I think we can all agree now that first Watch_Dogs never lived up to that first trailer, and a big part of that had to do with its main character, Aiden Pearce. Even with his “iconic hat,” Aiden didn’t manage to pop out from the countless other angry, white, grizzly-voiced game protagonists. So, nobody was really excited when news that Ubisoft was working on a sequel leaked.
But today, after a steady stream of leaks, Watch_Dogs 2 was finally announced, and the one thing that popped out at me through the talk of free-running mechanics, improved hacking, or the ability to play non-lethally was the game’s new protagonist. Replacing milquetoast Aiden Pearce is Marcus Holloway, a black man wrongly profiled by ctOS – the game’s Orwellian surveillance system that runs everything – who now leads a hacker revolution. And given the game’s setting and focuses, Marcus being black is way more than skin deep.
Watch_Dogs 2 takes place in San Francisco, with Marcus coming from its neighboring city of Oakland; and race plays an important role here. Oakland has been heavily effected by gentrification from neighboring San Francisco, largely caused by the tech boom, and largely resulting in poorer, darker residents of Oakland being pushed out of their homes. In other words, the San Francisco/Oakland area represents a direct relationship between the growth of technology and the systematic oppression of poor black people. Marcus’ opposition to ctOS in San Francisco is way more than just the anti-surveillance message from the first game; it’s a representation of the class and racial tensions present in our world today.
Marcus’ blackness also adds interesting flavor to him being a hacker, again, in the San Francisco area. The tech world, and Silicon Valley in particular has a big problem with minority representation. I’m being a little reductive here, but Silicon Valley does not hire black people. The tech/hacker “type” is rarely, if ever, imagined as a black person. Again, Marcus represents more than a rogue hacker; he’s a depiction of the people most neglected by the tech industry using the same skills they used to fuck him over, to fuck them over. He’s also one of the few fictional characters a tech-savvy black kid could really see himself reflected in. Marcus says that black people belong in tech too, even if they have to lead a revolution to get there.
And of course we have to talk about Marcus’ blackness in relation to a revolution, and a revolution sparked by profiling at that. This *is* #BlackLivesMatter, full stop. Even if this was unintentional (although I doubt anything I’m writing here hasn’t been thought about by Ubisoft), the image of a black man leading a group in protest to police/surveillance actions is deeply relevant today, and inherently racially political in nature.
Based entirely on first impressions, Watch_Dogs 2 looks like it’s main themes involve black people being in places they “don’t belong,” whether that means physically in San Francisco, culturally as part of the tech-world, and as politically as rebels against injustice and oppression.
I may be giving Ubisoft too much credit here, but I really hope I’m not.