Assassin’s Creed and Historical Fidelity

What liberties should video games take with the historical record and who gets to decide? Or, as some of the people interviewed in “Are Video Games like Assassin’s Creed Rewriting History?” suggest, is there no meaningful historical record beyond the interpretations that we put forward?

A commonplace—“History is no longer a set of disputable, footnoted facts that lead slowly but inexorably to an authoritative version. It’s a set of facts surrounded by an even larger set of opinions and interpretations”—undergirds the next step, stated by Ubisoft’s Alex Hutchinson:

I think anyone who argues that history is objective or static is very confused…. I don’t think that there’s a single event that hasn’t gone through multiple interpretations or iterations in terms of what people believe even happened, let alone what was important about it, or what led up to it or what followed it

Rather than seeing this as license to do with the past as you will, I would like to see this as reinforcing the moral and ethical dimension of history. Earlier in article the authors points out

the proliferation of all media, especially the digital kind, has made it easier to propagate lies for political purposes: Think of the invented scandal of Barak Obama’s birth certificate or the “inside job” claims around 9/11 and the Newtown, Conn., shootings. Hence our collective nervousness about what’s supposed to be true, and who gets to say so.

That’s absolutely right. History is always political. That politics is perhaps less a question of lies and truths than a question of choices and goals. Why were particular events chosen as relevant? Which events were deemed insignificant, and why? What pieces of the historical record were considered evidence? Why were certain events, aspects, details, words, etc. placed in a series of other relevant events, perhaps implying a cause-and-effect relationship?

And what is the relationship between the form of representation—e.g., scholarly book or article, historical fiction, movie, novel, TV show, RPG or MMORPG game—and the standards to which that form should be held? For more on these questions, see Elly Truit’s Medieval Robots and her many posts on medievalisms.

(Thanks to my colleague Brett Mulligan for pointing out this article.)

One comment

  1. Michael Weiss says:

    Do you see differences in the historical obligations of novelists vs. script writers (movies and TV) vs. video game creators vs. graphic artists of all kinds?

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