Assassin’s Creed 3 Is At Its Best When it Challenges History
This is where Assassin’s Creed 3 gets good. The game often gives Connor a bit of a romantic view of the Revolutionary War, and then throws it back in his face as the Patriots tend to disappoint him. There’s a degree to which this humanizes them, and makes the whole situation feel more real — people aren’t heroic archetypes, after all. They have flaws and foibles, and they are a product of their times and the context in which they live. Connor himself has quite a few failings, not the least of which is his willingness to trust the wrong people and to kill with out question.
Political statements being made in games really don’t happen very often, but when they do, they can be fascinating. BioShock is famously a comment on laissez-faire social Darwinism that depicts a horrific Ayn Randian world — although it helps that everyone went crazy because of injecting sea slug juice into their bodies so they could become superheroes. Spec Ops: The Line makes many a comment about military shooters and players’ complicity in virtual murders. Binary Domain makes some interesting comments about otherness that could be extended to race, gender and class.
Assassin’s Creed 3 certainly has a viewpoint, and that viewpoint gives the game a color it wouldn’t otherwise have if it was 100-percent flag-waving. It certainly includes those flag-wavy parts (at one point, your game-defined objective is to walk up and listen to Israel Putnam’s “whites of their eyes” speech), but it goes out of its way to question the American viewpoint of our own history. In Shaun’s case, the game’s creators might be a little on-the-nose about it. At other points, the game raises some really good points about the kinds of people the Founding Fathers were, and whether they’re worthy of the hero worship they receive.
It’s a sticky issue, however. As much as Assassin’s Creed 3 might present a valid view of some of American history, it’s certainly open to interpretation. For example, there’s a mission in which Connor has to ride from Valley Forge to his Mohawk village, intercepting Patriot messengers. And by intercepting, we mean murdering, because those messengers are carrying the order to attack Connor’s home. Later, Connor gets into a fight with his best friend over his relationship with the Patriots, and it does not go well.
There’s a bit of weak storytelling here, because one might expect Connor to get mightily pissed after this event. He doesn’t, or at least, it doesn’t stop him from aiding the Patriots. You can even play Bocce with George Washington later, even though Connor has some snide remarks for the Commander-in-Chief. But regardless of that element, the point is this: Assassin’s Creed 3 has a viewpoint of American history, and as much as it might pull the curtain back on patriotic reinterpretation of history, it also creates its share of fictional moments that also drive its viewpoint.
However, I’d argue that games could use a little more political commentary like Assassin’s Creed 3′s, not less of it. Art doesn’t always exist for entertainment purposes: it’s mostly about conveying some kind of message important to the artist. This can be anything, and politics certainly falls under the “anything” category.
That doesn’t mean that every game should be a political diatribe hiding behind shooting dudes or breaking pots with swords. But it does mean that video games can and should be thought of as an artistic expression that is also a means of conveying a message important to their creators. Some games, like those mentioned above, do this not only to great effect, but to the creation of more memorable experiences. Even if I might not agree with the depiction of the Founding Fathers with whom Connor interacts, I still respect the chance to see someone else’s take on history.