"Video games are deeply political"

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Taking place a few years after Brexit, in an English capital scarred by authoritarianism and mass surveillance, Watch Dogs: Legion , Ubisoft's new video game, released on October 29, resonates with the news and questions the political dimension of video games.

In a dark lane in London, a uniformed policeman harasses a passerby. The masked face, a young punk intervenes. The situation escalates. Above them, a drone opens fire. Two dead, one injured. We are in Watch Dogs: Legion , Ubisoft's new video game. The third in the series of the same name, released on October 29. 

The action, therefore, takes place in a futuristic UK, where Brexit has (finally) taken place, Scotland is independent and the British capital is under mass surveillance. As the Albion military faction has seized power following a series of attacks, the player enters the resistance, DedSec. The goal ? Rally the population to their cause and "save London". 

Neopunk accents

As in the previous games, the player must hack his environment to progress in the story, for example by taking control of an enemy drone or by disrupting road traffic. The originality of this episode with neopunk accents lies above all in the possibility of recruiting and "playing" all the individuals encountered during the adventure, from the construction worker to the bar pillar, including the amateur lawyer. beautiful cars. For Clint Hocking, Creative Director at Ubisoft, this new game mechanic "   allows you to better identify with heroes".

Because this new episode of the Watch Dogs series intends to adapt to the current upheavals of the world, its framework resonating directly with the news. Brexit thus came to be grafted in 2016 on the general framework, centered on an authoritarian power exercising its authority thanks to advanced technological devices. The game evokes, for example, the presence of dilapidated camps for “  European migrants  ”. A very political bias that is not unanimous. “  Do you want to play in the political field? Your sales will drop!  », Launched a gamer on Twitter, as if to underline that investing in the (geo) political field is not without risk.

It must be said that in Watch Dogs: Legion , Brexit does not bode better for the United Kingdom. The police discriminate and kill. Poverty is rampant. The people are called upon to fight fascism, to demonstrate and organize themselves against corruption, surveillance and mass repression. And London is represented in all its ethnic and cultural diversity. 

Consensual communication 

But if the plot of this new Watch Dogs is based on “political” elements, is the video game too? The question has arisen since the unveiling of the very first images of the game. On October 28, Wired magazine published an article soberly entitled "  Watch Dogs: Legion hates Brexit." It also sucks at political commentary  ”(which could be translated as“ Watch Dogs: Legion hates Brexit. And its political commentary sucks ”). Matt Kamen, author of the article, believes that “   Ubisoft stops before it has the courage to turn awkward political analysis into thought-provoking commentary. " 

The question is all the more sensitive as the game is released in a complicated context for Ubisoft. Last summer, the company's Paris studio was investigated by the newspaper Liberation revealing several cases of sexual harassment. As for the game Tom Clancy's Elite Squad , released during the summer of 2020, it was the subject of controversy after accusations of racism . 

Often criticized because it presents its games as "apolitical", Ubisoft is this time expected at the turn. However, despite a new and ambitious narrative approach, communication around Watch Dogs: Legion is consensual. For Clint Hocking, the message of the work can be summed up as follows: "Working together to build a better world" . If the creative director considers that it is necessary to face certain problems - inclusiveness, racism, sexism - in the development of such a work, it remains for him above all a fiction. In short, the game would be first and foremost what the player makes of it.

"There is a growing interest in incorporating a political aspect into video games"

Author of The Playstation Dreamworld (Wiley, 2017), Alfie Bown, on the contrary, believes that “video games are deeply political”. Publicly defending a progressive and “left” approach to this medium, the British academic believes that video games have a role to play in the construction of our reality. To illustrate his point, he refers in particular to the war games which feature the rivalry between the United States and Russia. “A lot [of studios] refuse this point of view, shun the question. Ubisoft is one of them. " For Alfie Bown, the game mechanics induced by certain algorithms - in other words, the technical dimension of the gameplay- would be just as important from this perspective as the narrative aspect: "In many games, like Tropico 5 for example, you have to obey a capitalist perspective to succeed" , observes the academic.

Screenshot of the video game trailer Tropico 5, released in 2014 (Haemimont Games / Kalypso Media)

If, at the time of writing, Alfie Bown has not yet found the time to play Ubisoft's new production, the publisher has allowed him to record podcasts, available within the universe of Watch Dogs: Legion . Podcasts in which Alfie Bown talks freely about his favorite subjects. “It shows that there is a growing interest in incorporating a political aspect into video games. It's exciting, but it only remains at the narrative level. I'm really waiting to see people take ownership of the politics of algorithms. "

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