunter, a player’s single player experience is infiltrated by online players when they begin to cause too much havoc in San Francisco. Players then must either run, hide, or fight up to 3 random bounty hunters until they are killed, they kill the hunters, or until time expires.
Public Reception and Awards
The Watch Dogs series has been labeled as a relative success. The first installment of the series, Watch Dogs, has now sold over 10 million copies across Xbox, Playstation, Wii U, and PC. Review aggregate Metacritic had a score of 80/100 from its verified critics. IGN rated the original with a score of 8.4/10, citing the game's great open world and mission variety. In addition, it also won Best Action/Adventure Game from the Game Critics Awards: Best of E3 2013, and the same organization awarded the game with Best of Show in the same year. 
The next iteration in the series, Watch Dogs 2, which was released in 2016, had pre-sales numbers that were considered "disappointing" by Ubisoft, and post-release sales also had a slow start. Despite a lackluster initial reception, Ubisoft adjusted its sales projection estimates and pivoted, asserting that Watch Dogs 2 would follow the lead of games like Far Cry 3, which is an example of a commercially successful game with low pre-order sales. Ubisoft reported much improved sales in 2017, identifying what they perceived to be as a "positive momentum". . According to VGChartz, Watch Dogs 2 has sold approximately 3.36 million copies across all available platforms: Playstation, Windows, Wii U, and Xbox
Open-World Games and Ethical Dilemmas
Similar to other open-world video games, Watch Dogs allows the player to make a variety of choices in an interactive world. The player may buy weapons and hijack cars, imposing consequences onto their surroundings. Watch Dogs features a reputation system that keeps track of how likely a player is to choose ethical and merciful actions against violent and reckless ones. The game also features annotations on non-playable characters that gives information on characters' personal backgrounds, such as issues with mental illness, employment, and relationship status. This information serves as the sole way of learning about the backgrounds of non-playable characters. Watch Dogs also poses players with options of how to solve missions, usually between violent resolutions and merciful resolutions.
While the Watch Dogs series offers players a lot of freedom when deciding the type of character that they want to be, violence and crime are inherent parts of the game. Missions like "Kill Iraq" from Watch Dogs or "$911" from Watch Dogs 2 are just a few examples of the many missions that require a combination of hacking, stealing, and killing all in one. The frequency of such missions has led to criticize of the franchise with some claiming that the games treat "people as objects." 
Over Integration of Computer Systems
The gameplay in Watch Dogs focuses on the player interacting with the game map. The game map, which represents a futuristic Chicago, integrates ctOS, an operating system that connect all city critical electronics in Chicago. The player may choose to interact with ctOS in a malicious manner to achieve personal or game objectives. Watch Dogs raises questions about society's reliance on computerized systems for everyday tasks. The game portrays a more technologically involved Infosphere where people are in danger of those who understand how to exploit computer systems .
Female Stereotyping and Representation
Watch Dogs suffers from of a lot of the ethical concerns that come with video games that encompass the Noir archetype, including the genre's persistent oversexualization of women. Polygon drew attention to a lot of these issues in their 2014 review of the game. They pointed out that, "female characters in Watch Dogs are victims, to be kidnapped or murdered in the interest of the plot or character motivation and are almost all overtly sexualized" Polygon writer Arthur Gies is refers to many in-game example of this, including the initial damsel in distress, Nicole Pearce. The main character also interacts with Clara Lille, an oversexualized love interest who appears mostly as a static, one-dimensional character with black knee-length boots, six square-studded straps and a low wedge heel.<Watch DogsL CtOS Access Granted", Fandom, Fandom, June 30, 2014, https://watchdogs.fandom.com/wiki/Clara_Lille.
Hacking as well as hacking culture is heavily referenced in Watch Dogs. Though the original Watch Dogs represents Hackers as edgy and potentially dangerous, in an interview on EPN.TV game developers at Ubisoft acknowledged misrepresenting hacking culture and contriving it for the sake of the game . Hackers come from all backgrounds and professions and while some find exploits, others hack to improve security systems. Watch Dogs portrays hacking culture in a misrepresented way. In this same interview with EPN.TV, the content director of Watch Dogs 2 claimed that Ubisoft was making a robust attempt to accurately depict the hacking community.
The ability for the main character to hack and consequently access large swathes of personal and private data raises concerns about how the sanctity of privacy is portrayed within the game. Well-respected and leading ICT ethicist Luciano Floridi wrote about the right to privacy, arguing that the right to privacy is the right to a renewable identity. This notion that Floridi puts forth implies that people have the right to control how others perceive them, to some extent, and it directly conflicts with the mechanics and themes within the game, which include the ability to page over any NPC within the game and see a list of identifying information and personal characteristics, including things like "furry" or "Pro-Life Lobbyist" or even a person's income. You can also hack CCTV feed and access webcams within people's homes. The game doesn't take a hard stance on these issues either way and even using the pretense of privacy violation as a means to set up a joke..
Ties to Reality
Although Watch Dogs is a video game, many aspects of the show are very similar to reality. This creates a very blurred line between right and wrong. Often times people will act in a way on a video game that they would not in reality. For example, a lot of video games include an aspect of violence in terms of killing people or using extreme weapons. These actions are not how the users would most likely act in reality, but since the video game is simply a game it does not matter. In Watch Dogs, Aiden Pearce is a hacker and he has gained the ability to access any user’s smartphone or government computer’s and many other private electronic devices. Watch Dog players have the ability to hack anyone’s personal devices, listen to their conversations, and get information about nearly every aspect of their life. This aspect of the video game gives users a sense of power, but not in a good way, it is a scary sense of power that can translate into real life. It causes users to feel a rush of power that they want to replicate in reality. In addition, all of the hacking that can be done in Watch Dogs is based on a real life example of hacking. To many users, this may seem inaccurate because the hacking that is done in the game is so absurd, but it is an aspect of the game that people must be wary of when they play. There are many parallels from Watch Dogs to reality and users must remember this when playing the game in order to separate reality from the video game .
- Ubisoft Entertainment, "Watch Dogs", 2017
- Ubisoft Entertainment, "Ubisoft", 2017
- Ubisoft Entertainment, "Watch Dogs 2", 2017
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- Watch Dogs - Freedom and Morality in Open-World Games. Cowen, Nick. 6 March 2014 https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/mar/06/watch-dogs-freedom-and-morality-in-open-world-games
- Floridi: Information Ethics 2013
- "Watch Dogs Review: Spook Country" Gies, Arthur, Polygon, May 27. 2014, https://www.polygon.com/2014/5/27/5746116/watch-dogs-ps4-xbox-one-review
- "Aiden Pearce, Snooping Superhero: The Strange Moral Compass of 'Watch Dogs'" Nassi, Paul, May 28. 2014, Forbes https://www.forbes.com/sites/insertcoin/2014/05/28/aiden-pearce-snooping-superhero-the-strange-moral-compass-of-watch-dogs/#7b1814245881
- "Watch Dogs is a wake-up call on internet security'" Cowen, Nick, May 07. 2014, The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/may/07/watch-dogs-video-game-internet-security-ubisoft