An Open Letter on Assassin’s Creed, Artistic Vision and Social Change

Opinion - Kevin Tavore, 21 days ago
It’s 2006. As a 17 year old I sit in a little cubby of my parents’ house — my house — where the computer is, grinding up my next reroll on World of Warcraft. The computer was once a gaming PC of note, though that was three years ago and I had only recently bought it from a friend for $100 as an upgrade to whatever standard Dell my parents had in an attempt to get out of integrated video card hell. While it’s been a decade since one could reroll on a fresh server in World of Warcraft, at the time the game was growing and Blizzard would release new servers all the time that started everyone from the same place, level 1, and the sky was the limit.

So I’m dreaming of being the first person on the server to level 70, of being in the first raid to take down Illidan in the Black Temple, and I’m grinding quest after quest. Evanescence blares in the background as was standard practice for me — I’m still reminded of Eversong Woods when I hear “My Immortal.” As I quest, I walk up to an enemy player as they fight a named enemy to near death. As they fight, they catch sight of me and emote a plea that I leave them alone. They had worked hard for this and just want to go about their day. Nope. I kill them and steal their kill. It's cruel and heartless, but it doesn't matter. Anything to ruin their day. That was how the game was designed and it wasn’t nice, though the opportunity was opt-in on their part so I thought it was okay. Forgive me, I was 17.

You see, the problem is that I thought I was entitled to play the way I wanted to just because the game allowed me to. That was how the game designers thought the game should, or at least could, be played. I didn’t care that my actions would make people angry, frustrated and upset. I didn’t care that it was unfair or mean to make people waste their time. That’s how it was designed, and that justified it.

There’s some validity to the argument. When someone buys a game, any game, they should know what they’re getting. They know the game allows other players to kill each other mercilessly. They know it features a cast of characters you can form a relationship with. They know whether it’ll allow you to play as male or female. And so the people who love the game as it is form an expectation that it should continue to work that way because it works for them. That is how the game was meant to be. And they believe it is important to recognize and preserve artistic vision as, to my own dismay at times, video games are art.

quel danas

Last week, we covered a story about an achievement being changed in Assassin's Creed Odyssey. Apparently, the DLC in that game saw our heroes — you — going on to start a family with a partner of the other sex and you an achievement for your efforts. This wasn’t an optional romance, but rather was baked directly into the story progression and the love affair paid no mind to whether you had had any other romantic interests or preferred to live a solitary life. The writers of the story envisioned a child, and the story was formed to ensure there would be a child.

Many were upset by this. Odyssey had made its mark as the first Assassin’s Creed to allow you to choose your gender and orientation, a change that met almost universal approval, so the DLC’s forced relationship with the opposite sex seemed like a step in a different direction. Ubisoft heard these voices and quickly acted to change some dialogue and the achievements to ensure the continuity worked while still respecting those players that wanted to have something other than a heterosexual experience with the game. Other players then found themselves upset that anything was changed just to suit what they called a vocal minority and things got out of hand from there just as you’d expect.

I was wrong back in 2006. The fact that I was happy with the game being designed in such a way didn’t justify my causing anger and frustration to others. I showed those other players through my actions that I didn't care much for them. On the internet, it’s easy to display an abundance of cruelty and callous apathy towards the problems of others. We don’t have to look anyone in the eye as we viciously backstab them. Nowadays, I make an effort to remember this and instead respond with kindness. If I saw that player from whom I stole the kill today, I’d help them and in return, I’d have made someone just a little bit happier.

Shadow Heritage

I'm telling that story of 17-year-old me to illustrate the point that a game's design is not always the best design for every player, and that those players' call for change can have a positive impact. Think of it this way: if a vegan orders a salad without chicken at a restaurant, it is not a battle stance or a decree that no one should ever eat an animal product again. It is not an act of malice against those of us who do enjoy eating steak. It’s simply a plea that the restaurant accommodates their feelings as well. I sincerely doubt anyone believes the restaurant should refuse the request just because the chef put the salad on the menu intending that it comes with chicken. That would be absurd.

When someone calls on Ubisoft or any other publisher to create stories they can identify with, it’s not an indictment of all other beliefs or desires. Games are not novels or films that must decide upon a set hero and a set story. Games can often be designed to accommodate a great many different heroes and stories, RPGs especially, so that everyone can be happy and identify with characters that are like them. It’s certainly not wrong to ask for this and it’s even more certainly not wrong for the developer to answer those concerns with positive change. The artist’s design is not set in stone — it can and will change.

So I would ask you to remember that the idea of Assassin’s Creed or any other game deviating from the original design to be more accommodating will not lead to the destruction of everything you believe in. These loud calls for change are not made for the sake of fairness or even to force someone to think like someone else, nor will they force you to do something you're not comfortable with. These are real people making these requests. Some of them may even be struggling, and they may feel beaten down by a lack of representation. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t always understand and maybe you don't either — that's okay, but that doesn’t invalidate those feelings. Why should we not hope to make changes that have a positive impact on everyone? Why wouldn’t you?

Check out our Best Xbox Stealth Games Available in 2018 article for a compilation of other great games in this genre.
Kevin Tavore
Written by Kevin Tavore
Kevin is a lover of all types of media, especially any type of long form story. The American equivalent of Aristotle, he'll write about anything and everything and you'll usually see him as the purveyor of news, reviews and the occasional op-ed. He's happy with any game that's not point and click or puzzling, but would always rather be outdoors in nature.