Monday, June 2, 2014

Character Analysis #3: Aiden Pearce (Watch_Dogs)

As many of you are no doubt aware, Watch_Dogs has finally been released by Ubisoft. I purchased my copy on release day, spending most of my free time since its release playing the game. Having finished it, my thoughts and opinions are still fresh in my mind. After investing so much of my energy into the game, one thing keeps entering my mind: Protagonist Aiden Pearce is an asshole. I am not the first person to say that. Several well-known gaming critics have also made that charge. However, I wish to articulate to you, the audience, exactly why I think that Aiden Pearce is a complete, unrepentant asshole. Because this article is coming out so quickly after the release of the game, all spoilers will be marked for the benefit of the reader.

One of the biggest reasons I think Mr. Pearce is an asshole comes from the way he handles the randomly generated “Potential Crime” missions in Watch_Dogs. To the unaware, a major conceit in Watch_Dogs is that the whole city of Chicago is connected through a system called ctOS, which Aiden can hack into using his phone. With this technology, the player, as Aiden Pearce, can monitor the system and use its algorithms to track potential crimes that might occur in the area. When one such tip is received and the player arrives at that location, the phone's Profiler can be used to identify either the likely criminal or victim.
This is where the asshole part comes in. In order for a potential crime event to count as a success, the player mist wait for the criminal to commit the crime. Then, they must either knock him out or kill him. Should the criminal see Aiden coming, he will be scared off, and the event will count as a failure. Let me repeat that for emphasis: Preventing the crime from happening at all results in a complete failure. Apparently, it is not enough for Aiden Pearce to stop criminals in their tracks. No, he will not be satisfied until his lust for violence is satiated. Even if the victim dies, the mission still counts as a success. Clearly, Mr. Pearce must not care too much about the people, so long as the criminal gets a whack in the face.

Another thing that causes me to think Aiden is an asshole comes from the game's hacking mechanic. As the player crosses the paths of passers-by in the world, they can use their phone to hack in and steal bank account data. Using that information, our protagonist can then hack into ATMs to steal all the money from those accounts and add it to his own cash total. There is no criteria with regards to who the game allows the player to steal from (and make no mistake, it is stealing). A random woman is suffering from terminal cancer? Who cares? Let us take all $1200 from her account. No punishment or consequence will be delivered to the player no matter what kind of person is stolen from. Further, Aiden will never take anything less than the full value of these accounts. Not a single penny is left untaken. In order to continue living the way he does, our protagonist is happy to plunder the life savings of all civilians unlucky enough to be anywhere near him on the streets. This kind of behavior is present in only one kind of individual: an asshole.

The brazen amount of damage Aiden Pearce inflicts on the world is also immense evidence of his being an asshole. During the course of the game, there will be numerous occasions where our “hero” will be chased down by another group, usually the police. In order to shake his pursuers, Mr. Pearce will often hack the city infrastructure, taking down the opposition. Blockers and road spikes can be triggered, bridges can be raised, traffic lights can be manipulated to cause pileups, and steam pipes can be exploded. Pay close attention to those last two options. Aiden can hack a 4-way intersection to make all lights on it turn green at the same time. Though the ensuing accident can incapacitate his foes, our protagonist is endangering the lives of all the people at that intersection with his action. And once again, there are no consequences for it. Blowing up steam pipes can also endanger lives and damage property in much the same way.
Continuing this line of thought, these types of chases frequently spill off road. As a result, it is entirely possible, even likely, to run over civilians in the middle of a chase. City infrastructure like power lines, fences, signs, etc. can also be rammed over. One anecdote of this I can recall comes from an optional mission. At the start of the mission, Mr. Pearce states that he detects that a group of mobsters is about to perform a drive-by shooting. In response, he traces their path and decides to take them out before they arrive at their destination. I had failed to completely head them off, and there were stragglers left. As a result, they needed to be chased down. During this chase, I must have run into and destroyed several thousands of dollars worth of property, along with several people. Sarcastically, I remember saying to myself “It's okay because I am a 'HERO'.” At the same time, I noted that it might have actually been more worthwhile to let the drive-by happen, because the net damage from the drive-by would have been less than the damage I inflicted trying to stop it. Combining all the damages from these actions, Aiden Pearce is exhibiting signs of reckless abandonment in his pursuit of “justice”.

With regards the story, I will attempt to speak in broad strokes to avoid spoiling any one specific event. What I can say is that Aiden rarely acts with kindness, even towards those he considers an ally. Some of it can be explained by the (admittedly justified) paranoia that comes from being a vigilante. However, most of the time he comes off as unnecessarily cold and calculating: The markings of a textbook sociopath. He is unpleasant and almost disdainful of most of the characters in the game, even when an non-asshole approach is would clearly be more efficient in achieving his objectives. Also, whenever our protagonist has an enemy at his mercy during a story cutscene, he has a frankly disturbing tendency to gloat. One scene in particular is absolutely chilling. In this scene (SPOILERS), Mr. Pearce is walking circles around a mob boss that he just shot in the leg. To get the boss to talk, he opens up his phone and starts to ask about the man's family and how he balances his double life as a mob boss and family man. This is to subtly imply that if the man does not talk, his family could be put in danger. Considering that the guy cannot run and is at Mr. Pearce's mercy, this seems completely unnecessary and almost evil (/SPOILERS). Quite frankly, only an asshole could engage in this kind of behavior.

All the evidence is in. Given Aiden Pearce's lust for violence when fighting crime, theft from innocent people, reckless abandonment, knack for property damage, and unlikable demeanor, the conclusion is inescapable. The protagonist of Watch_Dogs must be a complete, unrepentant asshole. This is all despite the game's attempt to portray him as a sympathetic, yet flawed character. If anything, this shows how silly it can be to write such a serious, grim story over such an open playground for users to do as they please. It always results in this kind of dissonance that simply cannot be explain away. I think the game might have been better had they opted for a more lighter fare in terms of storytelling. As it stands, the character we see is a jerkass, borderline sociopath.


coolguy1 said...

The silliest part is that the news reports all say that everybody likes Aiden and won't reveal who he is to the cops. That he would threaten people's families in order to protect his own family is just so silly.

newdarkcloud said...

It's actually pretty astounding that the cops don't know who he is. His secret identity is one of the worst kept secrets I've ever seen.

I was actually genuinely surprised his sister didn't know about him being the vigilante. When he shows up to her house in the full ensemble, it should be disgustingly obvious.