Gaming, Inclusivity and Condemning History – by Amanda S. Green
Anyone who is familiar with video games knows there’s been a movement for the last few years by major developers to be more “inclusive”. That inclusivity appears in a number of different ways: disclaimers at the beginning of a game touting how the game was developed by people of all different races, religions, creeds and sexual orientations; additions of non-heterosexual romantic plots and characters, both playable and non-playable. We’ve seen outrage when those characters aren’t given large enough roles or when the main character isn’t customizable enough to meet every single player’s demands. Amid all this, all too often we lose quality. It may be quality of design (yes, I’m looking at you Bioware and your debacle that was Mass Effect: Andromeda) or quality of story (Ubisoft and some of the Assassin’s Creed games). But what really started me thinking about this was Ubisoft’s latest game – Assassin’s Creed: Origins.
For years, Ubisoft has opened every Assassin’s Creed game with a disclaimer. Here is the first disclaimer:
Inspired by historical events and characters.
This work of fiction was designed, developed and produced by a multicultural team of various religious faiths and beliefs.
Nothing wrong there. I’m not sure it’s really necessary except to virtue signal. However, it wasn’t enough to bother me.
Along about 2015 or so, the disclaimer changed.
Inspired by historical events and characters, this work of fiction was designed, developed and produced by a multicultural team of various beliefs, sexual orientations and gender identities.
This change occurred in the disclaimer for Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, the first of the AC games to include a transgender NPC. Why did it occur? For no reason I can see except to silence – er, satisfy – a small but very vocal segment of the gaming community. Honestly, most gamers don’t give a flying frig what religion, sex, or gender belief the people are who design the games we play. What we want are well-designed games with plots (or at least effects) that will keep us engaged. That is especially true for games like Mass Effect or Assassin’s Creed.
Does having this disclaimer at the beginning of the game “ruin” it? No. But it does remind me every time I fire up the game that the company is busy virtue signaling and it makes me on a subconscious level start looking for that signaling within the game. In other words, it is a distraction, one that doesn’t have to be there.
Where this virtue signaling did become too much in your face to ignore is with the Discovery Tour Ubisoft released for Assassin’s Creed: Origins not long ago. The tour is a big departure from the game. It is exactly what it says – a tour. There’s no fighting, no arguing and no interaction with other characters. You choose one of a number of characters, some of them playable characters from the main game and others NPCs from the game. Then you tour Egypt. Along the way, you interact with your surroundings and hear short “lessons” about what you’re seeing. Think about it as being similar to a guided tour of a museum exhibit. There is a lot of interesting information, including info about mummies and the pyramids, life in that time, etc.
However, Ubisoft takes liberties with history as well. You see it at the very beginning of the tour. Nude statues from the main game now have “the naughty bits” covered with shells or other items. That seemed odd in a game that’s rated “M”, especially since there are nude statues in the main game. So why did they do it? The explanation, and one I find more than a bit odd, is so the tour could be used for “educational purposes”.
Picture it. Little Johnny comes home from school and, as he eats his afterschool snack, Mom asks what he studied in school that day.
“We learned about mummies and the pyramids, Mommy.”
“That’s nice, Johnny. Did you get to see a movie about it?”
“Yep. It was a really good movie too, Mommy. We got to see them take the brain out of a person so they could become a mummy and we got to see the inside of the pyramids.” Johnny pauses and eats a bit more of his snack. “Mommy, did you know Cleopatra married her brother? Does that mean you can marry Uncle Tommy?”
That choking sound you hear is Johnny’s mom trying to figure out how to answer that question. Then the conversation continues until Johnny’s mom asks the name of the movie they were watching and he tells her it was Assassin’s Creed: Origins.
Riiiight. No problem there.
But there is something else that bothered me about the Discovery Tour beyond the covering up of the statues and it goes hand-in-hand with their “education” explanation. There are several times, iirc, in the tour where the narrator pauses the historical description of the place or event to note that the game designers have taken the liberty of deviating from history to basically avoid perpetuating something (like segregated classes based on sex) that isn’t acceptable today.
But they want the tour to be used for education purposes.
Can you say “indoctrination”?
This smacks of trying to erase the Civil War from history because of slavery. How many monuments have been removed or parks, streets and buildings renamed because they were named after someone who fought on the “wrong side” of the conflict? In Dallas, we’re facing that issue right now. There are those who don’t care what other accomplishments someone might have made in their lives or how they might have helped the community after the Civil War. The mere fact they supported the CSA is reason enough to relegate them to backrooms and to remove them from the city history.
This whitewashing, if you’ll pardon the term, of what life was really like in ancient Egypt serves much the same purpose. I find it ironic at a time when there is a growing movement to have classes once again segregated by sex to avoid certain distractions that a major game developer sees it necessary to point out how wrong it was for the Egyptians at the time of Cleopatra to do the same.
The fact it is not the appropriate medium to do so doesn’t seem to matter to Ubisoft either. I can’t speak for anyone else but when my son was the age of those youngsters this “lesson” is aimed at, I didn’t let him play games rated “M”. Even so, I was already teaching him not only how to be a gentleman but how to respect women. By the time he was old enough to play those games, the lessons were already well-learned. So, assuming I’m not the only parent raising children that way, what is Ubisoft’s motivation?
The answer is really very simple. It is trying to show how inclusive and “enlightened” it is to stop the complaints from a small but vocal group. Fortunately for the company, Assassin’s Creed: Origins is a good game, a really good game on the whole. But there should be no place in it for narrator intrusion such as there is in the Discovery Tour. That, to me, was like watching a show and suddenly having a character – or member of the orchestra – stand up and lecture on why something that is happening on stage is wrong by today’s standard. It throws me out of the narrative and makes me wonder if I dare continue watching.
I game to unwind and have fun. I don’t game to be lectured to or to have history rewritten because something about it is now “inconvenient”. If it doesn’t have anything to do with the plot of the game, don’t do it.
Hmm, sort of like how I like my movies and my books.
In other words, if you feel the need to preach, be subtle about it. If you are heavy-handed enough to throw me out of the narrative, you will find me second-guessing if I need to buy that next bit of DLC or that next game.