With a world as diverse as ours, it's unfortunate that characters in popular games only scratch the surface of the many different kinds of people our planet has to offer. It's a breathe of fresh air to see how the team at Ubisoft created a genuine cast of characters that we don't see often in gaming.
While Gears of War, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, Titanfall 2, and Final Fantasy XV decided to stick to the status quo, Marcus Holloway and crew provided representation for some folks who don't see character that they relate to in major releases very often. And the kicker? They actually felt real.
Watch Dogs 2 may have it’s share of problems, but it’s main cast of characters, the Dedsec crew, are incredibly believable. Even after being in wild situations like the game's version of Burning Man, Josh, Sitara, Wrench, Horatio and Marcus all joke, react to one another, and panic during moments of distress.
While the entire cast offers something we don’t see much of, the voice actors playing Josh and Sitara bring new representation to identities not seen much in major releases. Josh Sauchak, played by Jonathan Dubsky, is one of the few times that a game has accurately and positively represented autism.
“Josh has aspergers, and it was very important that we create a real, relatable character,” Dubsky said. “ So that people with asperger's will look out and see themselves being represented in a game.”
Josh is unlike many other supporting characters you find in big blockbuster titles. He’s reserved, awkward, and has a lot of trouble in ordinary social situations. Dubsky and the game's writers took extra effort to make sure the performance rang true with people who actually have aspergers.
“It was about understanding psychologically what happens, physically what happens, the social anxiety, the way he thinks and the way he moves,” Dubsky said. “That along with everything the writers had done to create that character, Josh really manifested.”
This was Dubsky’s first venture into voice acting in video games, but fans of Watch Dogs 2 found him on twitter to thank him for his depiction of Josh. Dubsky hopes that Josh will spark more conversations about autism, especially with Watch Dogs 2 being one of the biggest games of the year.
“Autism in general people don’t know too much about, not a lot of people talk about it,” Dubsky said. “Historically people with aspergers have been discarded as strange and abnormal, when in reality it’s something far greater than that.”
In the game Josh sets up a lot of Marcus’s, Dedsec’s main protagonist, missions by finding leads and tracking down information in the ctOS system. Incredibly impressive feats for anyone, with or without aspergers. And that’s exactly what Dubsky wanted to showcase with Josh’s character.
“It opens people to the idea of what people's capabilities are regardless of what we think we know about them,” Dubsky said. “You have this group dedsec that’s formed by all these people from different walks of life.”
Without going into specifics, Dedsec accomplishes a lot throughout Watch Dogs 2. They take on a corrupt government, violent gangs, and huge corporations with nothing but homemade tech and some advanced hacking knowledge.
Josh isn't the only character that showcases Watch Dogs 2’s diverse cast. Sitara Dhawan, played by Tasya Teles, is the games premiere female cast member. And while it would be preferable to have more than one influential woman in the game, Sitara’s role is a good start.
“She has enough sass and confidence to be a leader in a capable group of men, she isn’t sexualized like female characters in other games,” Teles said. “That’s what made it a good dynamic, all the guys look to her for decisions and guidance.”
From data crisis to high level government infiltration, Sitara doesn’t take any shit from the rest of the crew, and in most cases she’s the one setting the tone. She isn’t sexualized or caught up with a love interest, she’s the focal point of the Dedsec crew alongside Marcus.
It’s not just the fact that these characters are different than what we usually see, it’s how real they feel. Most cutscenes, with the exception of some of Wrench’s antics, felt genuine. The voice cast was given a lot freedom in order to achieve that level of candor.
“We were given a lot of freedom to ad-lib and see what we came up with,” Teles said. “The combination of that and the cast made for a better reflection of society–It reflects real people, that’s what makes it more engaging.”
That engagement is important for more than story purposes, it gives us a stronger connection to the game's themes. Things like privacy, independence, and justice. I’d argue that in many cases, Watch Dogs 2’s theme is more powerful than similar games with much darker and more serious narratives. Just take a look at the original Watch Dogs, its somber tone and characters held back what could have been an impactful message about human trafficking.
Beyond Watch Dogs 2’s comedic tone with a ragtag group of millennials taking on the system lies a real message about what’s happening in the world. There may not be a ctOS like system likes taking control of major cities across the country, but their are complicated issues of government surveillance, breaches of privacy, and corporate corruption that everyone, including gamers, will need to deal with. Even though it might not happen for everyone who plays, but Watch Dogs 2’s narrative does it’s best to be socially aware.
“Sitara’s whole purpose is to educate and wake people up to what’s happening,” Teles said. “Even as things like this become common we need to stay active and aware of what’s happening around us.”