Assassin’s Creed 3 Is At Its Best When it Challenges History

There’s an easily missed conversation in the early going of Assassin’s Creed 3 that’s one of the game’s standout moments. Many players probably never see it.

It requires players to double back after their first meeting with Benjamin Franklin to John Hancock’s general store, where they can run into Franklin again. Talking with the future face of the 100-dollar bill yields a rather hilarious conversation lifted almost verbatim from his 1745 letter, in which he gives advice to a (potentially fictional) friend on choosing a mistress.

When I say hilarious, of course, I mean sexist and awful (although it’s conceivable Franklin was just joshin’, I guess, though I’m not sure how much that would mitigate the sexism). Just read the letter yourself (here) or find the conversation in Sequence 3. The point is, Assassin’s Creed 3 slows things down to give you a historically accurate snapshot of one of the Founding Fathers being as Dude, Brother as can be conceived. It is not a flattering moment for Franklin, to say the least.

It’s also a consistent theme throughout Assassin’s Creed 3: The game goes out of its way to remove the historical romanticism that goes along with this country’s founding myth, relying (to at least some degree) on characters who are (or who at least seem) more real. The game reminds us that George Washington wasn’t particularly cool to Native Americans (again, to say the least), and that the Patriots were kind of being jerks to the English king, who, after all, had just financed a war with the French and Native Americans on their behalf.

A lot of these viewpoints get elaborate explanations from Shaun, the resident Brit on the Assassin team back in the modern era. Players can trigger some discussions with Shaun about the history the team is seeing unfold from Connor’s point of view, and Shaun argues with protagonist Desmond about some of the ideas and facts Americans hold dear, or choose to ignore — like the fact that many of the Founding Fathers owned slaves, for example. Connor also has a moment in which he calls out Samuel Adams on the same point; Adams brushes him off, saying something to the effect of, “Once we’re free, we’ll deal with making those other guys free.”

Of course, we know that that doesn’t actually happen for another 90 or so years.

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8 Comments on Assassin’s Creed 3 Is At Its Best When it Challenges History

Swcloud99

On November 9, 2012 at 7:54 pm

I have three words for you: Metal Gear Solid. The second game in the series alone talks about the nature of information and the science of memetic, the nature of a sequel in video-games, the player’s role in said game and, last but not least, the meaning of life.
The original trilogy forms through it’s themes a picture of all the things that make a human being who he is (Meme, Gene, Scene).
And if that isn’t impressive enough, the game does this while having for a basic plot that a secret agent infiltrates a group of terrorists to stop them from launching a nuclear missile using a giant robot.
I’m surprised you didn’t mention it.

Phil Hornshaw

On November 9, 2012 at 8:05 pm

@Swcloud

Very good point. Haven’t thought about Metal Gear Solid in a while, mostly because the stories got waaay to convoluted after a while. But you’re right, they all make very interesting commentaries about the nature of war and its effect on soldiers.

Swcloud99

On November 10, 2012 at 6:29 am

Still, this article was very interesting. I agree with it through and through. More games should take the time to comment on political or social issues, otherwise they end up being shallow.
At least, if they are story driven. Another aspect of Assassin’s creed I enjoyed, personally, was the way it weaved through different mediums a giant web of conspiracies. They’re modern day storyline had so much dept and potential. The problem is that game after game, they failed to live up to that potential only putting the focus on the ancestor’s story.
Subject 16 was mysterious and interesting, his reveal was lackluster at best. Lucy’s death got me hooked for the sequel which only gave it’s titular revelation in a crappy DLC. Let’s not even talk about AC3′s ending. Made me sad really.

R.J.

On November 10, 2012 at 1:42 pm

@Swcloud

Metal Gear is a good example. As much as people might get bored with the codec conversations, there are some great points to think about. The questioning of the Internet as a means of culture in MGS2 came at just the right time for me since I didn’t have much experience with the internet at the time, and so it got me to question it rather than dive in headfirst. The game came out more than 10 years ago but it called into question things like having online “friends.” How do you even know that these people exist? Corporations are not beyond hiring people to assume an alias and go onto social media and talk about how great that company is, for example.

As for AC3, there wasn’t anything in there that surprised me since I’m decently versed in American history, but I still really appreciated showing the less than noble aspects of those historical heroes. In this regard, Connor was used rather well since a lot of his views are in line with what the modern players might be wondering about. As much as the Revolution was about gaining liberty, it was still extremely limited. Things like slavery and the forced exodus of the Native Americans would be known to most players, but the game even brought up that for all the talk of “representation in democracy” the original voting demographic was as it was in England, only the land-owning, white men had a say. The bit where Shaun questions if it was really so unfair to tax the colonies after the French-Indian war was something that I hadn’t really thought much about. I’m not saying I agree with what he had to say since a decent amount of his commentary is one-sided, but it at least gets you to think.

Aids

On November 11, 2012 at 3:39 am

I’m sorry but the whole WHAT IF crap in MGS like the alphabet had more letters and how many cells thing was really specious at best. Kojima is a game developer and he’s bullting his thoughts. Lot of people do that, doesn’t mean their correct. Only thing Kojima does is hate Russia, Snakes 180 IQ is garbage because he really comes off more like a cave man, and Kojima has a hard-on for America. Since MGS2 is so deep how about when you hold that microphone up and listen to how snake wants to nail Otacon’s sister, if I also remember correctly she’s not even over 18 either in the Japanese version. Talk about a deep plot, right? More like over convoluted with a lot of skevy pedo jap subtlety.

Internet is not a culture.

You want to actually learn something you should really open a book. Try reading literature that is completely opposite of your mind set. Great way to expand your horizons.

If it takes a video game in 2012 to make you ponder WHAT IF’s upon the founding fathers of our country then you’re late to the party, people have been questioning a lot of things without the introduction of video games for YEARS.

Modern day metal gear games were made individually, hence why bridging them together gets really crazy and really stupid.

Swcloud99

On November 12, 2012 at 6:56 am

@Aids
Yeah, but see, you comment on internet has a culture but that is only one of the facets of the game. It also commented on the nature of information itself giving birth to a new kind of life. That’s something I’ve read in a lot of books sure, notably Asimov’s books, but you’re missing the point if you think the point is teaching something.
To some people yes, they may learn something but the idea is, much like is explained in MGS2 itself, to propagate interesting information and leave it behind in has many forms has possible to future generations. It’s alright to think the way it was explained was muddled or over-convoluted, even if I don’t agree, but you have to admire that an author would even try to use fiction has a vehicle for a series of interesting themes that are more complicated than the usual love or revenge.
You’ll notice that most fiction writers, in video-games and otherwise, don’t even bother.
Unless you are against the idea of fiction in and of itself?
Has for MGS’s particular brand of humour, well, if you don’t think it’s funny, you’ll largely miss the point. Much like any other type of humour actually.
That said, it does not invalidate the rest of Kojima’s thesis.
Also, the internet is a culture. I am interested in thinking why you think it is not. It has it’s own language and customs. There would be a point made for the internet has a digital country even but that’s another debate.

Anathemize

On November 13, 2012 at 6:02 am

anyone that would call themselves “aids” is obviously trolling.

Organ Grinder

On November 13, 2012 at 8:07 am

Anathemize – I don’t think he was trolling exactly. He was definitely being provocative, but trolling for me is the deliberate adoption of an opposing view from the status quo. There wasn’t really a status quo going and he did make some valid points, though I didn’t personally agree with them as I think going out of your way to read materials that oppose your beliefs is contrived (plus, as I found during my degree, a lot of it doesn’t “expand your horizons” so much as make you wonder how the hell these people ever came to such a conclusion – but then, I was having to read Adrienne Rich and a bunch of other feminists/reverse-racists with chips on their shoulders).

Jim Sterling is a troll, and seems to revel in that. It’s too easy to call others trolls just for having different opinions – it depends on their consistency and ability to back up their views with solid arguments and examples. Aids at least tried to do this, so he’s not a troll in my opinion.