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Assassin's Creed III
Assassin's Creed III

Are video games like Assassin’s Creed rewriting history? Add to ...

Hence this violent game starring a handsome, blade-wielding, wilderness-roaming, semi-Mohawk assassin with a sometime girlfriend: The feminine appeal is reminiscent of the Twilight series.

“I think it’s getting harder and harder to say, ‘This is a gamer,’ ” says Corey May, AC III’s writer – who first rode an Atari joystick at the age of 2, and sees his niece doing the same today at that age with an iPad. “People are consuming games in different ways.”

Gaming has become so mainstream that in House of Cards, Netflix’s much-hyped new political drama series, Kevin Spacey plays a middle-aged member of Congress who winds down at day’s end with a controller.

To see this evolution at its most developed, you need only return to the neat, cultured, cat- and Noguchi-lamp-strewn apartment of Ms. Dolmage and Mr. Brownlie.

Mr. Brownlie, a long-time fan of first-person-shooter games, hasn’t played a single 10-minute segment of his favourite – the ultraviolent Call of Duty – since the schoolhouse massacre in Connecticut in December. “I feel uncomfortable,” he says. “Owning that particular game makes me feel uncomfortable about something in myself.”

Instead, he is playing the less violent and more immersive AC III with Ms. Dolmage – who often chooses not to kill opponents in the game on ethical grounds. The couple compares the streetscapes to what they saw on their last trip to Boston, and discuss the thematic resonance of a fictional Mohawk assassin scaling 3-D versions of Manhattan skyscrapers built in real life by actual Mohawk ironworkers.

They aren’t bothered by the statistical unlikelihood of Connor: Erin is studying Métis culture, and knows there are always exceptions to historical generalities. Besides, she adds, “it’s problematic to suggest that all Mohawks thought the same way. If you are Mohawk, this is one of the few games that is about you.”

These days, she’s also playing Skyrim, a gorgeous quester; Journey, an emotional, non-linear, non-fighting game that encourages co-operation with strangers; and BioShock – “the most beautiful game I’ve ever played. It’s a critique of Ayn Rand.”

She thinks “the challenge to make games more inclusive is coming from the left, from women, from marginalized people.”

“And the pushback,” Mr. Brownlie adds, “makes some people – basically, some young men – angry.”

These patterns are common with any new cultural form. As Ms. Dolmage points out, when novels first appeared, they were labelled as being for women, and considered ungainly, romantic, sentimental affairs. Eventually, writers such as Jane Austen made them more sophisticated, they gained prestige and status – and more men started reading them.

Movies started out as “lowbrow” entertainment, then gradually became universal. And games, too, are evolving.

In the future, first-person shooters might be seen as the gaming equivalent of Clarissa and Pamela – fare for hysterical young men. “Games are becoming more sophisticated,” Mr. Brownlie concludes. “They’re making you do more, and think more.”

Ms. Dolmage appends a final thought as the afternoon winds down: “It’s interesting to think about what games like this, that claim to be historically accurate, mean for the authority of historians,” she says. “Mark and I both work … on groups that are typically not written about. As soon as you change the perspective of what you’re writing about, and whose perspective you’re writing from, history is going to change.”

The same can be said of the perspective from which you game. More than a century before Ubisoft appropriated the story of the legendary medieval hashashin for its Assassin’s Creed franchise, philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche admired them. He thought the assassins were history’s only truly free men. He admired their motto: “Nothing is true, everything is permitted.”

Nowadays, more and more people are taking it to heart.


Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the website Jon Ore writes for as Dorkshow. The name of the website is Dork Shelf. This version has been corrected.

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