Do Game Developers Think About This Stuff?

Over Spring Break, we played games in the Assassins Creed series by Ubisoft, specifically Freedom Cry and Liberation, and in our first class after break we delved into questions about race, gender, and identity that these games bring up. Assassins Creed: Freedom Cry and Liberation are the first games in the Assassins Creed franchise to feature a main character who is not a white male; Specifically Freedom Cry’s main character is a black male and former slave motivated by a desire for independence both for him and all slaves, while Liberation’s main character is a black female who uses various disguises like dressing as a slave, an assassin, or an elegant lady, to accomplish her missions.

In class, we examined the possible reasons why Ubisoft released Freedom Cry as a DLC (downloadable content) to Assassins Creed: Black Flag instead of as a game by itself, as the Haitian Revolution (the backdrop of Freedom Cry) surely is a historical event that could generate more than enough to create a game by itself. Overall, we came to the conclusion that Freedom Cry would not have appealed to as wide a variety of people as Black Flag would have, and therefore would not have sold as many copies if it were made as a stand-alone title. Black Flag, we reasoned, having a white male character and content that explores the golden age of piracy, would be more appealing to a wider range of gamers instead of a story about a former slave freeing and fighting for the independence of other slaves (Freedom Cry).

 

Next, we spoke briefly about the game that I personally played over break, Assassins Creed: Liberation, and the way in which the main character, which is a female, uses her clothing as a way to accomplish her missions. It is interesting that this is the only Assassins Creed game that employs this gameplay mechanic and is the only game in the franchise that features a female main character. Sure, in some pervious Assassins Creed games, like the beginning of Assassins Creed 3, there are brief scenes in which the assassin that you play as gets dressed in a disguise, but these moments are usually for specific scenes and are not a main gameplay mechanic. Is there a correlation between a female main character’s reliance on different outfits? Is Ubisoft making some kind of weird connection and commentary here? Also, we spoke in class about how the different outfits of Aveline de Grandpré (the main character) change her outward appearance and social status almost instantly; for example, when dressed as a slave guards are more suspicious of her and her notoriety would increase rapidly with any false movement, but when dressed as a elegant woman guards could be seduced by her and it was much more difficult to raise her notoriety. We then discussed as a class how clothes in this game, and more generally in paintings/sculptures, can be and are often a symbol of status and class.

Aveline’s different outfits (Elegant Woman, Assassin, Slave)

I am left wondering whether Ubiosoft thought about, or intended for us to thinking about, any of these facets of their games at all, or were they just trying to make money. If we believe that they just want to make money, then it would make sense that Freedom Cry is a DLC and not a full game, as Ubisoft is trying to appeal to the most people they could to increase the revenue that they generate. If we believe that they do not care about money and want us to analyze the game, then we are left wondering why they made Freedom Cry a DLC and not a full game. Perhaps because we are a class that analyzes video games in relation to narration and other academic/literary elements, we are supposed to overanalyze this game, like we would do in any other humanities class when examining an academic work. I just couldn’t help but think about this during our class discussion; are we just off on a tangent analyzing games while the developers happily take our money, or do they want their work to be deconstructed and analyzed? Perhaps we will never know. What is your opinion?

0 thoughts on “Do Game Developers Think About This Stuff?

  1. Small correction: Ratonhnhaké:ton (or Connor) is another person of color who starred in Assassin’s Creed III, which was released simultaneously with Assassin’s Creed Liberation.

    Game design is almost always more complex than “we wanted to make more money” though it intersects with that idea on every level, so it’s not very helpful to reduce the conversation to the dichotomy of doing it for the money versus “doing it for the art” or however we’d like to interpret that side of things.

    For what it’s worth in the particular case of Assassin’s Creed, there is active discussion of themes of history woven through the different games, and while we might consider the commentary of say, Assassin’s Creed III on the revolutionary war to be a bit heavy-handed, that doesn’t change the nature of the attempt at commentary.

    While we’re engaging in an academic discourse on the nature of the themes and ideas present in the game, the discussion of race, gender and the themes of videogames is definitely not one relegated solely to academia, and the idea that these things exist in a vacuum (academia) which doesn’t ever enter real life is just an anti-intellectual sentiment that is used as an aegis against criticism. It’s happened in pretty much every medium of entertainment you can think of. It isn’t right when you’re talking about novels, television or films, and it definitely isn’t right about videogames.

  2. I believe that in this case, it is crucial to recognize that Assassin’s Creed is one of the most successful video game franchises in history, thereby giving the creators a remarkable level of freedom to explore various types of games without concerns of economic failure. Due to the Assassin’s Creed’s legendary status, I feel very confident that it could release a new game set in Mars and it immediately sell very well solely because of its association with Assassin’s Creed.

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