It is today that 20jazzfunkgreats gives up on Watch Dogs with a colossal yawn and, if we weren’t so polite, the digital gesture you see above.
It is not the first time we do this with a Ubisoft game, that sneaky ADD species of modern video game that lures the player with a promise of freedom, and then proceeds to bombard her with a barrage of objectives, options and distractions, like an informational version of Father Ted’s Mrs Doyle. But whereas in previous occasions – Assassin’s Creed, the latest Splinter Cell, Far Cry 3 (almost, we actually finished that one)– the open world friction nudged us away slowly with its overbearing generosity, here we disconnect decidedly, and disappointedly.
What’s the problem? There are many problems – we could go on about the dour beige man Aiden Price (a bit like Batman, if Batman was a complete asshole who killed dozens of people in pursuit of his goal), or the rest of the cast (especially T Bone, the charming chap illustrating this post– if the Matrix had a Jar Jar Binks bro-grammer in its cast, that would be him), the mundane hacking and the unrewarding progression (the high level perks include more batteries for your smartphone, and the ability to get extra money from cash machines), the beautiful but listless rendition of Chicago, its pathetic attempt to be edgy, cool and mature, and the appalling licensed music (there is actually one good song in it, and it is Tortoise). But it goes beyond that. Our disappointment is deeper. It concerns the game’s utter failure to convey through its story and its systems the mood of a society under complete surveillance.
Now, think of the triumph that was The Last of Us, and what it did with the concept of survival, and consider what Watch Dogs could have been if it had achieved something even remotely similar with themes like surveillance, privacy, transparency, anonymity or societal control. We would have had THE game for this day and age, instead of the video game equivalent of Die Hard 3.0, if we replaced Bruce Willis with a man with a cap stitched to his head.
And what does this world we almost live in feel like?
Perhaps like Kaval’s dérives through regions of ambient dirge, mystery and melancholy. Tense with the flat fuzz of a synth drone, nocturnal sea where we swim over flickering presences that caress us with gossamer probes. Subtly plaintive, with a sub-dermal sense of loss, perhaps for those slivers of ourselves fading away trapped in distant algorithmic fortresses. Also eerie, haunted with the echo of a John Carpenter motif, as if we experienced the onset of Halloween through the multi-dimensional, rhizomatic architectures of the data city.
Alternatively, one could conceive of an utopian scenario where we realise the potential of digital technologies by transcending romantic notions of privacy, and becoming enmeshed in the harmonious totality of our society’s collective intelligence. We join a cybernetic system, noosphere or macro-neural network whose performance can be optimised (like any other system composed of parts with measurable features and predictable behaviours), and optimised it is.
We sail into the deep unknowns of the universe as one, to search for more truths, atop positive winds with melodies joyous and aesthetically + mathematically beautiful like one of Ray Lynch’s compositions.