Hacking the Collective Protagonist: an analysis of characters and dispersed identity construction in Watch Dogs: Legion
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This Master thesis shows an analysis of the character recruitment system of Ubisoft’s action-adventure game Watch Dogs: Legion that was released in 2020. By implementing a mixture of textual analysis, cooperative play, free play and elements of an autoethnography, I analyze the role that the availability of millions of potential player-characters and the team mechanics build into this game have on the construction and meaning of identity. Using concepts from the discourse surrounding character engagement and identity, such as Murray Smith’s book Engaging Characters and James Paul Gee’s identity types, I argue that this game should not be approached as featuring individual characters and that the player identifies with a collective instead. This game is built upon the idea of constructing a team. This shows through in the games’ mechanics, its narrative, its directions and its dialogue. While it may seem like a player’s identity is constructed and dispersed among a group of characters, I argue instead that identity in this game is one constructed through the creation of a collective unity of characters through which a player’s identity is not dispersed at all but, in the true fashion of a hacker collective, tied together to create a collective protagonist. This thus means that within the existing discourse on identity construction, it does not have to mean that such an experience of identity construction only exists when it is focused on an identity constructed through an individual character. Instead, those same concepts could be extended upon by including an individual team of characters as a potential source of identity instead of solely focusing on individuals or a game’s systems.