Assassin’s Creed 3 Pro-American Controversy
Ubisoft Marketing A Storm in a Boston Tea-Cup?
by David Hilton and Nicholas Laborde
© 2012 David Hilton and Nicholas Laborde
OXCGN is contributed to by a multicultural team of various nationalities and religious faiths and beliefs
The following is a debate between two hard-nosed Assassin’s Creed fans and students of history: Canadian-born Australian OXCGN Editor In Chief David Hilton takes on proud American OXCGN 2IC Nicholas Laborde.
The ever controversial lack of ‘Americans’ getting killed by new assassin Connor in all the Assassin’s Creed 3 trailers and footage shown by Ubisoft.
As both participants are engaging in a debate, they may be exaggerating their true opinions.
We will be dealing with contentious historical perspectives, so if you are easily offended by this sort of debate, better turn away now. Offence is not intended.
Assassin’s Creed III: The “Patriots”
David: Let’s start by being accurate here.
Ubisoft are quick to point out that all citizens of America (or the 13 Colonies as they were known) were British, so in actual fact there are no Americans to kill.
You buying that approach?
Nicholas: I think everyone complaining that the game is pro-American needs to take a chill pill and learn to stop getting on their soapboxes whenever America is involved in anything.
Much of the recent attacks on this matter came from the 4th of July trailer.
When you look at it from a logical perspective, there’s nothing wrong with showing nothing but British deaths in that trailer.
Other trailers showed American deaths.
Look at it from a history perspective: there were both good and bad guys on both sides, but far more on the British side.
Can you name any single “American” of that day besides Benedict Arnold that you’d be going after?
Connor operates in a gray zone, not supporting or condoning either side. It’s much easier to get targets in an oppressive empire than a fledgling colony of rebels.
David: I can’t say I remember too many ‘American’ deaths in any trailers. I’ll need my memory refreshed there. Even play-throughs from E3 only show British Redcoat deaths.
I take your point about the whole July 4 thing being about the birth of a nation which rebelled against an empire.
That the trailer shows Connor being a freedom fighter there makes sense. But that appears to be all he is: a freedom fighter for the ‘oppressed’ colonists.
We don’t really get the feel that this is the Assassins against the Templars here. Even the powerful live-action international trailer released for overseas audiences is all about explaining why the British colonists rebelled, becoming Americans, and portraying the British overseers as evil.
Where’s the balance? You talk about the oppressive British Empire. It can easily be argued that the colonist who wanted to rebel were doing so not so much out of being oppressed but because they were very self-interested and didn’t like the restrictions of rules.
For example, from my understanding, and it’s been awhile since I studied this, the British had deals with the native population over the Appalachian mountains that there would be limits to the colonists’ expansion West.
Many of the colonists, wanting to grab more land and opportunity, didn’t give a fig about the native population who they didn’t think owned the land properly anyway because they tended to be nomadic, not agricultural and therefore settled.
Part of their desire to ‘shed the shackles’ was in fact motivated by a good old land grab at the expense of the aboriginal peoples.
We all know the long-term results of the colonists winning against the British: the virtual destruction of a people and way of life as settlers took their ‘Manifest Destiny’ to grab whatever land they could out West.
In short: I’m sure there were many Patriots (Americans) who were only about their own self-interest and not about some lofty notion of freedom.
Avarice, self-interest at others’ expense, and other usual human qualities would have been at work, even if history has been re-written to make everyone look heroic. Plenty of scope for Templars at work there, among the colonists, for Connor to assassinate.
Yet the safe option is to follow films and portray the British, with some small exceptions, as bad guys, because they were mighty, had cool uniforms, had a King, and dared to tax colonists as subjects of the crown.
That’s not balance. I believe the finished product of Assassin’s Creed 3 won’t be so biased, but the promotion for the game so far has.
And I’m not just talking about the July 4 trailers, which, as you say, have context. I’m talking about the fact that we’ve not seen any colonists on the Patriot (American) side be assassinated by Connor.
Assassin’s Creed III: July 4th Trailer
Is this because Ubisoft are concerned that they will start a storm if an American patriot is seen in a bad light early on in trailers and gameplay?
After all, the Creative Director of the game is Australian and Ubisoft Montreal is Canadian. Perhaps they are being a bit ‘safe’ right now?
Or are they concerned that overly sensitive Americans “can’t handle the truth”? Is it just easier to kill off those in the losing side, the side that is already portrayed as negative in the wider media?
Nicholas: It’s irrelevant to say that Americans couldn’t “handle” Americans being killed.
The Supreme Court ruled last year that video games are First Amendment-protected free speech, and therefore we can openly have a game where we kill Americans. That’s not to say the likes of Fox News wouldn’t jump on it solely for that subject matter.
My central point is this: people are far too quick to say “You Americans are so full of propaganda! Tell the real story!”
Now, if this game were the French against the British, all of the Brits would be saying that we can’t have French soldiers killing British soldiers. It’s a matter of history between the nations.
Combine that with the worldwide disdain of Americans, and you have a wonderful melting pot of a game that allows for everyone to gang up on America.
I’m not defending the colonists: they were whiny (dare I say entitled?) people who overreacted and looked for someone to blame. But at the same time, I’m not saying that the portrayal is wrong or right.
At the same time, why must we glorify the British? Try looking up imperialism in Africa (see: Heart of Darkness) and tell me that they never made any mistakes.
The entire context is looked at through a lens. If people would move the lens away, we wouldn’t be having this argument. And no, this isn’t a discussion, David; you’re my boss, and therefore it is an argument.
David: Belligerent Yank!
So now I’m an Imperialist bastard that you are rebelling against! Where is my Redcoat army? I want a cool uniform!
Your points about how America is viewed with disdain around the world would lead me off topic, but the attitudes of suspicion towards centralised authority and the need to have the rights of the individual paramount actually do come from the War of Independence.
“Rights” has become a big word in American culture. Manifest Destiny was the self-serving statement of America’s ‘right’ after the War of Independence to expand wherever it wanted to: be it out West, or into Mexico or Canada (War of 1812).
Assassin’s Creed III: International July 4 Live-Action RISE Trailer
Back to Assassin’s Creed 3 and there were plenty of individuals acting out ‘immoral’ agendas. Not everything is black and white.
We all know that history is a story told by the victors. Here is an alternative view of some heroic ‘American’ individuals who could have been villains in another version of the tale:
George Washington is reported to have illegally accumulate more than 20,000 acres of land originally set aside for his enlisted men by 1773. That’s not heroic, it’s stealing from his men.
John Hancock is reported to have been the biggest smuggler in Boston and would have been a big opponent of import taxes. That’s not selfless, that’s self-serving.
Henry Laurens was the biggest slave trader in Charleston, and Ben Franklin did his best to continue the land grabs and oppose the British proclamation that Native Indian property west of the Appalachians was off-limits to colonials. That’s not moral, that’s immoral.
The point I am trying to make is not that Americans or British should be the heroes or villains here. The point I’m making is that the game trailers and footage shown so far do not show what they said this game or previous games have been about: conflict between the Assassins and Templars on both sides.
There is plenty of scope to show some colonists as major villains here as well. But so far, only the British are the visible villains.
Nicholas: I fail to see that as a valid argument. In the original gameplay trailer, you can see Connor discussing how he doesn’t care about which side he kills, with a dead American at around 0:45.
In nearly every trailer, you see Americans dying from explosions.
Are you saying that because we don’t see our main character physically taking the life of an American, that the game is sending pro-American vibes?
You’re admitting that you want to see Americans die, not because of historical accuracy or bias, but because it doesn’t happen often.
David: Actually that’s exactly what I’m saying: we don’t see Connor kill any colonials himself. Yet he kills huge numbers of British in all the trailers and in-game footage.
It’s not about ‘wanting to see Americans die’.
It’s about wanting to see Connor balanced, fighting for what might be considered the ‘true’ good. To be seen to be fighting against those groups or individuals on both sides that would cause human suffering.
Basically what I want to see Connor be is a hero beyond the histories of either side: he will take out anyone on any side who is causing suffering.
The problem is, how can they do that when he has to be able to kill lots of soldiers caught in his way? There suddenly needs to be a ‘side’ to fight to justify the deaths of all those redcoats, who may just be there as part of their duty.
So on the one hand Ubisoft is saying: Connor doesn’t take sides, he’s on the side of true justice, and on the other they are not showing any footage beyond British targets and British soldiers being caught in his way.
Not only that, but look at the cover art for the game or the Limited Edition statue, that is ironically being released in the U.K. and Australia, but not the U.S., with a great big American flag draped behind Connor.
A more balanced vision of the game would portray him killing colonial slave traders or smugglers as well.
Since he is half Mohawk, we would see him fight colonial land-grabbers and murderers. He would target someone like Henry Laurens, even if he has to fail because that person was never assassinated in history.
But we don’t see that.
In conclusion, my opinion is that all the videos we see so far do not match the vision of Assassins versus Templars, or demonstrate very well that Connor is not taking sides.
The truth of the game may be different, but the marketing is biased.
To be clear though, even if the videos all look biased so far, the game itself looks fantastic and I don’t mind putting myself in the position of fighting Redcoats. I’m just pointing out the fact that the vision is not matching the statements made, so far.
Nicholas: I understand your stance, but the problem here is believing video game marketing in general.
Have you ever listened to Peter Molyneux or Todd Howard?!
I rest my case.
In a community interview on Kotaku, Assassin’s Creed 3 Creative Director Alex Hutchinson puts all fears of there being an overly pro-American bias to bed with this statement:
I won’t give a name because it will spoil some twists and turns in the story, and in fact, we have yet to show a real assassination target in any of our footage or trailers! Rest assured, that both patriots and loyalists will feel the steely edge of your blade, and that if you really think about it, until the revolution is finished… everyone is British. It’s a colony!! Enjoy your tea.