In the hours after Ubisoft’s initial announcement, and over one million views on YouTube, many expressed worries about whether the game’s graphics would be up to snuff, while others took down some of the narrative elements the game appeared to experience in common with the USA series Mr. Robot.
In Steam, almost every single conversation about Watch_Dogs 2 was about Marcus’ race. In the now-closed thread titled “Shoehorned black character, why can’t we be Aiden?” Hundreds of disgruntled fans vented their frustrations about how “implausible” it would be for a black person to survive in San Francisco.
“Face at the demographics of San Fran it would be more plausible if I ran as a man or an Asian than some random black dude,” user MentholFox complained. “Considering they make up 6% of the population in SanFran fam.”
Most of the 45 page-long thread is chock full of different reels on the idea that black people somehow don’t make sense as protagonists in general, let alone tech-savvy heroes in the Bay Area. Eventually, the thread was cut down.
A discourse around the necessity of character customization began with a claim to give actors the power to change Marcus’ race. Another thread—that insisted that it wasn’t trying to be racist—called for the destruction of “social justice warriors” fighting to make games politically correct. A handful of commenters got the very valid counterpoint that traditionally, gamers of color haven’t had the choice to run as anything but white male characters and that Watch_Dogs 2 was a breath of fresh air.
It rings true that a black person being in the Bay Area might have been moved out of San Francisco and driven to settle down in Oakland and the idea of a young black man being profiled by a police pre-crime algorithm has very strong bases in reality. Racist gamers might not be on board with the story Marcus has to enjoin, but it’s exactly the sort of story that most large-name game houses should be focusing more on.