Glenn Beck believes that Ubisoft's newest game, Watch Dogs, is going to teach an entire generation of Americans how to be professional hackers. Watch Dogs has become a major hit, reportedly the fastest-selling game in company history.
The premise: you play hero Aiden Pearce, who has access to an entire city's infrastructure as well as facial recognition software that can tap into a person's work and personal history as well as their bank account. Everything is linked, from public utilities to identities to money to criminal records. A player can pull up intel about anyone they encounter through this system and use the hacked information as a weapon against their enemies. (For example, one can outrun an enemy by opening a draw bridge because you have hacked into the electrical grid.)
The reality is that this high level of detailed infrastructure does not exist to this degree in real life, and if someone hacked into a city's public utility system, it would be abundantly obvious, extremely quickly. But that fact didn't repel Beck's indignation:
“This game is teaching you to hack into whatever is docked in your bedroom. What the heck is wrong with us? What are we thinking? We are inviting this into our home and our lives."
“The idea here is they are teaching you to hack and then become the ultimate voyeur in other people’s lives," his rant continues, “including their bedrooms, by hacking into their phones and everything.”
In a lengthy interview The Wire conducted with the Ubisoft team behind Watch Dogs, they explained that they took portions of the game from reality, without asking the player to build it or imagining that it could turn into reality.
"We started creating the game four years ago. When we started, a lot of what was in the game seemed like science fiction. Now, a lot of the hacks Aiden does could happen in real life."
Just because it, technically speaking, could happen, does not mean it does, or that the hacks are easy. Hacking requires abundant technical experience and carries lifetimes of punishment for those caught doing it.
Much like other games that use real life scenarios (most commonly war) as a basis, Watch Dogs uses hacking. Just like war could and does happen in real life, hacking could and does happen in real life. But that doesn't mean either game teaches you how to be the enemy.
The hacking in Watch Dogs is all presented to the player initially. Features and puzzles can be unlocked, but the actual hacked system exists inherently in the game. At no point does Ubisoft offer a guide on how to break into your local water filtration plant.
The team stressed that "absolutely no technical expertise is needed" to play the game. That means that Watch Dogs does not teach the player how to hack. Watch Dogs teaches gamers how to hack insomuch as Assassin's Creed teaches you how to jump between rooftops and Angry Birds teaches you how to throw birds at pigs.
While there has been a great deal of discussion around violent video games, generally first-whether person shooting games like Call of Duty cause violent behavior, Watch Dogs employs an extremely different weapon that is not readily available. Guns are for purchase, facial recognition software that can link and unlock a bank account is not (nor does it actually exist in real life.) Additionally, violent crime is decreasing while video games are becoming more popular.
And while this might be an afterthought to critics like Beck, Watch Dogs is a fictional game. For an sense of how ridiculous it would be to act like Aiden Pearce in real life, check out this awesome parody video: