Assassins Creed Week Part I: Introduction

Welcome to Assassin’s Creed Week. After my plans for reading week fell through, I figured I would put some time into finally writing out some thoughts I have had on the Assassin’s Creed series and never had the chance to put to digital paper. So from Monday to Friday this week, I will be posting something about Assassin’s Creed everyday. Without further adieu, the introduction to Assassin’s Creed week.

Who are we, who have been so blessed to share our stories like this? To speak across centuries? – Ezio Auditore da Firenze

Play the Past. For me, the name of our website has always conjured up thoughts of a single franchise: Assassin’s Creed. Now with six main entries in the series, these games have visited the Middle East during the Third Crusade, Renaissance Italy and Constantinople, the United States during the American Revolution, and the West Indies in the Golden Age of Pirates. The games are incredibly fun and the fact the that they take place in recreated historical locations make them perfect for history enthusiasts.

No video game series has ever created so much amateur and professional research to validate/disprove the history behind the story. The most recent instalment of the franchise, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, has spawned a documentary series from VICE Magazine and Ubisoft itself exploring some of the notorious pirates featured in game. As well, the first instalment of the new online series History Respawned, which dissects the history in video games, focuses on Black Flag.

The response to Assassin’s Creed‘s history is not always positive. Upon the release of Assassin’s Creed III, the Globe and Mail, a Toronto based newspaper, released a scathing article denouncing the publisher of the popular series, Ubisoft Montreal, for distorting history. Even Play the Past has written on Assassin’s Creed. In his post, “Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag and Historical Interpretation,” Christopher Suwula began his post with “Assassin’s Creed is not good history.”

Assassin’s Creed is not the first video game to be set in past. Historical settings have always been popular in gaming. The Second World War and Feudal Japan in particular were two extremely popular historical destinations that many video games had recreated in some way long before the release of Assassin’s Creed in 2007. So why is it then that Assassin’s Creed has instilled such a fervour within history academics? What separates Assassin’s Creed from other series that makes it such a target for historical criticism? The popularity, settings, and depth are all factors for Assassin’s Creed‘s interest.

According to the video game wiki, the Assassin’s Creed franchise has sold 59 million games putting it in the top 25 video game franchises by sales of all time. The series has enjoyed massive success and a product of that success is that it gets noticed more. By skimming over the other franchises in that list, it is clear that Assassin’s Creed is by far the most popular series that takes place in historical settings and this popularity of the game has generated a ton of interest from amateur and professional scholars.

The setting of the games is the series were instrumental in the historical interest in the game. Lesser known periods in history like the Crusades and Renaissance are rarely the inspiration for videos games. When Assassin’s Creed broke the mould, it peaked interest in their history as is evident from all the websites and online videos that examine Assassin’s Creed‘s authenticity. By taking place in uncommon eras, the series raised curiosity and brought these eras to the forefront.

The depth of the history that Assassin’s Creed uses in their games also contributes to the interest. The fascinating locations are great but the history is so rich with attempted authentic cities, aesthetics and people, the series succeeds in truly integrating history into the story and gameplay. The database entries, which the player can check at any time, give players a sort of encyclopedia type of information on the historical places, people and things that are found in game. The developers want people to know about the history that they are playing through.

Even with all this true, perhaps all the research done on Assassin’s Creed is the product of good timing. The technology in the video game industry has allowed for deeper and more realistic video games of which Assassin’s Creed has taken advantage. At the same time, you have the historical community undergoing a digital revolution which has integrated technology and history more so than ever before. All this is going on while video games have gained more respect in society as serious forms of art and became the biggest popular culture media in the world. All these factors have come together to peak our interest in history in video games and in 2007, in the middle of all these ongoings, Assassin’s Creed arrives.

Over the next five days, I will release four more posts like this one. Part II and III will focus on how the series handles race and women’s roles in the past. Part IV will be about grand narratives and how Assassin’s Creed choses theirs. Finally, Part V will wrap up with what it means when Assassin’s Creed is historically inaccurate.

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