The Power of Names

Watch Dogs was flat for me. It was in Chicago, a city I enjoy visiting and I think is beautiful, but it felt flat. I couldn’t figure out why. Is it because I’ve been there? Is it because they have such small segments of the city, interspersed with different suburbs?

Then it dawned on me. Nothing had names. If you weren’t a plot important entity, you were generic. “Eat here,” and other signs that didn’t create brand, and therefore did not create a world.

GTAV is a master of this. They have a thousand brands, most of which you will never know. There are a half dozen different banks, and you interact with maybe two of them. They have postal services. You never deal with these. The strip clubs are numerous, there are news agencies, car companies, used car dealerships, and countless other brands. You only ever deal with a very small percentage in any way beyond seeing a building with a logo.

Watch Dogs didn’t do this. It made me hesitant to pick up Watch Dogs 2. I play sandbox games for that atmosphere. Usually the plots are weaker, but the world building is through the roof.

Watch Dogs 2 has captivated me. Even if I’m not a fan of the style of DedSec, I love the world. When I started playing the world felt more alive. At first I thought maybe it was because I never visited San Francisco. However, as I kept playing I realized every building had an existence. They all had brands. Lives were behind them, lives I would likely never know.

This creates life in the world.

My world has secret organizations. There are intricate governments filled with rulers and underlings. Everything is alive if the characters are going to touch it. They never see the full scope. However, these little touches, these names, attitudes, and “brands,” all affect the way the main story plays out. It affects the motives of the support characters. It affects how the antagonist can move against the protagonist.

Even though your reader doesn’t see all of it, or they can if they follow along with your blog, you have created solid motives. You will write the setting and characters more convincing for it. Trust me.

My suggestion on this, and insight to my own process, is brand everything. Give it names, motives, purpose over all. The reader may not see it all, and they may not pay attention to all the crumbs that are put in front of them, but they will feel the world is more real.


You Can’t Unsee That

It was a normal day in alternate Chicago. As Aiden, I hit up different security systems to see weaknesses. Stopped a few profiled crimes. Boasted a couple cars. Tailed real people in their own game, and if I did it right they were unaware of the invasion. It’s a game about getting deep into people’s personal lives through the intrusive technologies at our disposal. And a few extra gadgets to really make it ridiculous.

But then I did something I should not have. I did something that my aunt has had happened to her. I hacked into someone’s computer and started watching them through their webcam. The first one, my jaw dropped as I processed what I was seeing and hearing.

I can’t remember the man’s profession. I remember he was balding, a little chunky, wearing flannel. From the sound of it he was watching porn, the woman screaming for more in the background. And then there was the baby. In the distance you heard the unmistakable cry of a baby in need of attention.

The man tried to finish, but the cries of the child apparently out did the cries of the porn star. Finally the man said, “Daddy’s not busy. Nope. I’ll be right there kiddo.” I continued watching out of horror and the inability to process what was going on. Then I heard, “I really should have washed my hands.” Done. I’m out. I cannot unsee that.

I was talking to a friend, told him about this, and he said “Why did you have to tell me about that? How do they even come up with this? The guy who makes those has to feel horrible.”

The reality is, it wasn’t likely just some guy coming up with these scenarios. There was likely a survey, questions asked anonymously to people of different lines of life. They probably asked one simple question, “What’s the weirdest thing you have ever done in the privacy of your home, and what if someone was watching through a computer camera?”

Shortly after this conversation the next moment happened, truly one that I could not comprehend. It was bizarre on a level I didn’t think possible.

A prostitute in nothing but a thong stood there, holding a gun, freaking out, tits to the world. She was pointing it at a man that was laying on his stomach on his bed, head propped up by his hands, elbows resting on the bed, legs bent with his feet in the air. “Come on, do it,” he shouted. Do what, exactly? “Shoot me. Pull the trigger.” He was a VP making over six hundred big. “You can do it. Come on.”

She would come close. I couldn’t tell if she pulled the trigger and the chamber was empty or not, but he’d shout, “There you go!” They did this three times. I almost forgot to tap into his wallet, gaining five grand from his bank account.

She went to the bed and they kissed for a little while, then she stood up again, put the gun to her head, and said, “Maybe I should do it on me?” I was caught hacking. I had five seconds before the cops would be called, but I wanted to know. I wanted to now if this would be the street worker’s last night on this world, by her own hand, while entertaining some demented client with a desire to die. Would this be the way it goes down?

The metal pressed against her temple, she gave a smile and a little saunter, small breasts bouncing a little. “Here I go,” she said, licking her lips, and with a second left I had to drop the hack. I didn’t hear a gunshot. I didn’t hear a cry for help or the wailing of an ambulance. All I could think was, did she do it? Did that poor girl, under the influence of some rich, charming playboy with everything, did she take her life in that rundown hotel?

While the other hacks have been interesting, none have been so personal and strange. None had shown such a window to a world that I do not understand, one of wealth and extravagance that allowed people to make very poor decisions. Still, this is quite possibly one of the greatest games I’ve played in a long time. I can’t wait to see what other psychotic moments rear their ugly head.