Slavery in Video Games: Evan Narcisse on Assassin’s Creed III and IV (Kotaku)

Screenshot from Assassin’s Creed IV: Freedom’s Cry

Kotaku reporter Evan Narcisse reviews early New Orleans/Gulf Coast and Caribbean history and the Haitian Revolution as portrayed in  Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation and Assassin’s Creed IV: Freedom Cry.

From the Liberation review:

Yet, accounts of such perseverance remain charged subject matter. Who can really get history right, when multiple factions want it told a certain way? You’d think a video game would be the last place anyone would look for a treatise on what’s been called America’s birth-defect. And yet here we are, playing firsthand through the tale of a family torn asunder by slavery in Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation.

Aveline de Grandpre belongs to two worlds. No, scratch that. The heroine of this new portable Assassin’s Creed shifts her realities through multiple facets: she’s part-white and part-black, of the Old and New World, born into slavery yet free. And, of course, she’s a stealthy warrior in a secret Brotherhood that fights against an evil conspiracy to exploit mankind.

Liberation makes great use of Aveline to diversify not only the world of video game heroines, but the design ideas that have been associated with Ubisoft’s hit franchise so far….

…The way Aveline is able to weave through multiple levels of society makes clever use of race and gender as subversive elements, taking head on subject matter that most other games run away from. The personas interlock mechanically, too. When the Assassin’s Notoriety meter is in the red, it takes the Lady using a bribe-which only she can do-to lower the heat. The Slave can infiltrate plantations as a laborer and access information that you’ll act on later in another guise. And while the Assassin is the most deadly, her base level of Notoriety is the highest of the three personas. It’s a lot like a superhero secret identity but, instead of a phone booth or supply closet, Aveline can buy dressing chambers where she can change into another one of her alter egos.

Read the rest: Evan Narcisse | Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation: The Kotaku Review

From the Freedom Cry review:

The add-on takes place 15 years after the events of ACIV‘s main campaign. Freedom Cry focuses on Adéwalé, the character who was the first mate on the Jackdaw, the ship captained by Edward Kenway. In the time after that followed ACIV’s resolution, Ade has joined the Assassins order and commands a ship of his own The Victoire. That craft wrecks in the opening moments and Adéwalé finds himself on Saint-Domingue, the 18th Century colony that became the country we now call Haiti….

Freedom Cry‘s best successes come from finding story and gameplay in the historical moment where the game is set. That’s true of most Assassin’s Creed games but it’s a trickier proposition here since this chapter happens during the era of slavery. The time when humans with one skin color traded humans with another skin color like animals or property is an ugly period in history that many people would rather forget or ignore, even when presented with the ways that slavery’s legacy of prejudice, disenfranchisement and disempowerment lives on.

Despite the potential for uncomfortableness, you get the sense that the developers at Ubisoft’s Quebec studio knew what they were doing from the very first moments in the game. The first shot zooms in across the deck of Adéwalé’s ship, crewed by men who look like him, and stops at his stoic face above the captain’s wheel. It’s a tacit acknowledgement that this—a black character in the lead role—is a rare thing. And players who read the Animus Database entries in Freedom Cry might be learning, for the first time, about the unsupported morality of the Code Noir, which put forth a guideline for ‘humane treatment’ of slaves that was rarely followed.

Read the rest: Evan Narcisse | A Game That Showed Me My Own Black History

Chris Suellentrop disagrees:

As historical fiction, Assassin’s Creed: Liberation is closer to a movie like Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” than it is to Steve McQueen’s Oscar-nominated drama, “12 Years a Slave,” or to James McBride’s National Book Award-winning novel, “The Good Lord Bird.” Even so, the game is not nearly as rewarding as those works, which shed new light on American slavery and its treatment in film, fiction and history. But the shameful dearth of black characters in video games makes Assassin’s Creed: Liberation feel nearly as subversive and important as the films by Mr. Tarantino or Mr. McQueen and the book by Mr. McBride….

…Assassin’s Creed: Liberation is not the only, or even the best, game with a nonwhite protagonist. For that, you would probably have to look at one of the Grand Theft Auto games or Minority Media’s Papo & Yo. But that a game as mediocre as Liberation feels like a revelation should serve as a rebuke for an industry that styles itself as the art form of the 21st century, even as its labor force and its characters too often look like a parody of the 20th, or the 19th.

Read the rest: Chris Suellentrop | Assassin’s Creed: Liberation Examines Colonial Blacks – NYTimes.com

Featured Image Credit: Screenshot from Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation

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