Epic Life: Assassin’s Creed and Ubiculturality

The historical stories told within the animus of Assassin’s Creed are about the clash of cultures. The Assassins and the Templars are represented in the game’s version of history by those same Assassins and Templars (Assassin’s Creed), the forces of enlightenment and repression in Renaissance Italy (Assassin’s Creed II), Native Americans and Colonial British (Assassin’s Creed III), and pirates and slave-holding plantation-owners (Assassin’s Creed IV).

(Assassin’s Creed II is perhaps the least obvious example of this basic dynamic in the games’ rulesets, seeing as all the the various historical parts of the game concern Renaissance Italy, and on the overt level the conflict is between two factions of Italians; the clash there, I would argue, is between the forces of enlightenment, represented by Ezio and the assassins, and those of repression, represented by the Borgias and the church, which are in the other games represented more visibly by members of radically distinct historical cultures, after the pattern of the Templars and the Assassins in the original game.)

As a way of looking at the construction of immersion in the AAA digital game, the basic thematic importance of culture clash is very interesting, I think, in light of the statement that opens the games of the series: “This game was developed by a multicultural team of various faiths and beliefs.” (I’ll call this statement “the Ubiculture statement.”) The statement would be interesting as the opening to any game, but I think it’s particularly interesting in relation to two elements of Assassin’s Creed: first, the fundamental important of culture-clash that I’ve just pointed out; second, the way the animus, represents, inside the game, the game’s own ruleset itself, as I discussed in my last post, and thus thematizes immersion–the identification of the player with the games ruleset–as the process of doing multicultural history.

To simplify the formulation, the player of Assassin’s Creed, through his or her immersion in the game, becomes what I’ll call “Ubicultural”–that is, he or she becomes a multicultural subject according to the understanding of the multicultural encoded in the games ruleset by the presence 1) of the Ubiculture statement and 2) the thematics of culture-clash in the games’ historical sections.

I want to suggest that when we see immersion as an identification, the performance by the games’ players of Ubicultural subjectivity has both a negative and a positive dimension.

The downside is that those millions of player-performances take the tendency to do bad history (noted by Christopher Sawula and connected into my argument in my last post)  to a new level, where naive modern subjects enact an ongoing and potentially pernicious cycle of endorsing Ubilculture with their colonialist wallet.

The upside is that those performances become available for critique, precisely because the naturalization of the verbs of the past in the mechanics of the animus is so manifestly thematized in the games. In January, I’ll try to outline how that critique is already working, and how I think it could work, if we tried.

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