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Watch Dogs 2 Nails Distracted Driving

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A picture of someone holding a phone in a car, a feeling that's perfectly replicated in Watch Dogs 2.
Photo: PxHere via CC

It’s entirely possible that I’m alone in this, but I distinctly remember a time in high school where the student body was introduced to an arcade-like machine designed to simulate the experience — as well as the ultimate result — of texting and driving. Many video games have tried to warn against distracted driving over the years, including ones where you’re forced to drink almost constantly and one where you’re a bear.

In my opinion, the one that hit the nail on the head may have done so by accident: Watch Dogs 2.

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Watch Dogs 2: An unintentional PSA

Whether you’ve played Watch Dogs 2 or not, you may reasonably wonder why anyone would think a 2016 video game about counterculture hackers effectively discourages texting and driving. The core of the issue lies in the user interface or the way you interact with the world map, in-game documents, and more.

Watch Dogs 2 features a system that — like much of the game — was directly inspired by Grand Theft Auto. Specifically, I’m talking about the idea that most of the game’s important menus, as well as the map, are accessed through the main character’s smartphone. The most interesting thing about this mechanic is that when you pull your digital phone out of your digital pocket, the game doesn’t pause.

In most AAA games, accessing a menu pauses everything going on in the background so you can’t take damage. In Watch Dogs 2, that’s not the case. Granted, there is a way to access menus that do pause the rest of the world, but the most direct way to view them is through a simulated phone that pops up, obscures roughly a third of your screen, and pulls your attention away from everything else.

The result is a constant tug-of-war between real-time events happening around you and the tasks you’re trying to accomplish — such as sending messages, reading the news, requesting a ride, and more. When you’re standing still, this isn’t a big issue. When you’re trying to execute any of the above actions while moving at speed in a car or on a motorcycle, it becomes much less simple.

Sound familiar?

While I’m not suggesting that playing Watch Dogs 2 could have helped prevent the number of tragic deaths resulting from distracted driving in recent years — or that it could do so moving forward — it certainly hit home for me.

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