The Representation of History in the Assassin’s Creed Franchise
Go to a trailer for a video game or movie set in an historical time period and you’ll see comments either praising or criticising the representation of history. You’ll see discussion as to whether the characters are reflecting their supposed backstory, whether something is being exaggerated for narrative purposes and even whether the history is being told from a modern or supposed ‘PG’ perspective (i.e. the Battlefield V controversy over including female soldiers in a World War 2 shooter).
Why is this the case? Many different arguments get raised answering this question, but I believe that it comes down to the educational power media has in informing audiences. In other words, the history that video games present can directly teach those who play them about a certain aspect of the past.
This is because the participatory nature of video games allows individuals to become deeply engaged in the historical setting. Instead of reading a textbook and using one’s imagination, those who play historical games can visually and viscerally experience the past through recreated worlds and narratives. This itself facilitates a greater emotional connection for the player to the historical period than they would get from other more traditional means of studying the past.
Fellow BCM215 student Elliot and myself will be examining the role video games have in the representation of history by looking specifically at the Assassin’s Creed video game franchise from Ubisoft.
The stunningly recreated worlds of Renaissance Italy in Assassin’s Creed II (left) and Revolutionary America in Assassin’s Creed III (right) help immerse the player in the historical time period.
Over the last 13 years, players of these games have been given a character to control in beautifully recreated historical time periods, from Ancient Egypt and Rome to Europe in the 18th and 19th Centuries. In order to facilitate this, the” large multicultural team of various religious faiths and beliefs” have studied in depth the events, locations, characters, societies, weapons and clothing of the period, and created a world which provides players with an unrivalled educational experience.
Over the course of this project, we are going to give our impressions on the representation of history in some of these games. Through roundtable-esque discussion, we will specifically look towards Assassin’s Creed Origins, Assassin’s Creed 2, Assassin’s Creed 3 and Assassin’s Creed Unity and implicitly determine the educational value these games possess.
The Ubisoft disclaimer for Assassin’s Creed games informs audiences that their games are a work of fiction, which is important when critiquing the historical accuracy of their recreated worlds.
To support our findings, we will be considering the plethora of scholarly articles that have attempted to address the historical value of these games. As well as this, we will refer to interviews lead game designers have given as they explain their motivations behind building their historical and educational worlds.
Each fortnight we plan to upload a video to Youtube of ourselves speaking about our impressions of these games with accompanying gameplay footage to demonstrate our points. We plan to go into this project without any biases or prejudices so that we can objectively determine whether the Assassin’s Creed franchise are a useful educational tool in the study of history. Watch this space!
Assassin’s Creed II (2009). Ubisoft Montreal
Assassin’s Creed III (2011). Ubisoft Montreal
Assassin’s Creed: Unity (2014). Ubisoft Montreal
Assassin’s Creed: Origins (2017). Ubisoft Montreal
Game Informer (2012). The Historical Setting of Assassin’s Creed 3. Youtube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YmBXkWyLRXo&ab_channel=GameInformer (Accessed 20 August 2020)
Gamespot (2018). Battlefield V- Official Trailer. Youtube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a7ZpQadiyqs&ab_channel=GameSpot (Accessed 17 August 2020)
Menon, Lakshmi (2015) History First-Hand: Memory, The Player and the Video Game Narrative in the Assassin’s Creed Games, Rupkatha Journal On Interdisciplinary Studies in Humanities, Volume VII (1) 108-113. Available at: https://www.academia.edu/13414289/History_First_hand_Memory_the_Player_and_the_Video_Game_Narrative_in_the_Assassin_s_Creed_Games (Accessed 25 August 2020)