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I guess I just like liking things

Come to think of it, I don't remember seeing any dogs in the whole city

Come to think of it, I don’t remember seeing any dogs in the whole city

I am this close to finishing the game Watch Dogs (Xbox One), by which, of course, I mean that I have almost all of the achievements for it. I finished the storyline two weeks ago, and have been trying to mop up the bits and pieces here and there. (EDIT: I got the last achievement about two hours after writing the above. Yay!)

The main idea of the game is hacking. You play Aiden Pearce, a master hacker wandering around Chicago trying to get to the bottom of a mystery. He can access all kinds of information using his phone to hack ctOS, the operating system that everything in Chicago is connected to. And I do mean everything – ATMs, people’s phones, electrical panels, steam pipes below the streets, everything.

As you walk along the streets, you can set your phone to automatically profile passersby. As you walk by someone, information about them pops up on screen. These are five I walked by just now:

  • Aziz, Rolando; Owns multiple pets; Occupation: Engineer – Mechanical
  • Lawrence, Adrian; Recovering meth addict; Occupation: Warehouse Worker
  • Kane, Kayla; Member of a teetotaler group; Occupation: Estate Planning Director
  • Peng, Bik; Frequents racist blogs; Occupation: Engineer – Electrical
  • Jenner, Christina; Allergic to bee stings; Occupation: Bankruptcy attorney

It also tells you how old they are and what their salary is. If the border around the information is blue, that means you can hack them for valuable things like money and info. The facts are randomly assigned, certainly, but I suspect they want you to consider if you’d really take money from the account of someone who was “recently diagnosed with leukemia.” (The answer is yes, I would. Not in real life, of course, but I don’t mind taking fake money from fake people.) There’s no penalty ever for taking people’s money, and you need it to buy guns, ammo, and cars. I know some people only take money from the “frequents racist blogs” types, but everyone in my virtual Chicago really wanted to donate to my cause.

It’s an open-world game, and there are plenty of side missions and diversions to fiddle around with in between missions. Stealing cars, delivering messages, finding burner phones, breaking up a human trafficking ring – normal Chicago stuff. In the process, depending on how you treat the general citizenry of Chicago (maiming them vs. not maiming them, that kind of thing), you become either a vigilante hero or a menace. There’s a lot to do and I’ve enjoyed 90% of the game.

Something caught me off guard, though. One set of sidequests has you hacking into homes and apartments and accessing webcameras, laptop cameras, and even a Kinect-like thing. Once you’re in, you have 20-30 seconds to find the “thing” you’re actually after, usually a bank account for some money. During that 20-30 seconds, though, you get a glimpse at the lives in the house, and I was surprised by how much some of them impacted me. Here are a couple of stories told in those 20-30 second bites (spoilers, I guess, though they don’t affect the main storyline at all):

  • A husband and wife trying to figure out what they’re going to do since the husband was just diagnosed with cancer (very Breaking Bad, this one)
  • A single mom at the end of her rope trying to deal with everything
  • A dad playing Princess Tea Party with his toddler daughter
  • A couple of different people contemplating suicide (very disturbing, these)
  • I’m spoiler-formatting this last one because it’s quite disturbing, but it’s also the one that hit me the most. Highlight the text if you want to read it (but it’s very, very sad): The camera shows a body on the floor, but the face is obscured by furniture. The hackable phone plays a message and it’s from the person’s son, talking about how they want to spend more time with him and how they’re sorry the way things have gone. He’s sorry he hasn’t talked to him in a while, but would it be okay if he came by after work to pick him up?

I was surprised by how much some of these side stories affected me. Yes, I know, just like the leukemia patients I was stealing money from earlier, these are all just stories of fake people. I don’t know, though, I guess it just reminded me that there are millions and millions of these stories in real life every day. Stories, whether they are books, movies, or games, are a fantastic way of helping us understand other people better. It’s like Carmine Falcone said in Batman Begins: “You always fear what you don’t understand.” So many of the terrible things people say and do to each other come from that fear of the “other.” If I don’t know anything about them, I don’t understand them, and if I don’t understand them, my first instinct is to fear them. I’ll let Yoda take it from here: “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.” Look around you, read the news – it’s all over the place. Learning someone else’s story is the first step in understanding. From there, you can work on changing.

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