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[Gamer Diary] – Assassin’s Creed 3: Reactions Roundtable

2012 March 13

Three short months after the release of Ezio’s last dance, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, and we’ve been graced by the presence of the first Assassin’s Creed III reveal.  So Stephen B, Markgraf, Miranda and I had a chatette.

First off: go check out the trailer if you haven’t seen it already.

Stephen B: Well, I’m a Brit, and that probably colours my reaction to the setting. I’m just not invested in how glorious the War of Independence was, and killing the dastardly English isn’t really as exciting to me as Assassins vs. Templars.

My first reaction was concern for the fighting: is going up against guns with a small hand-axe really going to work?  The moves lacked the skill and finesse of previous styles, although they’re better on a repeat viewing.  Plus, I am a bit disappointed that no-one else is following Mass Effect 3‘s lead and doing female version trailers. Or… having even one female in the whole trailer.

All this grand posturing is about English vs. American white guys only and the protagonist is of Native American descent, so while you’re blowing all those trumpets you’re ignoring the incredible ongoing & future genocide. The game might highlight how his people are treated as part of the story, but that’s not clear from the trailer.

An Assassin in white robes crouches in the foreground with a small hatchet axe in one hand, a long bow on his back and a gun in his other hand. Behind is an old American flag from the time of the revolution.

Miranda: Would it be possible to have a leading lady in this franchise? I’d love that – I like the Orlando-esque idea of the protagonist being different genders through time – but isn’t Desmond always the person, er, “wearing” the history? So I imagine we’d have to lose him as well; they’d have to create a female equivalent? Even without that leap, I’m personally hoping there are less Sex Assassin type ladies this time around, and more, y’know, female characters.

Readers might remember the last time we covered Assassin’s Creed on here and talked about the Sex Assassin NPC thing – Ubisoft Workshop staff actually read the post, which featured Markgraf’s own designs for female assassins, and gave it a friendly shoutout, which was nice to see (sadly, when I try to find the shoutout, it’s been archived and doesn’t seem to have the hyperlinks anymore. Shame, that – we were originally hyperlinked from “we thought this would quell some people’s fears on where we stand on important subjects”). We then had a bit of feedback from people who pointed out that there are female assassins in ACII you can deploy places, so then we made another post to address that a bit, because the point is, we’re aware of that, but it’s not like there isn’t room for a good deal of progress.

Rai: I too am concerned about how they’ll fit this protagonist into the grand scheme of things: after all historically it’s one set of oppressive zealots complaining about being oppressed (by the English) without a shadow of irony as they murder and destroy the indigenous population.  Given the protagonist’s ethnicity, one has to wonder how he’s on either side of this war, given the racist sentiments aimed at Native Americans (in that era and beyond).

On the anti-Brit theme, I have my doubts that it’ll be handled appropriately or even accurately – there are tendencies when anything American is involved for Brits to be portrayed as some sort of devil spawn (which is getting pretty dull).

I’m pretty peeved it is still a dude.  What happened to all the stuff at the end of Brotherhood when Minerva was telling Desmond to go and find this ‘other assassin’ he’d need to beat the Templars?  Minerva was using female pronouns to talk about this other assassin – so, where is she?

Changing tack slightly: the trees(!) – in the trailer we see the guy free-running among the branches. This could be an interesting switch from the buildings we’re used to thus far.

Also did anyone else hear the theory that AC3 would be set in the Far East?  If so… would Far East have been a better setting than 1777 America?  I think so, but then America is of very little interest to me as it all feels quite egomaniacal: could the setting of AC3 be a ploy to get more US fans?  Or to bring the centre of attention back on to the USA, as is the tendency of so many games?

Stephen B: Well, I suppose the previous games were quite brave in that the first one had you playing a medieval Arab, and the second went to Italy with no mention of the US. So it could be okay that they do one in the USA… but the Far East would have been a lot more exciting for me.

Markgraf: As per Rai’s reaction, I’m baffled as to why our hero isn’t a woman, still – I mean, come on, it’s 2012, surely we know that women exist by now and that it’s fine to have them as protagonists?

But my angle is this one: I’m keen to see people of colour represented as actual hero-y heroes in games, because it’s damn rare, it’s still damn rare, and that’s frankly an embarrassment to civilisation as a whole.  So I’m delighted, actually, to see that Ratohnhaké:ton is mixed race and doing his bit for First Nations people in games.

The Assassin’s Creed franchise is doing itself quite proud of multiculturalism in games: it started the series with you playing Altaiir ibn La-Ahad, who is a Syrian Arab, born and raised, which is literally one of the only examples I can think of where the playable protagonist is Arab.  But you’ll all remember that Altaiir had an American voice, and if you peered under his hood, it was Desmond doing an Altaiir cosplay.  So, you had a character with the right sort of name for the place he was in, but without the right sort of voice, and not really the right sort of face, either, which was pretty much ethnicity-trimming, if you ask me.

No-one can possibly have any problems with the representation of First Nations people – they’re under-represented and it’s uncontroversial to represent them as heroes – and that’s great, but I do feel bad for Altaiir, the Arab hero that never really was.

I’m not that thrilled by the setting, either, to be honest.  For all the reasons we’ve mentioned (yet another America-centric game) but also because… I just want to see a more diverse range of ethnic backgrounds to playable characters, really.  So couldn’t we have wandered further afield than America for the third?

(And raise your hand if you’re bored of having The English!!! as villains in things…)

Oh, and I’m also excited that YOU CAN CLIMB TREES!!!!, yes.

Rai: I too am more than pleased that the AC franchise has done good things for protagonists of diverse ethnicity and to have another character in that trend is good; even better if he is actually his own self and not just Desmond-in-a-hood!  Their failings with portraying Altaiir appropriately will always stick in my mind though.

It is a shame it’s not a woman though, and it is a shame it’s in America – if previous form is anything to go by, we may end up with a trilogy of games in that period, and I suspect they’ve brought it home to America so they can more easily blend into Desmond fighting Templars himself in the present/future.  So I have no idea where on earth this ‘she’ assassin Minerva was banging on about is going to come from.  I truly hope they don’t just let Desmond find her and then she’s an unplayable sidekick character.


Miranda: “Hurrah for more beautiful vertigo-inducing rendering, but let’s hope there are some women NPCs at least in this that are written as characters, not damsels and sex machines!”

Stephen B: “Potential racial sensitivity GOOD, provided they stick to it. Setting’s a bit blah; hoping the general ‘Assassins vs Templars’ struggle is enough of a hook to keep me interested.”


Rai: “Where is my she-assassin?!  Good to see an appropriately portrayed non-white protagonist, but the American setting feels like a bit of a disappointment, and definitely poked my inner cynic with a very pointy stick.”

13 Responses leave one →
  1. Russell permalink
    March 13, 2012

    The thing about having the British as villains for things is that for a good large chunk of our history, we actually WERE the villains, travelling around the world, oppressing the natives, and inventing genocide. It’s not too much of a stretch to argue that that was the case in the American War of Independence – after all, they wanted democracy, and we were forcing them to pay taxes to a monarch who refused them representation. I have no doubt that given the AC franchise’s backstory, they’ll delve into that noble revolution being corrupted by vested interests even as it first began, and that’s probably why the protagonist is a native American as opposed to George Washington himself, but that doesn’t change the fact that for a number of people around the world British Imperialism was A Very Bad Thing and that deserves to be represented by having the British appear as villains in fiction set during that time. To ignore it or to attempt to redeem our ancestors would be historical revisionism, and I feel that does a complete disservice to the nations and peoples they spent their time oppressing.

    On a different note, do you feel that the protagonist needs to be female in something like AC, or is it enough to have strong female characters like Lucy and Sofia and Claudia appearing in the games? I agree that it would be very nice to see a woman doing the practical work of Assassining Altaiir, Ezio, Desmond and Ratohnhaké:ton engage in, but it’s not like the roles of women in the series aren’t already quite varied and well-developed, IMO.

    • Miranda permalink*
      March 13, 2012

      it’s not like the roles of women in the series aren’t already quite varied and well-developed, IMO

      See, I only agree to a point here, because this is not made in the least bit obvious in the trailer – I get that it focuses on the battlefield/the woods, but these don’t have to be woman-free zones. I’d have liked to see another trailer where you saw something that wasn’t just men shouting? I feel like there’s more to AC than that too, yes, but it’s not apparent from AC3’s marketing so far. Mass Effect 3 is a different kind of game, since you can customise the protag, but I think they’re moving in a good direction in terms of designing and marketing games with due regard to the range of who really is buying and playing them – aside from (finally) getting a trailer with a female protag, ME3’s got some smart touches in the narrative which I won’t spoiler for readers, but they do help the game feel inclusive and excitingly less male-normative.

      In terms of earlier games, what annoys me is that it is made clear that women can be assassins, and are assassins, and even that they wear the cool uniform, but you never meet them! You just deploy them about the place. You do, on the other hand, have protracted drama with other dudes in a way that I just don’t think you do with the lady characters, although Lucy and Rebecca do get some scenes.

      I think it would be really interesting to have a female protag in the franchise, and to see what they do with that – discussing it feels a little like “female Doctor Who” discussions in a way: it’s technically possible, but there are a lot of emotional barriers in the fanbase towards the idea? Yeah.

      I understand the protag being uniformly male (so far) on one level – though my personal interest would be spiked much more by a woman in that role. And I’m in no way meaning to imply that it’s inherently sexist just to have a male protag in a franchise. But I do think with this game that men are often presented as defaults. (And when people argue that “that’s just how it was back then” I’m always rather disappointed because this is in my view a thoroughly facile reading of the history.) My main “but”, though – and it’s a big but – is this: my GOODNESS Desmond’s dull. He’s so boring! He’s made of cardboard. Which just underlines my urge to consider very different alternatives. If he’s the figleaf underpinning all this male-defaulting, let’s lose him already!

      • Russell permalink
        March 13, 2012

        Yeah, obviously I’m a little off-topic with that question, since this is an article about the trailer. I’m not necessarily saying it’s okay that the protagonist solely be male, I just wonder whether it is mitigated somewhat by having significant female characters. I would disagree that Desmond doesn’t have important interaction with the female characters; Lucy is obviously key, and finding out what actually happened to her is one of the things I’m looking forward to in AC3, but also in Revelations, much of the plot is driven by Ezio’s burgeoning relationship with Sofia, who whilst in the game quite clearly as a love interest, is also clearly intended to be much more rounded character than just a princess to save.

        With regard to the dullness of Desmond and the possibility of a female character taking the lead, AC3 is supposedly the last part of Desmond’s story, so for whatever else that means, he won’t be the present-day lead in AC4 (or Assassin’s Creed vs DC Comics or whatever they put in between AC3 and 4!), and that leaves the door open for a female protagonist – especially since there are already a couple of female characters established who could jump into the animus. I agree that it is something I’d very much like to see, and I also agree that it would just be nice for a female assassin in full armour doing some free running to be involved somehow. With regard to the trailer, we’re not seeing that, but whilst critiquing trailers is a worthwhile activity to analyse what the marketing can tell us, there’s an extent to which it’s judging a book by its cover, as well.

        *hopes is making coherent sense*

        • Miranda permalink*
          March 13, 2012

          Lots of sense here, and I’m enjoying the comments :)

          I think trailers kind of exist to make people judge books by covers. There’s a whole post I’ve got on draft about how they can engineer different impressions, sometimes inaccurately – for example, there are two movie trailers for A Single Man, a film which is all about a gay protagonist and the most important relationship he has had. The one which was released more widely depicts the film as a heterosexual love story through some clever editing and by centralising a clip of a m/f kiss and leaving out any sense that there are gay characters. This was clearly a ploy to get bums on seats who would not have wanted to go to “a gay movie”. (Similarly I was blandly turned off by the trailer for X-Men: First Class, in which the women barely speak, despite the fact that Mystique is really nicely rendered by Jennifer Lawrence – but in the end I saw it three times.)

          I guess what I’m saying is, the aim of a trailer is often precisely to engineer certain kinds of cover-judging, and can tell us a lot about who it is the film company is most interested in marketing to. This was one of the reasons a portion of the Mass Effect fandom began to campaign for “FemShep” – because when you judge the game on the trailer, the impression you get only tells half the possible story. If the trailer bears little resemblance to the actual gaming experience – that’s really interesting. If the trailer is bang-on, that’s also interesting. These are choices companies can deliberately make – so trailers kind of fascinate me in and of themselves. :D

          So I think it’s good to have a space where you come out with what the trailer has made you think, because even if the game is very different, it’s interesting to explore why that might be – and then following on from that, we might then look at the game itself (we wouldn’t bother posting on the trailer if there weren’t people likely to buy the game on the team).

    • March 13, 2012

      Re: The British Thing.
      Yes we all know full well that our ancestors were evil bastards so it’s a given that they’re going to be portrayed as such in the respective time period. However, given the propensity of games made “across the pond” (and films, tv programmes, books, songs etc) to utilise strong and hefty dollops of hyperbole when dealing with “The Brits” I am particularly cynical on this issue. My concern is they’ll be painting the hyperbole on thicker than required. Furthermore I am sceptical as to whether they will accurately portray the evil bastardry of the Independence lot – given the atrocities they committed for hundreds of years against Native peoples (even after they gained their independence). If they portray the Brits as evil gits they ought to portray the Americans as equally evil gits.

      Female Thing:
      The question, for me, is not whether we need a female protagonist moreover it is that we were, essentially, promised one. Yet, she is nowhere to be seen. Will the renege on their own word?

      But, no, I don’t think it is enough to have Lucy/Claudia/Sofia as to me they are relatively tokenistic (when you actually see them) and used only in a supportive function to Glorious Desmond Saviour of All.

      • Russell permalink
        March 13, 2012

        Like I said, I think studying trailers is a worthwhile activity in itself, and since that’s what you guys were doing here, you won’t get any complaints from me about the conclusions you drew. I was a little off-topic (when am I ever on topic?) in discussing the wider situation, but your discussion raised that question for me, and I still think it’s a pertinent one: is it enough to have strong female characters who are not the protagonist?

        Personally, I’d argue against the idea that Claudia, Sofia, or (better example) Rebecca are tokenistic. Whilst Claudia is supportive to Ezio, she’s a pretty essential support, handling as she does his entire financial operation. I was disappointed she never got to suit up and go assassining, but I felt her portrayal was sensitive and realistic for what it was. It certainly didn’t feel like the designers were thinking “better have a female character in here somewhere… there we go, Ezio’s got a sister!” It felt like she was the best and most interesting character for the role. IN Sofia’s case, she’s not even a support to Ezio – instead, she’s a love interest, but the game is careful to show that she’s a love interest because she has her own interests and is already following, in her own way and without knowing it, the titular creed, as exemplified when Ezio explains it to her. Rebecca, again, is a whole ‘nother can of worms, and feels as though she has her own agenda and interests quite apart from Desmond. The impression I got from the entire Team Assassin crew is that Desmond is helping them, not the other way around, and that seemed to be particularly the attitude of Sean and Rebecca. In fact, when you think about it, despite everything, Desmond is actually a very passive participant in the story, spending most of the time sat in a chair playing (essentially) a video game, while Sean, Lucy and Rebecca take care of the work. As for Lucy, I think it’s pretty clear that, whilst a love interest and whilst a support for Desmond, she’s also a badass who infiltrated the Templars and stole their technology and research guinea pigs, not to mention a good bit of information. The question remains as to whether that’s enough. We all know the problems with “strong female characters” who are all ninja rocket boob scientists, but what about when you actually do flesh out the ladies a bit, but they’re still in service to one central protagonist? In part, this is a weakness of narrative within video games; they’re bound to being first person for the most part, and that person is normally a Straight White Male (obviously a bad thing in itself, but not specifically what I’m trying to get at here). If that SWM is aided and assisted by a number of characters, male and female, who are well-developed and have their own personalities, goals, and motivations, is the effect of the main character mitigated, or is it worsened? In part, this goes some way towards what Miranda was saying about marketing, and who things are marketed to. In the same way that the trailers avoid any non-whites (apart from the main character), the central character is often an SWM for similar marketing reasons. By having people of different backgrounds support him, do you send any kind of message? Is it worth sending that sort of message to the sort of people you are marketing to by choosing that protagonist and that kind of trailer?

        Regarding the British thing, I sincerely hope that the developers have made a deliberate choice to make the character a native to demonstrate exactly the kind of thing you are talking about, Rai. I have faith that they have; this is AssCreed, after all, and liberalism is inherently tied up in the design of the games.

  2. wererogue permalink
    April 2, 2012

    I don’t want to make any comments about the game, but I thought this was a nice place to drop off some more info for you. Most of the reliable information released so far is at GameInformer:

    In particular, you might enjoy the video on this article:

    • wererogue permalink
      April 3, 2012

      I just caught this one, too – Alex talks about the game really well.

      • Miranda permalink*
        April 4, 2012

        I must say I was quite :( when I read his recent Kotaku interview where he says the Revolution is “a men’s history”. It’s up to him what history he wants his games to focus on, but it was kinda classically myopic. Sadface!

        • wererogue permalink
          April 5, 2012

          I definitely agree that we need to see a game with a female assassin, and I’m not the only one. However, I can see a logic to the choice of hero for this particular game – it would be pretty challenging at that time for a woman to interact in a way that the assassin needs to with the (not exactly feminist) historical figures that they’ve announced for the game. That’s not to say that it couldn’t be done, nor is it an excuse for snubbing women heroes for 5 major games – just an acknowledgement that it would be a big burden on the story that they’ve decided to tell, and I guess they decided to focus elsewhere.

          I don’t think that’s at all true in every historical setting, however, or even in most, and I’m very hopeful and pretty confident that we’ll get that she-assassin eventually.

          I more wanted to point you to the parts of the articles that deal with other issues that were raised in this piece: the British/American conflict, and how they are handling historical accuracy; i.e. the Americans-to-be aren’t necessarily the “goodies”, and they put a fair bit of effort into making the main character’s heritage meaningful.

          p.s. I think markgraf hasn’t played it yet, but I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that Altaiir is much better handled in Revelations – they gave him a more fitting voice, and his own face.

  3. May 2, 2012

    I’ll still play AC3, but I am British, so I’m hard wired not to give a fig about American history.
    With all the Sherlock Holmes movies out now, I think the creators are mad not to have seized the opportunity for a game set in Victorian England. I mean there was so much material to play with. The Templars were still around in the form of the dastardly masons, you had courtesans and pickpockets roaming the streets! You had the industrial revolution (modern weapons) and the chance to take on Jack the ripper . I’m so disappointed. But here’s hoping that in AC4 I’ll finally be able to climb up big ben and the tower of London.

    • Miranda permalink*
      May 2, 2012

      LONDON AC.

      … I think we’d be all over that, actually. I too would like to climb Big Ben.

  4. June 12, 2012

    I agree 100% with the dilemma of the main character’s ethnicity. I guess the Brits ingame are his enemies but then why would he support the would-be engineers for the near extinction of his own people? If they are going for historical accuracy surely everybody is the enemy in his eyes. It’s the double standard that I find very annoying. Personally I think there should the good and bad guys should be labelled assassin and templar versus American and British. That’s just crying out for controversy.

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