Monday, March 5, 2012

Eurocentrism and the Reveal of Assassin's Creed 3

I don't think I've ever posted about it but I am a huge fan of the Assassin's Creed series of video games. The second game in particular stands as one of my favourite games in this generation of consoles. I'm a major proponent of story-driven games, and the Assassin's Creed series stands as one of the most engrossing and unique narratives in gaming today. Additionally I really enjoy how the developers of the series make a conscious effort to set each game in places and times that are unusual in the gaming community. In what other game could you explore a historically accurate rendition of Renaissance Florence, Third Crusade-era Jerusalem, or Ottoman-era Constantinople? These are only a few of the more superficial and spoiler-free reasons why I love the series, but they make one thing clear: there's simply nothing else like Assassin's Creed out there, in gaming or otherwise.

This week a lot of details were revealed about the next entry in the series, Assassin's Creed 3. Set to be released on October 30, 2012, this new game will take place in Revolutionary War-era America. What's exciting about the setting is that it gives the developers the opportunity to engage with the atrocities committed by both Colonial and Revolutionary forces upon the Native Americans in this time period. The series has never been shy about politics, and indeed one of the most interesting aspects of Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood was the radical political thread that writer Jeffrey Yohalem wove into the narrative. It's honestly my fondest memory of that game, and so I'm eager to see the series get political again. In Assassin's Creed 3 the historical mistreatment of the Native Americans will take the centre stage as the protagonist is said to be a half-English, half-Native American boy who's raised by Mohawks.

As much as possible for a blockbuster (and annualized) video game franchise, the Assassin's Creed games have made a habit of breaking new ground for the medium. Making a new main character in a major entry in the series half-Mohawk continues this tradition. Ubisoft also hasn't given up their dedication to authenticity, as "they've hired Native American actors and recorded whole scenes of dialogue in the actual Mohawk language." Moreover, early reports indicate that the beginning of the game will depict Ratohnhaké:ton/Connor's childhood in a Mohawk village that's later burned down by white colonists, inspiring him to dedicate his life to fighting tyranny and injustice. So not only is the protagonist a sort of Mohawk Batman (!), it also seems that the game will at least touch upon the atrocities inflicted by the Americans/Europeans on the Native Americans. It certainly doesn't seem like Ubisoft is letting up on the franchise's tendency to push gaming to new and unexpected frontiers.

What I want to address in this blog post is the new protagonist's name. At this point the details are a little sketchy, but it seems as though the character actually has two namesRatohnhaké:ton and Connor. 
The character's relationships with each of these names is still a little unclear, but it seems as though he calls himself Connor. In any case, the Internet has made a pretty clear decision to simply call him Connor. Here's an example from Rabidgames, a site that "calls him Connor because the other name is too long and copy & paste [sic] doesn’t really count as remembering a name."

On the one hand the name Connor is shorter and easier to remember and spell, both for the developers and for most of the people talking about the game online. Additionally, at this point fans seem to be most interested in the gameplay possibilities unlocked by the game's new engine. Any discussion of the narrative potential seems to be restricted to which historical events might be portrayed as opposed to what political stance(s) the game might take with regards to Native Americans. However, all that aside I find it more than a little troubling that the character who was just revealed to be half-Mohawk is already being called exclusively by his English name. I think that's a Eurocentric reaction that implicitly glosses over the most unique (and, in my opinion, interesting) aspect of the new character.

As reddit user AnEagle so aptly put it...
At this point it's not possible to do much more than speculate about Assassin's Creed 3 and its approach to the historical treatment of Native Americans. Without getting into spoilers I will say that the series' lore pretty much requires that the protagonist have at least some European ancestry so it makes sense that he's half-English. Time will tell if the emphasis on that side of his heritage is something the developers have written into the game (though based on everything I mentioned above it sure sounds like they're fully embracing his Mohawk roots). But what is clear is that fans of the series have decided it is at least easier to regard Ratohnhaké:ton/Connor in a more traditional (read: western) fashion. And I think that's unfortunate.

I don't mean to condemn anyone's legitimate excitement about the game but I wish that more of the buzz I'm seeing online was about the unique narrative and political potential in the protagonist's origins. It's disappointing to find that the Assassin's Creed community seems disinterested in this new character's most unique trait and are instead gravitating towards the most familiar aspect of what we know about him so far. One would hope that fans of such a daring series would be eager for it to present new perspectives and ideas, but evidently that's not as exciting as what new multiplayer options will be available. Granted I may be making too much of something as trivial as the use (or lack thereof) of a name, but to me it does seem indicative of an apprehension for an unfamiliar concept (or in this case culture). Ironically the gaming community seems disinterested in the originality it so often pines for, but then that's a subject for another blog post. 

Here's hoping that as October 30 approaches there begins to be more excitement for this promising new evolution in the Assassin's Creed narrative.

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