Watch Dogs 2 was everything it needed to be after the anticlimactic first installment. Nearly every negative that came from the original was remedied in its successor (except maybe the driving mechanics. For further points, travel over here for my full review.) That being said however, there are deeper reasons why WD2 is leagues beyond its predecessor and they all lie within Marcus Holloway and his DedSec crew.
(Starting to see a theme here, perhaps? It goes without saying that an effective narrative requires great characters.) Read on!
The first time we see Marcus after his DedSec initiation, he is in pink, polka dot boxers and a tank top. This minute detail sets the bar for separating Marcus from Aiden, already creating a stark contrast between the protagonists. That being said, Marcus stands as a departure, not only from typical brooding protagonists, but from convention. In fact, Watch Dogs 2 in and of itself represents relief from custom.
WD2 sets itself up with an overwhelming slew of stereotypes. From the clearly typical hackers (Anonymous and other political hacker groups are obvious influences) to the overbearingly hipster Dusan Nemic, secret yoga master, the game is rife with status quo. Underneath the archetypes however, exists a keen and clever character development, and it begins with defying traditional stereotypes.
The most obvious stereotype of all begins with Marcus; He is an African-American protagonist. This fact is vehemently important to Marcus as a character. Polygon’s Tanya DePass discusses how WD2 handles racism; both she and I reacted similarly and found one quote to be representative of this underlying theme: when Marcus and Horatio are at Nudle, Marcus says “hey man, I’m scared too.” Horatio responds, “Scared, of what?” To which Marcus replies, “nobody looks like us.” Ultimately, the duo plays it off with humor, but the theme is still there.
Jeremy Winslow of Paste Magazine also had this to say about how the game handles racism and ultimately makes my point about Marcus breaking stereotype, most especially as a person of color in a video game:
“Although Marcus’ backstory follows a similar path of Black characters in games’ past, his design is starkly different: he’s a scrawny little hipster douche like his White counterparts. Perhaps a product of the amalgam of being born in the Bay Area and gentrification, Marcus’ look is distinctly aberrant from typical game design for Black characters: he doesn’t have muscles on top of muscles; he isn’t over six-feet-tall; he doesn’t play sports (at least from what the game informs us, he doesn’t.) In fact, he is the opposite: He’s a computer hacker, which, if we’re being frank, is largely thought of as being non-ethnically diverse.”
Some may agree it has everything to do with gentrification and cultural appropriation, but I don’t believe that. It has a much deeper, yet simpler meaning: to disenfranchise stereotype. To break molds and bias and make people see that we are individuals, not to be defined and generalized. We may join groups of like-minded aficionados and there may be SOME truth to each stereotype, but as with most anything in this life, a generalization is just that. Numbers are too large to quantify meaning from a single entity.That being said, the hacker stereotype is strong with WD2. It throws itself at players, screaming “look at us, we are fed up hipster geeks who know our way around computer systems!” The stereotype is so deep, rife with hipster vernacular, nerdy euphemisms, and can-do attitude; the hackers at DedSec respire their convention like they respire oxygen. However, it serves a purpose. This in-your-face approach is meant to display all the grey area behind stereotypes, unearthing the individuals within by examining each of DedSec’s members through “loyalty” missions. Each mission is unique to Marcus’s friends, exploring their personal stories, uncovering motivations, likes/dislikes, and self consciousness.
Anyone who’s played will specifically remember Wrench’s story, essentially the Man Behind the Mask. His story is as heart-wrenching (hah, pun) as it is action-packed and we find out exactly why he does what he does, why he decides to wear his mask. This brings Marcus and Wrench inevitably closer, but it brings the player closer as well. Through the eyes of Marcus, the players experience what his friends experienced and shed new light as to why they joined DedSec, why they belong there, together. Without this, they would not be a team, much less be as effective at what they do.
At its core, this is what Watch Dogs 2 set out to accomplish: provide a set of conventions, across races and demographics, and prove each of their members are just as individual as the player, who is also lumped into–and judged–by their respective stereotype. It tells a story of unity through derision and divisiveness, of friendship against those who would persecute, and ultimately, an allegory (yet another theme we see much of, when analyzing plot) for our own judgement against our brethren.
Be kind, be open. Don’t assume, don’t ridicule. An individual may be informed by a stereotype, but they are not defined by it.
Till next time!