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.

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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.