E3 2012: Watch Dogs and Our Single-player Connected Lives
By Brad Simons on June 8th, 2012 (16 comments)
I look closely at the markings scribbled on the cobblestone at my feet. They read “goblin ambush ahead”. I clench my shield tight and slowly head into the darkness.
This message was most likely left by a warrior having a far worse day than myself. One who managed to crawl away from this ambush with a sliver of his life only to warn future adventurers. I will probably never meet this soldier, or even care much when he meets his inevitable demise; but his kind message made an impact. His terrible day had an effect on my, now, slightly better one.
What makes this multiplayer interaction in Dark Souls so interesting is how relatable it is to our own lives. Suprisingly, most of us don't run around screaming racial slurs and shooting each other in the face. But we do interact with people we don't know, and with people we will never meet. A post-it note left on a dryer at the washateria that reads “no heat” tells the tale of a distraught woman who maybe had to run to the convenience store to buy a pack of gum, make change, and race back to dry her wet clothes quickly enough to make it to work on time. Thankfully, she was nice enough to write a message letting everyone else know not to use this dryer. And now her less than stellar day has made someone else's slightly better.
Similarly, a blood stain in Dark Souls is not much different than a tragic news report. While we are often unaffected by the fate of the unacquainted victim (sometimes even finding it entertaining), the event will certainly help decide which parts of town we avoid at night. Dark Souls' approach to multiplayer is effective because of its relatability. It's an effective representation of how the actions of strangers affect us; and how our smallest choices can change the lives of others.
So when Ubisoft debuted Watch Dogs, a modern-day hacker game with multiplayer connectivity, at E3 this year, I became elated. The presentation ended with the suggestion that players will be experiencing their own story in the same world as other player controlled hackers. And while we have no confirmation of what the multiplayer component to Watch Dogs actually is, I'll tell you what it should be – and why it would be groundbreaking.
In short, Watch Dogs should use the Dark Souls “single-player experience on a multiplayer server” model. Players should still experience their personal stories with all that hacking goodness shown in the Ubisoft demonstration; and actions like disabling nearby cell phones, disabling traffic lights, and hacking into bank accounts or ATMs are all really cool actions that make a hacker feel powerful. But in a connected world similar to Dark Souls, the results might not always be so positive.
What if when driving to a mission, you get stuck in traffic due to a multi-car pile up? What if you log into your Watch Dogs game and your character has no money in his account? What if your phone mysteriously dies in the middle of an incoming mission objective? Now suddenly your actions have weight. They affect others. And the actions of others affect you. That multi-car pile up may have been used as a simple distraction for one player; but for you, it's mission failure.
Instead of relying on silly binary choices with no real consequences, a morality system will evolve naturally out of the effects of these very relatable interactions. Now we are letting real emotions dictate our actions. We choose to be good or bad because it affects other people, not because we are trying to see the “good” or “bad” storyline. It's why we don't keep the wallet lying on the sidewalk. Or if we do, it's why we can't sleep at night.
Demons Souls and Dark Souls are groundbreaking in the ways they connected our single player experiences. And if the team over at Ubisoft is truly implementing a similar multiplayer philosophy for Watch Dogs with this even more relatable modern setting, I think we might see the first real morality “system” that actually works. Let's just hope it still has lots of neck stabbing. Because we all love neck stabbing.
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