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I Don't Think You Deserve Redemption, Aiden Pearce

Watch Dogs didn't leave much of an impression during my 20 hours with it, but I can't stop thinking about the game's final choice.

(We're going to talk spoilers for Watch Dogs. Fair warning.)

At the end of Watch Dogs, Aiden Pearce and the player are presented with a choice. A man is tied to a chair, openly weeping and begging for his life. Want to pull the trigger? The player can end his life or walk away. The game doesn't comment on your choice, either. After, the interrupted credits keep rolling.

You kill hundreds, if not thousands, of people in Watch Dogs. Though it's a game themed around hacking and technological subversion, most problems are solved much faster with a bullet. If you run over a civilian in Watch Dogs, it slightly alters how the citizens feel about you, but despite (accidentally) running over many Chicago residents, it didn't impact the game. The act of killing is routine, and Watch Dogs doesn't spend time humanizing the people around you. If anything, Watch Dogs deliberately dangles one-note stereotypes to ensure the bullets are spraying.

That's not true for the character at the end of Watch Dogs, though. The man in the chair is Maurice Vega. Watch Dogs opens with Aiden and his partner, Damien, during a virtual bank heist. But the two stumble upon a mysterious file, which alerts a nearby hacker, and their identities are discovered. Aiden tries to flee with sister, Nicole, and her two children, Lena and Jackson. A hitman, who we eventually learn is Maurice, is sent to take out Aiden. The attack ends up crashing the car, which sends Lena into a coma that she never wakes up from. Watch Dogs then follows Aiden tracking down those responsible for her death.

But Aiden is an asshole. I haven't violently disliked a character this much in a long time. Ignoring how the game never, ever tries to explain how Aiden is a master hacker who's also a gun expert, he constantly put his family and the citizens of Chicago in danger. Need to escape a building? Don't worry, just shut down power at a major sports game attended by tens of thousands of people. Cops on your tail? Bah, trigger a bridge while traffic's crossing! Aiden is directly responsible for Lena's death because he's a criminal. As the storyline in Watch Dogs plays out, the cycle repeats. He's responsible for hitmen going after his nephew, and he's responsible for his sister getting kidnapped. Aiden was not randomly targeted by an unjust system; he was being a dick.

Watch Dogs is not a game about players living with consequences, either intended or unintended. You're following a linear story set within an open world, and you're meant to accomplish objective A, B, and C while moving from D to E. Watch Dogs does not give the player many options when it comes to roleplaying. It's possible to make Aiden a bit stealthier and kill slightly fewer people along the way, but it's pointless. Aiden's arc has been determined by the game's writers, and players have little input.

Yet, eventually, you are given a choice. That's what makes the final sequence with Maurice so interesting.

Aiden deserved to be punished for his actions. The ending tries to portray Watch Dogs as Aiden's origin story, events required to produce a hacking superhero that will use his powers for good. But nothing suggests Aiden earned redemption. He's not a hero.

When I play video games, especially ones with player choice, I'm Han Solo, the renegade with a heart of gold. I'm always trying to do the right thing, though unafraid to crack a few eggs along the way. But that wasn't an option in Watch Dogs. Aiden was going to act a certain way, no matter what. Destined to dickitude. Even if your version of Aiden tried to show restraint, that was never, ever reflected in the story. He was always an asshole walking around with blinders, oblivious to the chaos created in his wake.

And that's fine! Not every game needs to give players influence over character development, but Watch Dogs doesn't hand over the keys to Aiden's heart and mind until its final curtain call. It's an odd choice. If the game wants to tell the story of an everyman whose noble intentions go horribly awry, do it. (I'm not sure this is even true. The ending's tone points to writers sympathetic to Aiden's decisions.) But have the balls to make Aiden's final choice, too. Asking the player is an M. Night Shyamalan twist, a cop out.

To fully understand what's happening, we need to rewind to its opening moments, too. Watch Dogs begins with Aiden pointing a gun at Maurice, hoping the man will spill who ordered the original hit. Your first action in Watch Dogs is firing a gun. But the game subverts expectations, revealing there's no ammo.

Being confronted with Maurice a second time is Watch Dogs coming full circle. My Han Solo gut was telling me to let Maurice go. As with any criminal conspiracy, he was one pawn among many. Who needs more blood on their hands? But that's not what Aiden would have done. Up until this point, Aiden has killed without a trace of guilt, doubt, or hesitation. Me? I wouldn't pull the trigger. But Aiden would. Aiden wouldn't be able to resist ending the life of a person who had caused him so much pain, misguided or not.

So I made Aiden pull the trigger, and Maurice was dead.

It felt satisfying. Not because I was happy to see Maurice's body slump to the floor, but I'd subverted the game's storytelling. The ending wants you to believe Aiden to be good, and gins up a happy ending. But Aiden doesn't deserve one. He's a bad guy. In trying to do the right thing, he constantly did the opposite.

Screw off, Aiden. Good riddance.

Patrick Klepek on Google+
293 Comments
Posted by Fitzgerald

So can we all agree that Watch Dogs is a bad, overrated game now?

Posted by MormonWarrior

I actually can't enjoy games when I can't identify with the main character. GTA, Red Dead Redemption, God of War...there are a number of games where your main character is such an irredeemably horrible human being that I just don't want to play through them. Watch Dogs has this exact same vibe to me, and it's made me not even want to give it a shot even though I got it free with my video card. After playing just the intro, I'm already done with it.

Nice write up. I definitely have felt that way about characters and stories in games before.

Edited by gaminghooligan

Perfect timing. I just finished WD last night, and felt pretty much the same. I personally had a lot of fun with the game, but the story felt like it was written by a team of people that only shared their most broad story beats with each other. By the end of game I had pretty much settled on Aiden being a complete Sociopath/Psychopath.

Posted by mrfluke

damm, tagging this to my activity feed to read for later, i actually am really enjoying watch dogs and the story, but i keep hearing about this final choice. glad you wrote up this bit on it.

Posted by Kevino13

You wrote this entire story about how the ending of Watch Dogs doesn't really gel with the rest of the game; a sentiment that could be summarized in one tweet? They basically tried to pull a GTA 4 ending and failed just as badly as Rockstar did. Game developers need to realize the cognitive dissonance in having characters kill thousands of henchmen during gameplay, then suddenly grow a conscious over the final bad guy(s) of the story. This has been an issue for a while now, Patrick.

Edited by TheRealMoot

Never liked anything I saw about this game pre-launch, trailers or any Ubisoft hype. Just looked like another GTA styled cash grab. Thanks Patrick for confirming my suspicions that the game is stupid.

@fitzgerald said:

So can we all agree that Watch Dogs is a bad, overrated game now?

Yes.

Edited by MrGtD

"Destined To Dickitude" is a way better article title. I demand a change.

Posted by boyusmaximus

Interesting stuff, but I thought the kid was called Lena.

Posted by mintyice

@patrickklepekIgnoring how the game never, ever tries to explain how Aiden is a master hacker who's also a gun expert

I think they mention in an audio log that he's actually ex-military or something like that...

I actually had a lot of fun with the game. It isn't fantastic or groundbreaking in anyway, and the story is complete garbage, but it's a solid 3/5 imo. It helps if you think of Aiden as a really, really shitty Batman.

Posted by Veektarius

In Aiden's defense, the whole "Kenway did not kill civilians" thing in Assassin's Creed is pretty lame.

Posted by panzerghost

played it, beat it, uninstalled it and haven't thought about it since.

Edited by CaLe

I felt like I pulled the trigger at the exact right moment and the fact the credits rolled so quickly actually made it feel quite satisfying. The game itself was extremely mediocre, though I did like a few of the side characters. I'm glad it sold well regardless because I think they can improve on a lot of things and make a good sequel. I can only hope they realize Aiden was a terrible protagonist and come up with someone more suitable for the world they create.

Posted by Azraeill

So can we all agree that Watch Dogs is a bad, overrated game now?

I agree, it was such a slog of a game and I couldn't get into it at all. Its a shame as I wanted to like it for being in Chicago. Bummer.

Posted by Happenstance

He also didnt have another niece, that was his nephew. I'm gonna just put this down to you typing furiously Patrick due to your hatred of Aiden lol

Personally I didnt have the issues you had but to be honest I never really thought all that hard about it either. I enjoyed the game enough but I'll admit I never connected with Aiden at all.

Edited by Vasari

"Aiden was not randomly targeted by an unjust system; he was being a dick."

That's perfect. You can't impart moral judgement on the villain while giving carte blanche to the protagonist.

Posted by Hailinel

This is a good read.

I haven't played Watch Dogs, and Aiden as a whole is a major reason why I never intend to. He feels like the worst sort of design-by-committee protagonist, from his motivations and personality to aspects of his appearance. (That Ubisoft had the gall to call that bland baseball cap glued to his head "iconic" says something about their marketing priorities.)

Posted by majorlinux

I don't know. The way the article was written, it would seem that we should look at every vigilante the way we did in the Watchmen. Granted, some heroes don't kill and actively avoid doing so, but there is a chance of collateral damage and people do tend to die by the choices the character makes. I feel like the character is being blamed for something that the player has some control over. Yes, it makes it easier to do so, but there are other ways to go about it...

The game's story may not have been the best in the world, but you can't blame a man for sometimes being pushed to the edge, especially when it doesn't seem like he has any good social skills. He was taking his niece to the park when they attempted to kill him. He didn't know that was about to happen. His niece's death shouldn't be blamed on Aiden because the orders were given without his knowledge and the mob (gang) boss admitted that he didn't know that they (Aiden and Damien) weren't after the video and probably would have left him alone.

Posted by westinlee

So the game is morally bankrupt?

Man I still don't understand how this is the game we got when I go back and watch those early trailers. That game is something I would have played. I couldn't care less about Watch Dogs.

Posted by patrickklepek

He also didnt have another niece, that was his nephew. I'm gonna just put this down to you typing furiously Patrick due to your hatred of Aiden lol

Personally I didnt have the issues you had but to be honest I never really thought all that hard about it either. I enjoyed the game enough but I'll admit I never connected with Aiden at all.

Yeah, just fixed that. Thanks!

Posted by AustinJ

Really disliked most of Watch Dogs. I agree 100% that Aiden is a terrible character.

Posted by Solidsnak

Kinda felt the same way about the dude in Red Dead Redemption, by the end it was clear to me this dude was a bad person and deserved what he got in the end.

Edited by Efesell

So can we all agree that Watch Dogs is a bad, overrated game now?

'Fraid not.

Posted by Veovisjohn

I usually play characters good as well, but I also decided to pull the trigger for pretty much the exact same reasons you describe, Patrick. Giving Aiden any kind of redemption moment just felt like a lie. As if sparing this one guy's life would suddenly make Aiden a great person? He was one of the more despicable characters I'd played in a while. At least something like GTA takes zero half measures and makes it clear you're playing a monster. Watchdogs wanted to have its cake and eat it too.

Posted by andrew2696

@mormonwarrior: I actually always liked John Marston because if you're not playing like a monster Marston is trying to be somewhat of a good man. He seems honorable and is trying to be a gentleman. Any conversation with him and Bonnie always made me smile because you kind of see Marston being grateful for Bonnie saving his life and being friendly.

Of course you can also tie people up on train tracks so really it depends on how much you ignore that.

Posted by ljbrewer

One if the collectibles reveals that Maurice is just as much of a victim as Aiden if not more.

Posted by Scorch

Uh Patrick so if killing Maurice was what you felt Aiden would do, and you made Aiden do it, how is that subverting the game's storytelling? It felt like the natural conclusion to where the story was going. The ending doesn't want you to believe Aiden was good at all.

Posted by GeneralBison

I'm so glad you wrote this, I was hoping that at some point in Watch Dogs' story Aiden would redeem himself, seems that that is not the case. :-/

Everything but the gameplay made me lose interest in Watch Dogs and stop playing it, I hate how the technological and security aspects are just passed off as "magic", it's something that I was really looking forward to a game exploring.

*uninstalls*

Posted by en4cerd43

I got to the point where I quit caring about running over innocents and started considering bystanders expendable about 5 hours from the end. I spent the whole game playing virtuously but the guy who kept talking in the cutscenes just didn't seem to care about the world around him. That's when I gave up because nothing about that character led me to believe he wouldn't even try to protect anyone.

This is a guy that nukes the entire cities' power supply so he can take a boat to a lighthouse and murder a guy. Who knows how many cars were wrecked, or planes fell out of the sky because he had his cute EMP device. Aiden is reprehensible.

Posted by Skrapshak

So can we all agree that Watch Dogs is a bad, overrated game now?

Absolutely. Since May 27th.

Edited by Fluttercry

Nice article. I felt the same way about Joel in the Last of Us. I hated him and though he was just a psychopath using Ellie as an excuse. So I killed every doctor at the end. Not because I wanted to, but I felt like that's what Joel would do.

Edit: Sorry if anyone got spoiled, figured it had been out a while, plus in an article about spoilers. MY BAD ;~;

Posted by Korolev

I agree absolutely. I can stand a protagonist being a "little" evil, but I can't stand an inconsistent character. It's why I detestd Niko in GTA IV - one minute he's waxing lyrical about the horrors of war and how people are used by the powerful to do evil deeds, and the next he's doing those evil deeds simply because he was asked to.

I haven't played Watch Dogs (and given the current state of the PC port, that won't happen for quite some time yet) but I have watched a bit of it on Youtube, and Aiden's just.... he's an absolute hypocrite. His crimes are "justified" in his eyes, even when his crimes are open theft against people on the street. He drains bank accounts of regular people and doesn't bat an eyelid. He causes absolute mayhem and destruction - and does he ever accept some responsibility for the death of his niece?

Edited by probablytuna
@mormonwarrior said:

I actually can't enjoy games when I can't identify with the main character. GTA, Red Dead Redemption, God of War...there are a number of games where your main character is such an irredeemably horrible human being that I just don't want to play through them. Watch Dogs has this exact same vibe to me, and it's made me not even want to give it a shot even though I got it free with my video card. After playing just the intro, I'm already done with it.

Nice write up. I definitely have felt that way about characters and stories in games before.

I wouldn't say John Marston was an irredeemable horrible human being, well not how I played at least.

Posted by OneManX

So can we all agree that Watch Dogs is a bad, overrated game now?

Overrated? Yes.

Bad? Nope.

The gunplay is fun, manipulating the world during firefights is fun, mind-trips area fun discractionand the 1-v-1 hacking is pretty intense (if you actually care about it) It's trying to be more than what it is, and it has good pieces, but none of them gel together all that well.

But, I will agree with the sentiment, Aiden sucks as a main character.

Edited by Humanity

At one point in the past I started to write a thread about defending Watch Dogs as a good game. After several paragraphs I decided that ultimately it was a waste in time. Half the people wouldn't read this much about a game the internet along with some media have crafted into some terrible monstrosity to befall gaming - the other half would just argue with me.

Now Patrick writes this article and I don't even know why it bothers me this much. Maybe it's because Watch Dogs tried to do a lot of cool and innovative things in the open crime world genre. Maybe it's because it actually played fairly well. I guess it's because people have decided that this is the game where they will make their stand, and it's completely unwarranted. Aiden Pearce isn't an asshole. If you killed thousands of pedestrians and acted completely recklessly throughout the game then guess what, it's you, you're the asshole. Because Aiden Pearce didn't run those people over, you did. But those are just semantics. At the end of the day the protagonist of this "revenge" tale is no different than any other we've seen along the years.

What about Max Payne? What about John Marston? What about any open world game character really. I feel that Watch Dogs especially gives the player so many opportunities to do good deeds as opposed to evil ones when compared to it's contemporaries. Is Aiden a saint? No. He is a man that is consumed by revenge and often makes mistakes along the way because of his single minded obsession with punishing those responsible; but he's definitely not some monster.

Here is how much of an asshole Aiden Pearce is: he stops black market munitions trade that supplied mercs with weapons responsible for the death of police officers. He tracks down a serial killer that goes about kidnapping and murdering women. He uncovers a human trafficking ring and exposes those involved so they end up getting arrested. These are all unique side activities that don't cover the multiple gang related behavior you can put an end to if you choose to do so. Hell he even takes down Yves Guillemont in the game for running illegal DNA experiments and kidnapping on behalf of some weird Abstergo corporation.

So I'm sorry that the player you were controlling all along ended up being a huge asshole Patrick, because in my game I was very much a decent human being.

Posted by Corevi

Aiden Pearce is a fucking madman thinking he is just. I'm not sure if that's how he was intentionally written or if that's just how he comes off but I loved it.

Posted by banicabolnica

Ubisoft don't deserve a second chance with Watchdogs 2 just because how they handled the release of this one. All the lies and bullshiting people ... #FUCKUBISOFT!

Edited by Pikadrew

@patrickklepek: I came to the same conclusion as you about Aiden, he's irredeemable but I chose to let Maurice live. This was mainly to do with the Maurice collectable/side quest where the audio logs explain (without going too deep on spoilers) he's not an assassin but a petty crook forced to make the attempt on Aidens life. The fact that he fails lead to dire consequences for him and people he loves, making death a release and Aiden felt to me like enough of an ass-hole that he would have his revenge by leaving him to suffer.

The game itself was a very strange experience for me, while I definitely enjoyed certain aspects of the game play (how the hacking affects the world for instance). The overall tone and the main plot left me feeling pretty gross.

Posted by EuanDewar

@humanity: Although I cant say I found the story very enthralling I did really like Watch Dogs. Some of the most brilliant fun I've had with a game all year.

Edited by Tetharion
Posted by ucankurbaga

Meanwhile Lara croft is innocent girl that murders 1000s in an island just to save herself. Thats like videogame logic man.

Posted by mrsmiley

A fine introspective article, Patrick. I am also one of those "Han Solo with a heart of gold" players (great title, by the way). Actually, I'm one of those people who plays role-playing games as if I was the character. So, for instance, in the Mass Effect trilogy, I played as paragon for the most part, but that didn't stop me from being pissed in certain situations and reacting as such. I think Mass Effect is the only game that truly let me embody the character I was playing. The choices you had available in most situations made sense, whether they were paragon, renegade, or neutral. Some games advertise that they give you a choice, but when you are presented with choices, they either don't make sense, or aren't actual choices at all. Watch Dogs definitely seems like the latter game. GTA V is also similar, where "technically" you have some choice, but for the most part the game is pretty linear. I really hope for more games like the ME3 trilogy in the future. Sure, the ending didn't live up to expectations, but the rest of the game drastically changed based on your choices, and it was highly satisfying.

Posted by Thoseposers

As someone who has no interest in Watch Dogs i thought this was a pretty cool read. Like an in depth review of the game but just the narrative and not the gameplay mechanics at all. Because i feel like i probably already know all about the gameplay this covers the half that i would actually care about and because of that, i know to never pick this game up. Not that i ever intended to, just that i don't really have to worry i missed something special.

Posted by MrGtD

Meanwhile Lara croft is innocent girl that murders 1000s in an island just to save herself. Thats like videogame logic man.

Except in Tomb Raider the mental toll murder and violence takes on her is a theme of the new series. She is literally in therapy in Rise of the Tomb Raider.

Posted by Thusian

So his method of extracting revenge for his niece being killed is to cause so much havoc that likely many people's nieces, nephews, grandmas, fathers etc are killed. Nice logic. What is it with writers these days its like Man of Steel. Superman was cool with the kind of collateral damage he was causing fighting Zod, but once he saw one family up close he had to protect them. So heroes in the modern world can't exercise empathy unless they get to make a direct connection with the people they need to protect.

I'll go back to Captain America when I want a hero thanks. All these emo/macho heroes need to go back to the 90s and stay there.

Posted by MaxLazarus

spot on, Aiden isn't someone I can root for, a bit like God of war in that respect.

Posted by UlquioKani

@humanity: Felt the same way playing through this. I don't know what about this game made everyone suddenly see something that was apparent in other games as well. Maybe it's because Aiden isn't presented as a charming hero type.

I'm also annoyed by people dismissing this game because you can shoot your way through it. You can do that but it's surprisingly hard and not as rewarding. The games shooting mechanics are far better than other third person shooters as well.

Edited by symbyosys

Solid article Patrick, thank you. I haven't played the game and don't think I will, but being judge, jury, and executioner in an action game is fine, and collateral damage is fun, until the story attempts to justify the irrationality, or flat-out ignore the morality of the main character. Especially in a game that tries to tell a "realistic" story in a "realistic" setting. As a counter-example to Watch Dogs, GTAV had no illusions about the types of people you played as.

Posted by Creamypies

I got about 4 hours into Watch Dogs, got bored, and have absolutely no inclination to go back. What a disappointing piece of turd that game turned out to be. A real shame.

Posted by Fitzgerald

BTW, great article Patrick. Your feelings on Aiden describes my feelings on the protagonist of GTA 4. He was supposedly trying to be a "good" guy but everything about him felt so insincere when you were killing so many people, including, at one point, killing a man simply for sleeping with your love interest. Like wtf.

Edited by MjHealy

@banicabolnica: Say whatever about the final product, but Ubisoft never "lied" to us. At E3 2012, they showed this crazy trailer and the media and audience alike went mad. While the final product is a graphical step-down from the original showing, the game is what it was always going to be. It is a very Ubisoft-like game filled in with some light hacking. We (the press and the consumer) thought it was going to be amazing but it turned out to be less so. All Ubisoft did during this time was release trailers and hype up their marketing which of course they are going to do; this game has been coming for years and cost millions and millions of dollars.

Great article, Patrick. While I was super sour on Watch Dogs during the opening act or so, I found it to be a decent little open-world game later on. The story/characters/setting/side-missions are all forgettable but I enjoyed the basic gun/stealth gameplay. It is certainly not a game worthy of two years of hype.