I wrote this piece in 2014, well before watch dogs 2 was announced. prehaps i'll pick up a cheap copy of 2 on sale and do a follow up article.
Aiden Pearce is clearly the “lonely, tortured soul” trope, determined to bring justice to a lawless city, defend the innocent, prey on the villainous, and make sure no one has to suffer what he did ever again.
He’s also a huge arsehole.
That’s not debatable, even in main missions and cutscenes Aiden Pearce is demonstrably offensive in situations he could easily solve peacefully. Within the first ten hours of gameplay Aiden picks a fight with the Black Viceroys(Krips/Bloods etc.), The South Chicago Club(IRA) and Dedsec(anonymous, Lulzsec), his sheer power of offence is almost admirable. Just it results in the death of his niece and constant harassment to his sister and nephew. His familial duty spurs him to spy on his family for their own protection, an unnerving reminder of privacy vs. security, or it would be if he didn’t have enough money to hire a private army to protect them, now he just looks like a creepy voyeur and a condescending prick. His sister constantly reprimands him for his “vigilantism” (more on that later) because if he just left shit alone her daughter wouldn’t have been killed.
There is far too little animosity between Aiden and his sister, she forgives him instantly for killing her daughter with his actions, and assures him it’s not his fault he killed her daughter with his actions. If he just packed in his whole hacktivism thing they could all go live in the countryside just Jackson, Nicole and the uncle who killed their daughter/sister. Lots of people including Yahtzee Croshaw comment on how in AAA games women are either sex objects or carte blanche checks for mayhem, I think it’s pretty fucking gross when a mother tells you ‘no it’s fine, really, que sera sera and all that.’
His vigilantism makes no sense, he’s out to “...expose, to protect, and if necessary, to punish" but he knows that people in Chicago are ruled by the system, so why does he beat up muggers and shoot pickpockets? They take the one Batman angle that is most criticised and pushed it as a major feature in their marketing campaign. I don’t feel like a hero playing as Pearce, I feel like a rich, white, straight WASP keeping those damn, dirty minorities in their place.
So Aiden is a stupid mess of clichés, aiming for Batman and sprawling amongst the Drakes and the Fenixes. So to whom should we turn for an antihero of epic proportions? Someone capable of conveying unstoppable revenge and unbridled violence?
Afro Samurai was a manga running form 1999-2000 that was adapted into a 5 episode anime in 2007 and a one off 90 min film in 2009. Written by Takashi Okazaki and Starring and produced by Samuel L. Jackson, it is critically appraised for its unflinching depiction of violence and its exploration of the ouruoboros nature of revenge. Afro Samurai is the number two warrior, out to kill Justice; the man who slew his father and became the number one warrior. Only the number two can challenge the number one, but anyone can challenge the number two, thus causing afro to become feared and renowned as “the demon of revenge who dares to challenge a god (Justice.)” So how can this warrior of anachronistic, steam punk post-apocalypse feudal Japan help poor old Aideny Waideny Woo?
Aiden Pearce needs to cut out the vigilante crap and start going into protecting family overdrive mode. There should be a base building game where you have to subtly modify Nicole’s home into a fortress without them becoming suspicious of you interference, there should be a bodyguard building team where you strategically place security throughout their day to day lives again without alerting them to your omnipresence. You should be able to see the descent of Aiden’s decency as he crosses boundaries and hurts innocent people to insure absolute security of his family at all times. The other half of the game? Delicious Revenge.
This is where the whole “hack the world” thing should’ve come into its own. Giving you Hitman/Dishonored levels of creative freedom to kill, humiliate, blackmail or intimidate the threats to your family into submission. You should become a figure of myth, of terrible retribution limited only by your creativity and manipulative skills. People should be afraid of you. Backing away or holding very still when you walk past. Your family should become suspicious of why everyone is really nice to them, of why they can only follow certain traffic routes at certain times. Of why there are lots of new lamps and furnishings scattered around the house, of why Aiden looks haggard and bloodshot and slightly mad. There should be a moral struggle within the player between respecting your family’s privacy and ensuring their wellbeing, those infrared tripwire alarms are only $50 000, but what happens if Jackson sets one off playing and metal shutters slam down over all the windows and doors and a van full of armed men surround the perimeter? Without a threat present your family will be justifiably pissed at this breach of ethics. Will you respond with kindness, or bully them for their own good?
However the most important thing to take away from Afro Samurai is that Afro is not a Huge Arsehole! Afro is polite, quiet, always pays for things he takes and generally doesn’t mess with people unless they mess with him first (I say generally because he does kill some innocent bystanders, but he’s not a nice guy remember protagonist doesn’t have to mean hero.) Aiden bangs on about not wanting to drag people into his dark world (I am so sick of dark as an adjective now) and then fights dozens of small gangs just because. He picks fights like a kid in a candy store and then has a big old cry when people retaliate towards him and his sister and nephew. If he stuck to a bad guy and finished them off for good he could probably have mowed through the criminal underworld lickety-split but he flits between them gay as a stroll through Venice until they’re gangbanging his chiselled, grizzled self harder than Roxie Hart (musicals are so good, why hasn’t anyone made a musical game yet?) There’s a serious miscommunication in mainstream media that arsehole means badass, now some arseholes are badasses, but not all arseholes are badasses and vice versa (English is weird.) Walter White is cited as a main inspiration of Aiden, but Walter White turned megalomaniacal gradually, over the course of years. Giving Aiden the Profiler and having him declare “I’m gonna be Super-Batman-Punisher” immediately should make everyone around him question his sanity, and of course no one does.
Afro Samurai is a tale of vengeance and its destructive effects on the soul, Watch Dogs is a male power fantasy where you kill all the baddies and save the day and everything turns out fine. So guess which one is going to have a billion sequels, spinoffs and tie-ins? I don't know the future of the Watch Dogs, but this is a dim take on what coulde be such a fascinating setting.