Lessons from Assassin’s Creed for Constructing Educational Games
The Assassin’s Creed franchise has held the honor of being one of the most highly debated video games in regard to its historical accuracy and educational worth. There are hundreds of forums dedicated to pointing out the inaccuracies and comparing history against the game play. Every named character has been researched by fans attempting to determine the precision of Ubisoft, and some blogs have done massive comparisons of the clothing and environment of the game against images from the Renaissance. Unlike historical simulations, Assassin’s Creed has created an environment where players are actively engaging with the environment and proactively learning about it. By looking at the research that has gone into Assassin’s Creed and how players are reacting, we can assess whether it is truly educational and if so, what lessons we can take away from this top grossing game.
In discussing their historical and archaeological simulation of Ancient Rome, known as Rome Reborn, Bernard Frischer and Philip Stinso (2007) note the importance of getting evidence for the virtual construction from a wide number of sources. They used not only the actual heritage sites such as the Roman Forum and the Coliseum, but also archaeological information, historical texts and art, and research done by modern scholars. This process of analyzing historical material as well as the modern remains is quite similar to that done by the art team from Assassin’s Creed.
For the third installment, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, Maxime Pelletier, art director assistant, said they not only used art and historical texts for inspiration, but also toured Italy to get a feel for the layout and construction. The model for the appearance and layout of Rome in the game was Leonardo Bufalini’s 16th century map of Rome. Genevieve Dufour, the game’s production manager said: “We actually went to the minutia of importing Bufalini’s map into our engine and then scaling it until the size felt right.” In fact, they even used part of the Rome Reborn project to get the typography correct. Unlike Rome Reborn which was critiqued for a lack of realism due to “leaving the shit out”, Pelletier says that on Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood: “We also add visuals such as vegetation, props, roof [features] and we detail all the ground. We add special and atmospheric effects like fog and dust”. The Assassin’s Creed franchise has spanned a number of historical locations dating to the crusades and Renaissance including Jerusalem, Rome, Damascus, Acre, and Florence. Characters like Robert de Sable and William of Montferrat are based on real individuals, and were chosen because of their historical accuracy in the construction of the first Assassin’s Creed plot. Comparisons by fans of the contemporary environment and the game reveal the details of its accuracy.
Assassin’s Creed is not a simulation, nor is it particularly educational in learning about history. Darby McDevitt, a scriptwriter on Assassin’s Creed: Revelations said in an interview that: “We did the best we could to find a middle ground between representing history, but not trying to stick so close to it that it felt like paint by numbers”. However, there are a number of lessons that we as educators can learn about creating engaging historical and archaeological games or simulations. First, the game provides a way for us to explore the medieval world in a number of locations. Although players may be trying to assassinate Sibrand, they are also actively engaging with a historical environment. They unconsciously are learning about the architecture and landscape of a historic environment. Second, they are learning about historically based groups like the Knights Templar and major historical changes like the rise of the Crusades without the material being drummed into their head by a content and quiz method. Third, we can see from online forums and blogging that players are actively engaging with the history without direction from teachers or educators. Pointing out inaccuracies, discussing the historical depth, comparing paintings to screenshots, and tracking down the real life versions of locations are all part of the culture of this game.
While it is true that players can just run through the game, ignoring the historical references and environment, a lot of interest into the history of this period has been created by the game. Unlike many educational games which force content, Assassin’s Creed has integrated the content into the game play. This is the biggest lesson we can take from this series. If the educational objectives are blended with the game play, the player will be more likely to actively engage in them and less likely to ignore them in favor of the mechanics alone. Assassin’s Creed is currently one of the most popular franchises, and while the mechanics of the game are quite dynamic, it is the historical background and plot which create an engaging and, quite frankly, awesome experience. While education may not be its goal, in creating a realistic world, Assassin’s Creed has effectively created a group of self-educating video gamers.
Stuart, K. 2010. Assassin’s Creed and the appropriation of history. The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/gamesblog/2010/nov/19/assassin-s-creeed-brotherhood-history
Frischer, B. and P. Stinson, 2007. The Importance of Scientific Authentication and a Formal Visual Language in Virtual Models of Archaeological Sites: The Case of the House of Augustus and Villa of the Mysteries. In Interpreting The Past: Heritage, New Technologies and Local Development. Proceedings of the Conference on Authenticity, Intellectual Integrity and Sustainable Development of the Public Presentation of Archaeological and Historical Sites and Landscapes, Ghent, East-Flanders, 11-13 September 2002. Flemish Heritage Institute, Ename Center for Public Archaeology and Heritage Presentation. 2007, Brussels, Belgium.
Irish Times, 2010. Rebuilding Rome for a Game. Irish Times: Culture: Art and Design. http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/features/2010/1122/1224283825811.html