Watch Dogs looks to be the best game you'll see at the E3 gaming expo this year. The plot—one of paranoia—seems like a hype version of reality. In the background trailer for the game, the stage is set by ripping a page out of history.
The game's background trailer starts off with by mentioning a blackout that happened on August 14, 2003. That's true, a blackout actually did happen—the second largest ever. But what about the rest of it?
• "55 Million Americans"
The Watch Dogs trailer states that the blackout affected "55 million Americans across the Northeast". This is false*.
The Northeast Blackout of 2003 affected 45 million Americans and 10 million Canadians. Canadians are not Americans. (*Eds. Note: The Oxford Dictionary does include all North Americans as "American", so technically this is correct!)
• "Panic spread throughout New York State, injuries hundreds."
Likewise, false—but with a caveat. Whenever there are blackouts, people will panic. The 2003 blackout wasn't helped by American electric trains shutting down, elevators stopping, communication problems, airport security checks not working, traffic lights shutting off, and initial fears of terrorism—very real fears after 9/11. But for a blackout impacting millions of Americans, people generally took it in stride—some using it as an excuse to drink heavily at bars.
Slate Magazine even did piece back in 2003, trying to pinpoint why there wasn't really any looting. Well, save for Ottawa.
• "11 people died in the dark."
This is true. Eleven people did die during the blackout. Many of them died in fires or traffic accidents.
• "What was to blame? A small vulnerability inside the state's transmission control room."
This is false. The blame was a perfect storm of deregulated and decaying infrastructure, oversight, and mismanagement, combined with a very hot summer that had the Northeast cranking up the A/C. Scientific American has a detailed look at how things went wrong.
• "Raymond Kenney, a disgruntled employee, unleashed a virus and walked away."
False unless you believe in unproven conspiracy theories that star imaginary people.
• "Four hour later, the system overloaded, and the grid shutdown."
The system did overload, but the official timeline (viewable here) doesn't state it took four hours to overload. Well, the Watch Dogs timeline assumes there was a computer virus—so we'll cut them some slack.
What the trailer does not touch on is how the U.S. and Canada kept blaming each other for the blackout. Finally, the U.S. was discovered to be at fault and not our friends to the North. Sorry, Canada!
Watch Dogs is a work of fiction, and as a work of fiction, it's free to take whatever artistic it wants with real historical events—especially if it's going to make such an impressive looking game in the process. Carry on, Watch Dogs!