Following the Creed: What we can learn from being an Assassin?

The ‘Assassin’s Creed’ franchise is filled with historical inaccuracies! Should that stop us from learning from them? No!

I remember when the first game was released and I thought to myself that this was going to be a big deal! As you may know I am a firm believer that the gaming industry can play a huge part in the education of it’s supporters. A game such as Assassin’s Creed is heavily laden with characters, events and places throughout history. So is it at all wrong to be championing the use of historically questionable games for the use of historical understanding? What Assassin’s Creed and other games like it tells us is that history is never stationary. The famous quote “History is written by the victors” has been thrown around a lot. According to Assassin’s Creed, the victors were these Assassins or a small Shi’ite sect more properly known as the Nizari Ismailis. Many people would take offence to this as they claim it being untrue….but what about that quote “History is written by the victors”? Who said that?

Here is a little test for you..type that quote into your search engine and see what happens. Have you done it? What has it revealed to you? What Assassin’s Creed and even this little experiment with the quote has taught us is that there is always room in history for conflicting opinions and historical debate. Can any information from the past be 100% accurate? We just can’t know because there are too many parameters at play. It’s those simple historian questions everyone must ask when researching: who is writing this?, when was it written?, why was it written? etc. etc.

Nicolas Trépanier, a history professor at the University of Mississippi, doesn’t think that Assassin’s Creed gets enough credit in this regard. He takes issue with the standard charge that games like Assassin’s Creed can’t properly educate their players since they’re often rife with historical inaccuracies.

Trépanier counters this by saying: yes, Assassin’s Creed isn’t necessarily “true” in the strictest sense of the word. But that doesn’t make it any less useful as an educational tool. If anything, erroneous details help to spur further investigation.

Here’s how he describes bringing Assassin’s Creed into the classroom:

Yes, “historical” video games are filled with inaccuracies. Yet more than a limitation, these inaccuracies can serve as a pretext for discussion. For example, what factors, beyond sheer ignorance, caused these inaccuracies in the first place? How do various cultural influences, such as the conventions of cinema, shape the way in which they present history? How do they relate to ethical and commercial considerations? It is rather striking to see how far, for example, the creators of the original Assassin’s Creedwent to remove any religious contents from a game inspired by a group that an earlier generation of historians presented as Islamic terrorists. Indeed, merely raising these questions often pushed classroom discussions toward the relationship between these inaccuracies and ongoing historiographical debates—for example, by looking at how scholars today criticize older scholarship on the Nizâris and by trying to identify the historians whose works might have guided the choices of game designers.

By the time he was done with the course, Trépanier went on to say, “the students had become keenly aware” of a core issue in studying and writing history: nothing is ever truly settled. One shouldn’t compare a video game to “real, ­objective history.” Rather, the player should measure the game’s veracity compared to “the constantly debated and sometimes contradictory outcome of historiographical research.”

“This seminar therefore ­succeeded,” Trépanier concluded, “more efficiently than most undergraduate courses, in bringing students closer to the work that historians do, not just as teachers, but also as scholarly researchers.”

In other words, Assassin’s Creed is the best kind of history book: one that doesn’t simply dole out facts and figures for the reader to memorize, but instead invites them into its world to poke and prod at the nuances of doubt and obscurity

So that’s about it. The Assassin’s Creed franchise, while flawed, is still a fantastic tool to use in the study of history. With the level of detail it has gone into in characters, events and the layout of cities, it should demand more praise from the education sector than it is currently receiving. Have you been to Florence or Venice? Honestly the game showed me more about these cities than I had seen in real life! The effort is truly amazing and long may it last. With the development of Assassin’s Creed Unity which takes place during the French Revolution and the announcement of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, set in Victorian England, the franchise is continuing on a path that is introducing more and more people to the history classrooms throughout the world, whatever mode that may be!

Remember readers


For an interesting read on the history behind Assassin’s Creed have a look at this blog

Here is an article on the “true” history of the Assassins

You may also want to watch this video


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