Assassin’s Creed III is a thrilling, hyperdetailed journey to the Colonial era. There are also aliens.
By Erik Sofge
While everyone in the entertainment industry claims to be culturally sensitive when dealing with Native Americans, Ubisoft Montreal didn’t just go through the motions. The game’s makers filtered every relevant plot point and line of Mohawk-language dialogue through Thomas Deer, the cultural liaison for the Kanien’kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Center in the Mohawk territory south of Montreal. The studio hired an additional consultant to deal with translation—that time-honored Hollywood tradition of having old-timey Native Americans speak to each other in heavily accented English is notably absent in AC3. When the studio wanted to add background chatter to a village scene, Deer set them up with a local immersion school in his territory, where they could record Mohawk children playing during recess.
It's hard to express the cumulative impact of all that seemingly spot-on Mohawk language and culture. Sure, the hunting sequences are videogamey and oversimplified, and the recurring visual of a Native American driving a hatchet into a white man’s brains isn't the most obvious path toward reversing centuries of racist stereotyping. But even so, AC3 manages to be not only one of the best, most visceral examinations of the history of the Revolutionary War. It’s also possibly the first mainstream look at Native American history that isn't pandering or offensive.
Assassin’s Creed III is no dry history lesson. It's possible to enjoy this game and not care one bit about the fact that Boston is modeled on period maps and on topological data that nails down the elevation of every hill and down-sloping street. You can certainly stalk targets through old New York City without considering the research that went into recreating the distinctive flat Dutch facades that concealed gabled rooftops. And you may well get more excited about the game's present-day crisis, which involves aliens and the world's impending, fiery doom. Yes, AC3 is filled with history, but it's also a swashbuckling sci-fi rip-snorter.
New 'Assassin's Creed' has Native American roots
By Mike Snider
Not only is Connor the only non-white main character in a console game this year, "Assassin's Creed III is the only game I can think of with a substantive primary role for a Native American character," says Arthur Gies, reviews editor for Polygon.com. It is also a "step in the right direction for a high-profile title" such as Liberation to have a mixed-race female lead, he says. Ubisoft's one-two Assassin's punch is, Gies says, "subversive, for sure."
Integration wasn't solely at the heart of the design decision to give Connor Native American bloodlines, says Alex Hutchinson, creative director for Assassin's Creed III. Where previous Assassin leads relied heavily on knives and swords, Connor wields a tomahawk, battle-axe and bow and arrow, as well as firearms. "It gave us a bunch of gear that maybe wouldn't be appropriate for an English or French person in this setting," Hutchinson says.
About the heritage of Connor and Aveline, who happen to cross paths in Liberation, he adds, "it just puts your brain in a different space of not just, 'When are we?' but 'Who are we?' What would this person do in this situation?"
The franchise is popular enough that a live-action movie is in the works. "It's clear Ubisoft has a hit series in its portfolio," says Dan Hsu, GamesBeat editor-in-chief for VentureBeat.com. "Assassin's Creed is an ideal marriage of a great, marketable name, iconic imagery with its mysterious and cloaked protagonists, and a made-for-gamers theme. Who wouldn't think it's cool to be an assassin?"
And perhaps abandoning those stereotypes is one of the touches that is the difference between a good game and a great one.
Could we see more game manufacturers looking to explore producing Indian titles with an authentic feel? Todd Martens thinks so—as he writes in his review for the L.A. Times, “this game makes it clear that there’s plenty of rich Native American gaming story lines yet to create.”
But it's notable for showing how a Native-themed entertainment product can succeed. It's a big-budget affair that respects cultural and historic accuracy. And it's getting a big marketing push from Ubisoft.
If someone put that much money into a Native superhero, sci-fi, or thriller adventure, it also would succeed. That's how you do it folks: write a good accessible story, give it an authentic look and feel, and pay close attention to details.
For more on Assassin's Creed 3, see Assassin's Creed 3's Mohawk Origin and Assassin's Creed 3's Native Heritage.