Many gaming fans were disappointed to learn that the release of Ubisoft’s upcoming Watch Dogs has now been delayed until sometime in 2014. What most of them probably don’t know, however, is the hacker game, which features a future Chicago under hyper-surveillance, is closer to reality than sci-fi these days.
According to Charlie Hall from Polygon, Chicago is the most watched city in the U.S., and possibly the world, in terms of surveillance. All across the city, over 100 “blue light” police cameras are monitoring the streets for crime. But that’s far from the only type of surveillance that citizens are encountering in their everyday lives.
The recent switch of the city’s transit payment system over to a privately owned company, Ventra, has so far been a quagmire of glitches and customer service complaints. But apart from that, Chicagoans can no longer buy anonymous magnetic-strip tickets at train stations; instead they must purchase a Ventra card and register it to their name, address, and other personal information. Those rides down to the Loop for work every day, and that bus trip to brunch in Wicker Park? Those are tracked and forever linked to the name on the card. And the new card features an option to use it as a debit card at retailers as well, meaning Ventra will know a lot more than just where each customer is going at any time of day.
This type of transit-tracking surveillance shouldn’t seem particularly threatening given that credit cards and cell phones have been doing something similar for a long time. But any loss of privacy usually leaves consumers wondering what will be done with this information.
In Watch Dogs, the player can hack into the city’s central operating system and retrieve bank information, trigger equipment malfunctions, and access civilians’ augmented reality feeds to learn about and predict their behavior. The game has been delayed so as to “get it right,” yet with this new behavior-tracking system in place in present-day Chicago, they may have gotten quite a bit of it right already.