Meet Aiden Pearce, the star of ‘Watch Dogs’ and the future’s nightmare

WatchDogs Police Block TrafficLight

Check out our full written Watch Dogs review.

From the moment Watch Dogs debuted at E3 2012, a lot of the focus has been about Ubisoft Montreal’s take on Chicago. In Watch Dogs, Chicago is a futuristic “smart city.” It is a playground for high tech, mobile hackers in which a centralized server manages basic infrastructure and city services, and can be bent to the will of those with the means. We’ve also had a chance to learn more about the wide assortment of hacktivities protagonist Aiden Pearce can engage in to re-shape the city around him whenever the situation calls for it. However, much less is known about the man himself. What is Pearce’s background and how did he learn to hack an entire city? Why does he embrace a vigilante lifestyle and what brings him to Chicago in the first place?

Ubisoft isn’t ready to reveal many of the details yet, but we were fortunate to spend some time chatting with Kevin Shortt, lead story designer on Watch Dogs. He kept his responses intentionally vague, but there’s enough here to at least give you a sense of the motivations driving Pearce as he disrupts the daily life of the Windy City.

watchdogs-mem-2“He’s got a dark past,” Shortt tells us. “He’s made some mistakes and those mistakes have come back to bite him in the ass … and affect his family. So now he’s determined to make sure they stay safe, and he’ll protect them by any means necessary. He’s more of an anti-hero. I think you buy into why he’s doing what he’s doing, but his methods and approach is where maybe we raise some questions.”

Shortt refused to offer any details about Pearce’s family or what sort of danger they’re in, but he did admit that they’re not the only faces that you’ll associate with in Chicago. “There’s a lot of people he deals with, [such as] Clara, who is a character that… helps him a lot through the game. Then there’s Geordi [whom Pearce met up with in the E3 demo]. He’s a bit of a fixer, a guy who, if you’ve got a problem to solve, that’s who you turn to. We’ve got the Black Viceroys … a gang that own the Wards district. There’s all these sorts of people you can interact with.”

Pearce’s background as a techno-criminal gives him some street cred in the shadier areas of the city, but it’s also the reason he’s in trouble. His actions create new relationships, but they also attract familiar faces from his past – some of which he would rather have stayed in the past. As Shortt described it, “a guy takes a step that opens up a whole new door of problems for him and then he has to try and deal with it, make things right. That’s what Aidan is trying to do.”

“I think there’s definitely good in him, but he’s got a criminal past. He’s been on that side of the law for sure. So that plays into who he is now. I think he’s trying to do things right now, but those things can be hard. The key for him is, what can he do to correct the mistakes that he’s made?”

watch dogs

Designing the story is more than just plotting out the journey that Pearce takes as he fights to protect his family. The city itself is equally important for driving events forward, thanks largely to the fact that the hacker play is so integral to everything you do. Shortt explained that inspiration came from many different fictional sources, but that the present-day world was perhaps the most influential.

“Our biggest influence has been the world around us,” he said. “That’s what I think reflects best what Watch Dogs is about. We all have our cellphones … everything is connected. It’s right there, it’s right around us, and nobody’s really covered it in a strong way.”

watch dogs hack fusebox screenshot“All this connectivity is great. I love how connected the world is. But what does that mean? What does that mean for my security, for all the information I’m putting out there? I love the idea of smart cities, of a city that is going to make me get to work 20 minutes faster, is gonna streamline my bills, maybe brings my hydro bills down.”

The obvious and unavoidable downside of a deeply interconnected city infrastructure is the inherent danger of lumping critical systems under a single umbrella. What if someone, some outsider, were to find a way to sneak in and huddle under that umbrella? This is the threat that Pearce poses to ctOS and Chicago’s powers-that-be. The game allows you to interact as you see fit. If you wish to play guardian angel you can, or you can delve further down the criminal rabbit hole and explore the dark side of the power Pearce has at his fingertips. You can also maintain a balance between the two, and the game will react accordingly. Regardless of your approach, the options raise several moral questions. 

Shortt asked, “Do we want a world where everyone can hack in and [see your] criminal past? That’s what I think is particularly interesting for us, the questions that it raises about access to information. The good and the bad of it.”

watch dogs vigilante takedown screenshot

Building all of these concepts into a single smart city is the right move, as it’s an actual direction that the real world is headed in. There isn’t anything out there in the world like Watch Dogs‘ Chicago yet, but the earliest signs of that shift are probably closer to being years away than decades. China has even begun work on something similar, but with more of an eco-slant in Tianjin. That undertaking is scheduled to be completed in 2020. The game’s promise of deep play also carries with it an inherent threat of a grim future in which a technically skilled criminal could ruin everything.

“Smart cities are happening, they’re starting to build them. There aren’t any in a major city like Chicago yet, so we are sort of imagining the ‘what if?’ of Chicago,” Shortt said. “What if it was the perfect smart city? In that it … connects all the grids: the power, the water, the electricity, the communications, and aggregates all of that information into a central spot. We’re imagining what would that be like in a major city like Chicago and what would you do with that sort of power? What’s the responsibility that goes with that? What are the consequences of your choices?”

Smart Home

The Google Home Hub doesn’t have a camera. Here’s why that’s a good thing

Bucking the smart display trend, Google's new $149 Home Hub smart display surprisingly doesn't have a camera. We think a camera-less Google smart speaker with a screen is a good thing, and here's why.
Movies & TV

Peter Dinklage gets cryptic about two 'Game of Thrones' characters' fates

With the eighth and final season looming, Game of Thrones fever has officially become a pandemic. Our list of all the relevant news and rumors will help make the wait more bearable -- if you don't mind spoilers.
Movies & TV

'First Man' turns one small step for man into one amazing movie

First Man, Damien Chazelle's biopic of Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong that chronicles the events around the famous 1969 moon landing, is another triumph for the Oscar-winning director.
Movies & TV

After a slow burn, 'Daredevil' season 3 erupts into an inferno

Season 3 of Marvel's Daredevil series on Netflix raises the already-high bar for the show with some of its best drama and action to date within the first six episodes, and some of its most fascinating characters - both new and familiar.
Product Review

The Oculus Rift is cheaper, the Vive Pro is better. Is the original Vive still worth it?

The Oculus Rift may have brought virtual reality into the public eye, but HTC’s Vive, built in partnership with Valve, does it better. Does the Vive still represent the true future of virtual reality, or are there better competitors on…
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: DIY smartphones and zip-on bike tires

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!

As deaf gamers speak up, game studios are finally listening to those who can’t

Using social media, personal blogs and Twitch, a small group of deaf and hard-of-hearing players have been working to make their voices heard and improve accessibility in the gaming industry.

Nvidia is slowly rolling out its next generation of GPUs. Here's what you need to know about them

Nvidia's new RTX 2000 series graphics cards are impressive pieces of hardware, with some amazing advancements and some rather high price tags to match. Here's everything you need to know about Nvidia's new top-tier cards.

Grab a comfy saddle — ‘Red Dead Redemption 2’ campaign clocks in at 60 hours

According to Rockstar Games co-founder and head writer Dan Houser, Red Dead Redemption 2 features a 60-hour story. Houser said "superfluous" content was removed from the game. It launches October 26 on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

Jump into an internet DeLorean and play free Commodore 64 games online

The Internet Archive has added more than 8,800 full Commodore 64 games to its software library. Here's how you can play them completely free in your browser without the need for a joystick.

‘Fortnite’ in-game tournaments will give you the chance to beat the pros

Epic Games is introducing in-game tournaments to Fortnite. The initial schedule includes five tournaments, with commemorative pins going to the victors. Down the road, the pins might grant you access into additional rounds.

Here's how you can keep up with your favorite streamers at TwitchCon 2018

From sessions with your favorite streamers to epic Esports tournaments, there's plenty to look forward to at this year's TwitchCon 2018. We cover how you can attend, where you can watch if you can't, and which events you don't want to miss.

Monsters you get in ‘Pokémon: Let’s Go’ can be transferred to the next main RPG

Pokémon: Let's Go, Pikachu! and Pokémon: Let's Go, Eeevee! monsters will be able to be transferred to the next main Pokémon RPG on Switch, according to game director Junichi Masuda.

Turbo-powered Quadcrasher crashes the party in new ‘Fortnite’ update 6.01

Season 6, week 4 marks the arrival of Fortnite update 6.10 patch notes. It brings with it the arrival of the new Quadcrasher vehicle, in-game tournaments, a ton of Save the World additions, and much more.