Representation & the Status Quo: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
AVAST! Assassin’s Creed Spoilers abound me hearties.
So this happened.
And a small part of me died a little on the inside. Allow me to explain.
The Assassin’s Creed games have always been pretty cool. They mix two of my favorite things: History and creatively maiming my enemies. They’ve also usually managed to tell pretty compelling stories, especially recently. I have to say, as someone constantly offended by the lack of diverse character representations in games, I was quite excited about the new direction the games took with Assassin’s Creed 3. We follow Connor a MÃ©tis assassin who has to come to terms with both aspects of his heritage: his aboriginal background as well as the final conflict of the game with his father, a white European templar. The way in which Ubisoft presents this conflict as well as the Connor’s Mohawk culture is incredibly impressive. It’s easy to argue that Assassin’s Creed 3 has some of the best representations of any aboriginal group in gaming history.
This is a great leap forward for the franchise that started with AltaÃ¯r’s story during the Crusades and then moved on to Ezio during the Italian Renaissance. Ezio and the three games dedicated to his narrative indicated that Ubisoft had no trouble taking the time on attention-grabbing characters. By showcasing that they were willing to tell interesting and unique narratives not often the setting for games I had great hope for the future of the franchise. I had thought that AC3 was heralding a new age of inclusiveness for the series that could lead to greater opportunities for better representations for all groups.
And then this happened:
I have officially have earned the right to say: Seriously!?
I mean really? How do you go from THIS:
To that guy? Apparently the next hero of the Assassin’s Creed is Connor’s pirate-assassin grand-pappy, mentioned briefly in AC3. This will be the first occurrence in the series where the meat of the game takes place in a timeline further back than a historical period we’ve previously visited. Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrot!? But this brings me to the real beef I have with this whole thing.
Narratively Assassin’s Creed 3 allowed Ubisoft to take the series in whatever direction they wanted. At the close of AC3, Desmond dies, sacrificing himself to Juno, one of the Ones Who Came Before, godlike beings forgotten in the annals of time. Juno used his life force to protect the world from the fated Cataclysm brought on by the sun, which was the original destroyer of the Ones Who Came Before. It is heavily implied that Juno has scary ulterior motives and basically the game ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. Pretty much guaranteeing there will be another game, I mean really, Assassin’s Creed is a bit of AAA cash cow, what else did we expect? So at the end of AC3 a few things have happened: Desmond, who was starting to get boring, is now dead. Cool. The Cataclysm is now averted by a potentially psychotic, overpowered new enemy. Awesome. Up until this point the series has been leading up to the moment of the Cataclysm. It being reverted and Desmond being dead and all, this should mean that we no longer dive back into his ancestors histories. Now let’s get to the game that I feel Ubisoft has been leading us to since the introduction of her:
According to Assassin’s Creed lore, Desmond is the descendant of Adam, a magical ancient proto-human, which is part of the reason he has cool abilities like Eagle vision and can parkour like a boss (or at least his ancestors could and he gets the bleed through effects via animus). Point being, I’m making the assumption that Eve and her descendants probably have similar abilities. Given what we see of her and Adam parkouring up a mysterious tower in the unlockable Easter egg video “The Truth” with little to no problem.
So where are all the ladies? Think about it, all of these Assassin’s we’ve gotten to play throughout history would’ve had to of been birthed from a lady. Throughout the AC2 series there’s sprinkled mentioning of Eve and how Lucy, before getting shanked by Desmond, is not in fact Eve. That the real Eve is somewhere out there and must be found. For she is destined to be with Desmond. Eve’s descendant was not found in subsequent AC games but I held out hope which was finally answered by this fine lady here:
Yes Assassin’s Creed Liberation was a PSVita port but it was an AC game, with a female lead and I will take what I can get. In the game there was even a throwaway reference to Aveline likely finding ancestry in Eve. Cool cool cool. You can imagine my delight when at the end of AC3 Desmond dies and sets up the possibility of us stepping away from Desmond’s story (and Ubisoft making good on the build up I really hope I hadn’t fabricated in my head) and that there would be a female lead to take his place.
I fantasized of the possibility of the next game picking up where the last one left off, or even creating timeline parallels between Desmond and a female descendant of Eve. Could you imagine? This could be a woman working with an equally charming team of Assassin’s like Desmond did in later games. Or she’s been taken by another cell of Abstergo and have to find a means of escape without losing her sanity to the Animus. This would also allow the developers to pick whole new settings, perhaps even further back in the Assassin’s history, following the trials of Eve’s descendants as they try and stop the templar threat. Perhaps in Ancient China or India. Heck, I’d have even been pleased with a French Revolution setting with more froo-froo dresses and cake then you can shake a stick at. Instead we get this guy:
And my dreams are crushed. The thing that sticks me the most though is the addition of the numeral to the title. It’s not just Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag (as in the vein of Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood). It’s Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag. The adding of a numeral gives this game greater weight within the series canon and is not just the continuation of a single characters’ (Connor’s) story. Instead of being a one off, we go further back in history, after Desmond is already dead to analyze further the story of a white man whose greatest accomplishment so far as I know was to be an assassin pirate (which is reminiscent of a 12 year old writing self insert fanfics) and having a son who became a templar.
It should be worth noting that one of the coolest and most successful pirates in history is a lady named Ching Shih. She’s a former prostitute who married a pirate lord and took over his empire after he died only to expand it. She was so successful that she and her pirate empire got into skirmishes with the British Fleet and won. Eventually she went to the Chinese Emperor and negotiated amnesty for her crew, despite all her success’ at stealing all the pirate booty. Best of all she respected her fellow woman, decreeing that any man in her crew who chose to have sex with a woman in port was deigned to marry that woman. This challenged beliefs of the fathers role in child rearing at the time. Could you imagine being able to take on the role of a character like her? That would be so dang cool.
So why tell Edward Kenways story? Until I’m proven otherwise, I’m guess it’s probably because the seafaring portion of AC3 was the most popular and well received part of the gameplay. Also Assassin Pirates sounds like a drunk guy’s poor attempt at synthesizing his Halloween costumes, which sounds like a market just ripe for the taking. But who knows, I could be proven wrong. But until such time that we find out that despite going back down the boring rabbit hole that is Desmond, the story of Edward Kenway does not thrill me. Unless by some miracle the person dropping into the Animus to tell his story is actually a female Assassin, which will give us all kinds of a really cool Transgendered dynamic, I remain unconvinced.
Lesson learned; don’t speculate too hard on the hope for the future of a woman leading a flagship AAA title. It’ll only lead to disappointment.