Epic Life: Critiquing Ubiculturality in Assassin’s Creed

In my last post I outlined the way that the Assassin’s Creed series makes of its players what I call Ubicultural subjects. I argued that through the thematics of culture-clash that the games drape over the mechanics of free-movement within a notionally historical space and violence of a notionally historical kind, and through the way those mechanics are realized as history in the operation of the animus, the series allows its players to enact performances within a specific, and ideologically narrow, range of possibilities: by progressively winning the cultural battle that runs through the thematics of the games, players become culture-warriors who remain happy literally to buy into the Ubicultural version of the past from which the players’ own world comes.

In this post, I want to outline one very simple possible avenue of critique that the games cannot but leave open. Along this avenue, I think things don’t look quite as bleak as they might if we content ourselves with describing the straight and narrow path of Ubiculturality. I call the avenue “Wikipedia Boulevard” (just to keep things snappy).

A few posts back I alluded to the number of students who ask even me, a classics prof, about whether I think Assassin’s Creed is “accurate.” (My strange existence as the videogame classics prof may have something to do with it, I admit.) The Assassin’s Creed games are in that way analogous to the questions I got at the rate of about one per mythology lecture, in the heyday of God of War, about what I thought about those games.

The comparison seems revelatory to me. God of War made to my knowledge no pretense at all to any sort of accuracy, and had nothing in its mechanics or even its thematics that had the slightest bearing on humanistic discourse outside the game itself–as might for example be the case were there in a God of War game a reference to Sophocles.

By contrast, Assassin’s Creed has Ubiculture. Beginning with its Ubiculture statement (“This game was made by a multiculural team” etc.), continuing through the way the animus doesn’t simulate but rather is the past, and reaching its pinnacle in the stories of clashes between enlightenment and repression, the games themselves make accuracy an issue susceptible of critique.

To ask whether God of War is accurate is to ask whether it makes a laudable contribution to the ever-growing, ever-changing legacy of Greek myth. To ask whether Assassin’s Creed is accurate is to embark upon a critique both of Ubisoft’s Ubiculture and of the way we do history more generally in mainstream culture.

It begins with looking stuff up, and I’m glad to say that’s where I can come in, along with a great many other students of the past and of the accounts of it left behind by those who lived it, and perhaps above all in a complex ideological case like Assassin’s Creed, of the analyses of those accounts by the historians of the present.

That’s what Play the Past is all about, right?

With luck, I’ll be able to come back here next time with one or even more concrete examples of addresses on Wikipedia Boulevard.

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