The Friday Fillip: We Are Data

I’m not an online game player — computer games are one of those things that I know I should like, and maybe even would like, because of their high degree of sophistication and the amount of creative energy that gets invested in them, but that I just never got into. (Opera is another of such wrongly-neglected-by-me things.) But I must say I’m tickled and intrigued by an online teaser for an upcoming game from Ubisoft, not so much because of what the game might be but rather because of the ingenuity of the teaser itself.

The game is Watch Dogs and it involves the usual sad orgy of violence (as does opera, now that I come to think of it). But it also involves man-against-the-machine and man-symbiotic-with-the-machine (clearly I’m being paid today according to the number of hyphens I insert). I use the term “man” advisedly, because so far as I can judge from the promo material no woman is sent out to kill and maim. At any rate, the machine involved is the city of Chicago in some near future, where everything is linked and controlled by computers. If you’ve ever watched the TV show Person of Interest, you’ll have some sense of the idea.

The teaser, which is the subject of today’s fillip, is benign, I’m pleased to say: Ubisoft’s WeAreData site offers you three European capitals — Berlin, London and Paris — and for each a live, dynamic 3D map of all the accessible and potentially useful data points currently emitted. Thus, as you’ll see in the screenshot for the Westminster area of London below (click on the image to enlarge it), a variety of symbols disported throughout the streets. There’s a facet menu on the left that will let you turn off things you’re not interested in.


Click on the mapped symbols and see which are responsive. Some provide more data. Thus, for example, clicking on the symbol for a Public Bicycles location calls up an overlay that tells you exactly where the bike station is, how many bikes are available and how many free spots for returns remain:


Clicking on the symbol of a (moving!) underground train will tell you which line it is, the frequency of trains, and when the specific train will arrive. Clicking on one of the public toilet symbols draws vectors to all the others in the region, helping you find the nearest or most convenient. Clicking on a Twitter symbol calls up the very geotagged tweet. Etc. These data are, of course, separately available elsewhere and elsehow, but I do enjoy the way in which Ubisoft has brought them together.

Two final words of advice: All of this is offered against a threnody of low, ominous chords that are meant to — and do — induce anxiety, so you might like to nip to the bottom right and click on the tiny bar chart to turn off the sound. And don’t waste your calories clicking on the Westminster average salary figure: it will not move that amount into your account.

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