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Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla and the Unfortunate Implications (acoup.blog)
352 points by parsecs 13 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 302 comments





The most relevant point of this article is not about historical accuracy, but on the contradiction of claiming cultural sensitivity by including gender and origin diversity while totally missing the point on deeper issues.

I've grown up in a period when pop culture didn't care much about cultural sensitivity. With proper education anyone can compensate and treat them as pure simplistic fiction, but I do think that those new debates, if nuanced and not reduced to representation, could bring quality to pop culture items.

Particularly in the video game industry, and this company, that have proven to have flawed IRL corporate cultures.


> I've grown up in a period when pop culture didn't care much about cultural sensitivity.

I don't think such a period ever existed. Hollywood had the Hays code, comics had the comic code etc. Popular culture always have to navigate the hangups and sensitivities of society.

It is possible that these concerns were invisible to you because they corresponded to your own values. When they change because society changes, you suddenly notice them.


It is a valid point that there has always been cultural codes and that I'm probably more sensitive to changes that I've seen in my lifetime. And thanks for pointing Hays code. I've dug into some history of censorship and morality in US cinema.

However, by cultural sensitivity I refer to something beyond codes. Nothing that this article points out is particularly illegal, immoral or even shocking. Yet, probably due to cultural globalisation, social media, and the polarisation of the debate in the US on certain social issue, I am under the impression that this kind of clumsiness is more likely to be noticed.


> I don't think such a period ever existed.

Probably not in the US, no. Then again, the world is comprised of many other locations and cultures. Even in the West, I'd say mainly predominantly protestant countries (among which the anglosphere as a whole) tend towards political correctness.


Where did this exist outside of the US? I'm a Chinese person and you can see all the way in our long and well-documented history that literature has always expressed notions of class, culture, gender roles, and clearly knew what audience it was being distributed to and considered appropriately. The language of scholarly text expected to only be read by other scholars vs the scholarly text expected to be disseminated widely are very different.

"Political correctness" is just what you call it when you notice it. You probably don't think of it as political correctness when there are no black cowboys, but that is just political correctness of another time.

A lack of representation isn't the same as political correctness in my book. Political correctness to me is the cultural elite's group-think, mainly in terms of moral judgements. Nothing about that group-think says it's taboo to have black cowboys, per se.

It sounds like you're using it more like a Zeitgeist?


I was referring to how political correctness changes over time. The Hays code was the political correctness of its time. Western movies with only white cowboys were political correct in their time. It is just the term "political correctness" that is new, not the concept.

You can call it "group-think" or you can call it "cultural values".

I was responding to the suggestion that there was a time and place without "political correctness". I dispute that. Every time and place have some ideas of what is and isn't morally acceptable. But if you are born into it, it may be invisible. The majority of the audience at the time did not wonder why there were so few black cowboys in movies. But they noticed it when more black cowboys started to appear.


> I've grown up in a period when pop culture didn't care much about cultural sensitivity.

Same, and as unpopular it may be, i firmly believe it's kind of better to not care. Because the opposite is precisely what happens here, which is caring only about a specific set of 'aspects' that are currently fashionable in the society, while failing to cover for the large majority of inequalities that are not "visible".

It's the exact same than positive discrimination, you end up only caring about women or color people in the name of "equal opportunity" and no one care anymore about economic inequalities that are largely the main factor of inequality at birth. In the end it's still the same rich people from the same parents but they just look more diverse, and no one care of young people from trailer parks & getthos.

I don't blame prejudiced people fighting agaisnt their prejudices tho, imo it's more a consequence lazy politics and politician trying to get votes instead of taking on more complex and deeper problems.


Quoting the article:

>Does all of that matter? Yes, I think it does. As I have argued here many times, fiction is often how the public conceptualizes the past and that concept of the past shapes the decisions we make in the present. Is one video game going to lead to a return to colonialist thinking? Of course not. But a culture in which such sanitized narratives are common is a culture far more willing to make those decisions; these stories matter in the aggregate. And so it is incumbent on designers and developers to construct their stories and their worlds with care, especially when they are set in the very real past.


>> I've grown up in a period when pop culture didn't care much about cultural sensitivity.

>Same, and as unpopular it may be, i firmly believe it's kind of better to not care.

As a white dude, I've found that "not caring about it" means "only white male characters are allowed"

I've noticed that folks who "don't care about it" actually care A LARGE AMOUNT, A VERY VERY LARGE AMOUNT, when a non-male or non-white protagonist is the only option. And heaven forbid we not let you play a straight character...

Just saying, in my experience, "don't care about it" is literally identical to "marginalize everyone but me", as that's our history.


> when a non-male or non-white protagonist is the only option

There’s a difference between a racist or sexist reaction (anger about a character’s race or sex) and anger that the studio picked the character’s race or sex as a nod to their own identity politics (or perhaps kowtowing to the broader identity politics that are so fashionable these days). It’s the same difference between racism and equality. It’s hard to tell from your comment whether you object to the racist reaction or the egalitarian reaction or both, but at least in my opinion the racist reaction is very uncommon.

> Just saying, in my experience, "don't care about it" is literally identical to "marginalize everyone but me", as that's our history.

That’s not our history though; our history was literally “marginalize blacks, women, native americans, italians, irish, eastern europeans, asians, etc”. We have made remarkable progress toward equality, and that’s due to egalitarianism—teaching people that superficial characteristics oughtn’t matter—not merely a different identity hierarchy. “Not caring about it” is precisely the key innovation and the catalyst for so much progress.


As another white dude, I call BS. The world has changed. Even in the backwards semi-rural area where I live there is enough diversity to beat it into my head that "people are just people". Let alone connecting to the internet, where you have no idea what another commenter looks like. So, it boggles my mind that people still care about this so much. It's self evident to me that people need to be treated based on what they do or say and not oddities of their genetic structures. I tend to think that if people stopped pointing out those differences, the problem would eventually grow much smaller. Some people are always going to not like each other for trivial reasons at some level, but why point out such differences to them?

Its not really true.. 99% people will not care if you play a black guy or woman.

People made the same argument about women representation in video games but hey have you heard of "tomb raider" ?

There's other: "Urban chaos" with a black female, some character of unreal tournament were poc...

Most people dont care and when they do they find diversity cool. The point is that as a political fight its useless and may actually be on the side of harmful for society.


Not sure why you’re being downvoted because you have a point. Remember the controversy that ensued when a black girl was cast as Rue in the Hunger Games movie?

https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/white-until-prov...


But controversy on the internet doesnt represent any reality. Like at ALL.

Get off the internet forums


That sexuality of a character in a game is even known is problematic; this implies the sexuality is being acted on. I wish developers would stop exploiting the four Fs to induce us to buy, and sadly my minimal consumption of video games is only a splash against the tide.

I don't think there's anything wrong with a video game character being gay, straight, or otherwise. for the most part, I do think video game romances are incredibly poorly done. I have not yet played a game where the romantic/sexual tension was not intensely cringey. we are still deep in the uncanny valley here. usually it's a fully optional side arc (eg, mass effect), so I can't say it's much of a problem in practice.

Baldur's Gate 2 ? Though not having fully animated 3D models (so you have to imagine it) probably helped a lot !

Some (many/most?) rp-games do not fix sexuality, allowing to choose any option available at playtime. The earliest that I remember is fallout 2 where you can play both guy and girl and marry/engage with both.

But it's unclear why you see that "sexuality being acted on" is problematic. It depends and is very situational, imo.


It also undermined the ideal of people being treated fairly. Some HR departments currently fail to uphold these basic tenets in my opinion.

I am aware that ideals aren't enough for policies. Example is accessibility. Everyone who hasn't a bad day right now is for it, but can you make sure you always hold up to your own expectations? Probably not, so there is a need for mechanisms that ensure that.

But the impetus to "positively" discriminate in HR actually stems from a feeling of superiority that isn't warranted at all. And it is also lacking elegance and understanding and I don't even have high expectations. I just don't work with them.


Sorry, but you're just not looking for it. I'm personally a part of many social circles that talk about discrimination and diversity from Marxist lenses and it seems to be exactly what you're talking about. The people tweeting about More Female CEOs might be the majority in the US but fortunately they're far from the only group that talks about these issues.

I’m the opposite of a Marxist but they get class critique correct as the major difference between people. A privileged white male who went to private school and the Ivy League has tons in common with a privileged black woman who went to private school and the Ivy League than he does to a poor white man in a rural area. Celebrating success based on identity means a lot less through the class prism.

I personally don't think it means less, it just leads to different conclusions. While I still see class as the predominant factor, I still believe everyone would benefit from seeing "different" people in more spaces, regardless of class. For example, a rich black man still has things to add that a white man doesn't, for example, simply because of how being black influenced their own experiences which in turn mold the person they are now.

So someone black is just different enough to admitted to these spaces, but someone poor isn't?

Economic apartheid isn't just endemic in the US, it's a core value and seen as a positive thing.

And gender/race identity politics are not a serious threat to it.

Because it means corporations can carry on being corporations as long as they have a couple of privileged middle class women in the boardroom.

It's an improvement of sorts, but only in a very limited way. Time and time again in the US we've seen this does nothing to alter the predatory values that make corporations so toxic.

Ultimately it's not about tribal identity at all. It isn't even about class.

It's about values. Is your culture driven by generosity, maturity, open-mindedness, and curiosity, or is it motivated by greed, narcissism, selfishness, competitive snobbery, and naive tribal identification which is relentlessly hostile to out groups?

Identity politics without value politics is a superficial band-aid which can't fix the political and economic hemorrhaging caused by the unaddressed underlying condition.


> So someone black is just different enough to admitted to these spaces, but someone poor isn't?

Yes they are. I'm not sure where you got the idea that I was arguing against that, but to be clear I'm advocating for "identity politics" complimenting the class struggle, not the two being mutually exclusive.


> I've grown up in a period when pop culture didn't care much about cultural sensitivity.

I wonder when that was, cause pop culture has always cared about that in one way or another. I believe you are projecting.

> The most relevant point of this article is not about historical accuracy, but on the contradiction of claiming cultural sensitivity by including gender and origin diversity while totally missing the point on deeper issues.

I can't summarize this fantastic write-up, but either way, here goes...

The author goes to great lengths about how in said game the Scandinavian culture is only shown in a positive light (with the bad such as slavery and rites being avoided), whereas the Christian religion is deliberately put into a bad light. That is what the article is mainly about. Example: Christianity is shown as intolerant and hegemonic, Scandinavian the intolerance and hegemony is avoided at all costs. Slavery? Pillaging? Apparently non-existent; instead the Scandinavians colonized Saxon ground, and never took slaves, never raped women, never pillaged or set anything a-fire. Furthermore, Norse culture was very patriarchal, this game shows nothing of that either.

The gender/origin issue is minor in comparison, both in coverage as well as in how relevant the author finds it. Gender a subset of the lack of showing the patriarchy in Scandinavian culture. Origin is a bit odd, as the trade route with North-Africa is more accessible than the one to Eastern Europe and Asia whereas the races shown do not reflect this. It is you who finds the gender/origin issue 'the most relevant'; not the author, nor did the author ever imply such.

A fantasy world can be based on real history as we know it (consider, for example, the Nordic theme in World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King, or the Norsca and Warriors of Chaos in Total War: Warhammer II). If it is then inaccurate, we're OK with that, we see it as artistic freedom. This game tries to base itself directly on history. Big difference!

The author also literally claims the following:

> [...] And to be clear, that is not empowering feminism so much as virtue viewed from a society (like the Romans) which blithely assumed that men were better; it is misogyny masquerading as empowerment. And of course the game indulges in this too, as noted above.

The author does not, at all, appear to agree with your take on the matter.

The author's final chapter is titled: "Conclusion: A Love Letter to Colonialism" which again isn't your take on the matter.

As a side note, what I find funny, is that in a certain music genre, Scandinavian culture is idolized as well: metal music. Certain metal bands, such as for example Amon Amarth, exercise this practice. Coincidentally, the music is also going against the Christian religious dominance. I believe the game is made with such 'counter-culture' in mind; as the deeply religious Christians would not opt to play a Scandinavian religious person. I admit, pure speculation from my side.


> I wonder when that was, cause pop culture has always cared about that in one way or another. I believe you are projecting.

I see people pining for this forgotten past time a lot, and it makes me realize that none of them remember or think the same way of things like the satanic panic, moral majority, etc, let alone remember the times when people got offended over the mere suggestion of an interracial couple or a woman who didn't want to be a housewife. Oh the scandals that would occur if basically any program run today were to be broadcast then. They don't remember the Television Code or the CCA, nor did they grow up on a diet of classic Hays-code era films, dripping in extreme sensitivity.


I think that the complaint is that the goalposts have moved when they should have expanded (isn't creating a broader range of what's acceptable the point of "diversity" and similar goals?).

In those days you couldn't have (on your professionally produced, mainstream, mass market TV show) a woman who didn't want to be a housewife as a main character on your show unless that was portrayed negatively or being used for comedy. These days you can't have a woman who wants to be a housewife as a main character on your show unless that's being portrayed negatively or being poked fun at.

Por qué no los todos?


> These days you can't have a woman who wants to be a housewife on your show unless that's being portrayed negatively or being poked fun at.

Is that really true though? If you mean that you can't have a houswife as a character on your show that very obviously isn't true. If you mean you can't make a show where a character aspires to be a housewife, I'm not sure I understand what the narrative purpose of such a story would be. Becoming a housewife isn't really an aspirational achievement in the way having a prestigious career is, and I don't think it's a story many are really interested in, nor one that would be easy to tell in a manner that doesn't seem forced. There is certainly a lot of media (both in the past and today) where a woman aspires to romance or marry someone, and domestic fantasy is a common element in those, but that isn't really specific to becoming a housewife, and the romance is the key aspiration in those.

It also doesn't help that maintaining a family on a single income is not economically viable for most people anymore. People want stories that relate to their own fantasies.


> If you mean you can't make a show where a character aspires to be a housewife, I'm not sure I understand what the narrative purpose of such a story would be. Becoming a housewife isn't really an aspirational achievement in the way having a prestigious career is, and I don't think it's a story many are really interested in, nor one that would be easy to tell in a manner that doesn't seem forced.

This is not a true statement for many folks out there, and there are plenty of people who can relate to stories of being in the home. I think the best answer is broadening the things that are acceptable to aspire to, not opening one door while simultaneously locking another.


Lots of people relate to stories about domesticity, and about being a housewife, but the actual process of becoming one fundamentally doesn't centre aspiring to be one. The work one puts into becoming a housewife isn't about working to become a housewife, it's about finding a spouse. There is a massive amount of media depicting romance, including domestic fantasies, it just isn't targeted at the same audience as many here fall under. A lot of these stories even involve said person not knowing what they want to become and choosing a domestic life out of passion for the romantic interest.

Becoming a housewife isn't really an aspirational achievement in the way having a prestigious career is, and I don't think it's a story many are really interested in, nor one that would be easy to tell in a manner that doesn't seem forced.

That is actually the premise of the ABC show "American Housewife" which has run for at least 5 seasons (the main character is a housewife, and does not aspire to be anything more than the best housewife she can be, because she sees it as just as fulfilling than--or even more fulfilling as-- being employed in the workforce.)


Housewife characters are uncommon, and they tend to be portrayed as vapid, boring, incompetent or else otherwise their occupation is the butt of the joke (e.g., “Claire” in Modern Family who is as intelligent as any of the characters but is a low key alcoholic and eventually breaks free of her housewife occupation to become an executive at her father’s company).

I think this is more a case of only noticing them as housewives when it gets called to your attention. Neutral/warm depictions of housewives are incredibly common but don't grab your attention because of how ordinary they are. It doesn't exactly stand out in most people's minds when they see a caring mother figure or a loving spouse.

If you want a return to the sanitary, saccharine dom coms of the sort the Simpsons was originally a parody of, I have to vehemently disagree that there is any real desire for that.


Housewives as main characters are featured in most of ABC's shows, including at one point all of their Wednesday comedy block alongside Modern Family. Similarly, Fox has had housewives as main characters on most of their animated sitcoms, and with rare exceptions their occupation is not treated as a joke. On NBC's most popular show (This is Us), the lead female character is a housewife.

I think it's because they grew up in a leftist community where its was cool to make fun of the groups going under moral panics. Most of the moral panics came from some sort of lower / middle income religious right.

Now the moral panics are in the upper income left, and they actively try to get you fired if you trangress and all of a sudden it feels a bit restrictive in that environment.

Also social media makes average people significantly more vulnerable. Drunk comments would stay drunk environments outside of work comments, now drunk FB comments on a public group can get you fired.


Respectfully, I think you got most of it right, but incorrect on a big nuance when you said: "A fantasy world can be based on real history as we know it (consider, for example, the Nordic theme in World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King, or the Norsca and Warriors of Chaos in Total War: Warhammer II). If it is then inaccurate, we're OK with that, we see it as artistic freedom. This game tries to base itself directly on history. Big difference!"

The author very explicitly states: "As I have argued here many times, fiction is often how the public conceptualizes the past and that concept of the past shapes the decisions we make in the present."

Through that lense, I would argue that "the Nordic theme in World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King" or "Norsca and Warriors of Chaos in Total War: Warhammer II", while inaccurate, will still heavily sway perceptions on them. The artistic licenses do shape how they are percieved to the player.


Indeed, even back in the day, the arc from Warcraft 1 to Warcraft 3 was noticeable.

In Warcraft 1 the humans were good Christian knights, healed by clerics, and the Orcs were evil devil-worshippers.

By Warcraft 3 the Orcs followed an aboriginal religion and the humans were setting up concentration camps.


Sounds like warcraft 3 became more realistic towards humans then. Not much can be said about orc as there's really nothing to reference it to.

Knowing a little bit about Chris Metzen and his history, horde stands for the outcasts of society.

> As a side note, what I find funny, is that in a certain music genre, Scandinavian culture is idolized as well: metal music. Certain metal bands, such as for example Amon Amarth, exercise this practice.

Oh yess : Norwegian Reggaeton : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j0YXfeNxJJ0

> Coincidentally, the music is also going against the Christian religious dominance. I believe the game is made with such 'counter-culture' in mind; as the deeply religious Christians would not opt to play a Scandinavian religious person. I admit, pure speculation from my side.

So, Ubisoft should have maybe presented Christianism in this way ? : Valhalleluja : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S9WWz95ripA


> I wonder when that was, cause pop culture has always cared about that in one way or another.

Maybe they've cared of their own white-western culture sensitive issues, but not much about anybody else's, especially not about foreign cultures perceived as less civilized...


> > 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 statement is making ... implicit [claims] (our diverse team means this game was produced in a careful, sensitive way)

Ah, I think that's a misunderstanding of why the statement is there. It's not to claim that the game is therefore produced in a careful way. Certainly not an accurate way! It's just saying you shouldn't take offense at any details in it (accurate or not). Like, "we probably had someone with the same ethnicity/religion/gender as you and they were fine with it". It's fall out from the original being set in Palestine, which they called "The Kingdom" in an attempt to bypass offense.


Having someone with an ethnicity present while making something offensive isn't a great defense for the offensive thing.

Someone with the authority to speak for your identity groups took part in the drafting of the quoted defense, and they were fine with it.

I absolutely agree with that! I was just presenting what I presume was the company's defense.

No, but it's still better than not having such a person around at all.

I find the two pretty orthogonal...

How so? Presumably an individual from a specific background is more likely to be able to evaluate slights against that background, vs a random individual.

Individual experiences vary, but it's a helluva better start than... you know... not.


They may be better than a random individual, but they will be surrounded by their superiors who don't understand or necessarily respect their point of view. Imagine having a meeting with ten people mostly above your rank psyched about an idea and you have to start the argument that it's inappropriate. Now imagine needing to do that every day.

Even with everyone involved having the best intentions, that task seems doomed to fail.


Because it's complete nonsense.

With this logic, I can make a game about the Belgians colonized the Congo, leave out all that business about slaves on plantations, maiming said slaves on plantations for not meeting their quotas etc., portray the Belgians as magnanimous bringers of culture, and then say "oh, well, we had British people involved in the making of the game so it's OK"


> "... so it's OK"

Did they say that?

Regardless of the end product, I'd rather support something that had the involvement of some of the subgroups involved that are depicted in the media, than support something that had the involvment of none.

We can debate up and down on the relative efficiency and whether there's a better way to achieve informed representation.

But I think it's a stretch to say involving more diverse viewpoints is worse than not.


I think the closer parallel to the game opening text would be if Congolese residents were involved?

Exactly. The statement is designed to be a meaningless deflection, a mental “nothing to see here, move along,” for cultural awareness.

Considering the anti-christian tone of the game I think they were completely missing Christians. (I haven't played the game, so I'm taking the article's word on how it portrays Christians as fact, which might or might not be true) You cannot claim diversity if you are missing a faction - even if the faction is one you consider against your beliefs.

In light of the parent comment, we should presume that the team had Christian representation and those Christians were fine with it, not that there were no Christians. There’s a lot of media that uses caricatures to vilify Christians (“Easy A” comes to mind), but there is relatively little uproar from Christians about it. They don’t seem to be very sensitive apart from a small handful that our society cherry-picks as the basis for our stereotypes (e.g., the Starbucks Christmas cup fiasco was literally one guy and Buzzfeed ran that story like it was a nationwide Christian movement).

Let's try your formulation in a different context and see if it works. Imagine someone saying this in the '50s:

> There's a lot of media that uses caricatures to vilify [Blacks], but there is relatively little uproar from [Blacks] about it. They don't seem to be very sensitive apart from a small handful...

I assure you, Christians are aware of how poorly they're portrayed by the media, and aren't happy about it. It seems to me that this is one of many factors that led many Christians to support Trump.

"Representation matters" -- indeed it does; and I'm not sure I've seen anyone on TV or in movies that looks like me or the people in my church. Even when they're trying to put people in a positive light, you can tell that it's someone trying to guess what it's like from the outside, not someone who understands it from the inside.


The actual lived conditions matter, too. In the 1950s, Black Americans were harassed, beaten and killed for registering to vote; no such discrimination against Christians has ever existed in the US, or even in North America or Europe, where the games we're talking about are largely developed and marketed.

I agree that Christians are sometimes treated more critically in popular culture. But this is simply criticizing those in positions of power. It's hard to argue that ethnic or other minorities enjoy those levels of power in any of the places these games are made or marketed.

To quote a certain comedian: "Christians won the world. The Christians won everything. If you don't believe me, let me ask you a question. What year is it?"

https://vimeo.com/215910765


> The actual lived conditions matter, too. In the 1950s, Black Americans were harassed, beaten and killed for registering to vote; no such discrimination against Christians has ever existed in the US, or even in North America or Europe, where the games we're talking about are largely developed and marketed.

I quite agree. There can be no meaningful comparison between Blacks in the 50's and Christians in recent history.

> no such discrimination against Christians has ever existed in ... Europe

Well, it hasn't for a very long time, but it was pretty bad for quite a while: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persecution_of_Christians_in_t...

Mostly I share this as an interesting historical tidbit; not to refute any of your points.

> I agree that Christians are sometimes treated more critically in popular culture. But this is simply criticizing those in positions of power.

Of course, like all groups (be they religious, racial, ethnic, gender, etc), Christians are incredibly diverse such that there are no real criticisms that generalizes well, and all of these criticisms depend on caricature and stereotype which are (by definition) inaccurate and hateful. Moreover, to target a group for being "powerful" when that power is merely "numerousness in a democracratic context"--without any sort of evidence that the group behaves as a class, conspiring to increase or preserve the power of the group and to distribute that power throughout the group (to give privileges to constituents merely for being part of the group)--is lazy at best and hateful at worst (theories of a Jewish conspiracies spring to mind).

> To quote a certain comedian: "Christians won the world. The Christians won everything. If you don't believe me, let me ask you a question. What year is it?"

Maybe this is an amusing joke, but I don't think it supports your point very well. Lots of different cultures have given us different conventions and standards. We tell time using a Babylonian counting system, but we wouldn't say "Babylonians won the world". Similarly, we use a semitic alphabet but we wouldn't say "Semites won the world". We use Arabic numerals but we wouldn't say Arabs won the world. I could go on and on and on.


Germanic paganism won. Don't believe me? Let me ask you, what day of the week is it?

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Umayyad_conquest_of_Hispania

Or, if we want more recent history, the Bosnian war or even the currently ongoing dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

If you squint, you might even be able to include sect-on-sect violence which seems like several hundred years of European history, to the point that a group of religious practitioners crossed an ocean to escape it.


> I assure you, Christians are aware of how poorly they're portrayed by the media, and aren't happy about it. It seems to me that this is one of many factors that led many Christians to support Trump.

"I don't like how I'm portrayed, so I'll validate their criticisms through my actions" doesn't seem the best solution. If they don't like their portrayal, it seems they would be better off to make the portrayal better instead of making themselves worse.


People lash out at their bullies for catharsis, not for prudence. In any case, Christians are very charitable people by any metric, and that didn't spare them any bullying or earn them any favor, so why be surprised when some people behave according to the incentive structure we put around them? It's also worth noting that Christians as a collective didn't vote for Trump, rather they were pretty evenly split.

> so why be surprised when some people behave according to the incentive structure we put around them?

I guess a basic level of self-respect? It's one thing to be criticized, but one could say "that's not who I am". And it's not like Jesus didn't warn them they'd be prosecuted for him; there are many, many verses about this very thing. But once they start performing destructive behaviors themselves, suddenly: that is who they are.


Jesus also said there would be a lot of people who called themselves Christian but few who actually lived the life. As far as political polls go, they are happy to consider anyone a Christian irrespective of whether they practice any of the traditions or aspire toward the ethics, so we probably shouldn't expect generalizations about "Christians" to be very useful or intuitive. Anyway, I try not to criticize the bullied for how they manifest their scars--it doesn't help them and anyone whose opinion matters is only going to think less of me for it.

I’m not aware of any tests that distinguish “true” Christians from those merely claiming to be Christians.

I’m just saying that you oughtn’t be surprised that a lot of “Christians” don’t exhibit the ethics when you define “Christian” in such a way that it includes people who don’t try to adhere to the ethics.

> when you define “Christian” in such a way that it includes people who don’t try to adhere to the ethics.

There is no other way to define “Christian”.


Of course there is. The obvious counter example is "people who try to adhere to the ethics". But that's hardly important, the important thing is that you now understand why "Christians" don't behave according to Christian ethics--notably because you're defining "Christians" in such a way that it includes a lot of people who don't practice Christian ethics. Mystery solved.

> "I don't like how I'm portrayed, so I'll validate their criticisms through my actions" doesn't seem the best solution. If they don't like their portrayal, it seems they would be better off to make the portrayal better instead of making themselves worse.

You're preaching to the choir, as they say. :-) I think Evangelical support for Trump is incredibly foolish for a number of reasons.


> Let's try your formulation in a different context and see if it works. Imagine someone saying this in the '50s

There are a number of enormous, relevant differences between these two groups, but more importantly I don't see any good, enlightening dialog coming out of a comparison between the plights of Jim Crow era Blacks and anyone else. It's like the converse of Godwin's Law (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin%27s_law).

> I assure you, Christians are aware of how poorly they're portrayed by the media, and aren't happy about it. It seems to me that this is one of many factors that led many Christians to support Trump.

I don't think they're "happy" about it, per se, but rather they're not offended enough to object publicly to it. And to be clear, I'm merely observing that Christians aren't as offended (or don't express offense as much) as I think other groups would be. I'm leaving it up to the readers to interpret this as thick-skin or weak-will or something else (I'm certainly not intending to imply any particular interpretation).


> Christians are aware of how poorly they're portrayed by the media, and aren't happy about it. It seems to me that this is one of many factors that led many Christians to support Trump.

Christians are facing the same problem Muslims had to face post 9/11. Some of the people in your religion are so absolutely terrible you become hated as a whole for it. Is that fair or right? Of course not. But like any other community with rotten apples, you need to work on shunning and expelling these people... not voting for them.


I don't know what good can come from comparing Christian "bad apples" (presumably the 'judgmental hypocrite' caricature) to brutal mass murderers. Similarly, this reads like you're suggesting Christians are uniquely bad at shunning/expelling their "bad apples" or perhaps that they are unique in that they are actively voting them into some office, and perhaps even suggesting that this discrepancy justifies their mistreatment:

> But like any other community with rotten apples, you need to work on shunning and expelling these people... not voting for them.

I'm sure you didn't mean any of those things, but it might be good to clarify.


> I assure you, Christians are aware of how poorly they're portrayed by the media, and aren't happy about it

I assure you that Christians are not, as a rule, unfavorably portrayed in the media, and many Christians are excessively tired of those members of the single most favored, and socially and politically powerful, subset of America's dominant religion pretending to be persecuted whenever they experience the slightest criticism or restriction in imposing their ideology on others.

> It seems to me that this is one of many factors that led many Christians to support Trump.

Probably not significantly; it's more likely the reason that white evangelical protestants overwhelmingly supported Trump and white Catholics and white non-evangelical protestants also did so, though less overwhelmingly (whereas Hispanic Catholics supported, and Black evangelical protestants overwhelmingly supported, Biden) is that white Christians consistently have more to do with the correlation between views on race and religious affiliation. It's perhaps telling that the share of White Evangelical Protestant (78%) and, White non-evangelical Protestants (52%), and White Catholics (53%) that supported Trump (in an October survey, [0]) are very similar to the share of each (72%, 56%, and 53%, respectively, in an August survey [1]) that believed “police killings of Black men are isolated incidents”.

[0] https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/10/13/white-chris...

[1] https://www.prri.org/research/racial-justice-2020-george-flo...


The Assassin's Creed series has had a very anti-Christian and anti-Religion tone from the very start, so it's not surprising it continued with this game.

Well, for that you'd first have to find a Christian.

Christianity is a unique religion in that there's a lot of people who claim to be Christians, but who hardly practice their religion or follow what is prescribed.


>Christianity is a unique religion in that there's a lot of people who claim to be Christians, but who hardly practice their religion or follow what is prescribed.

This isn't unique to Christianity. Hypocrisy and indolence are common facets of human nature, so they're bound to be common to the adherents of any particular religion.


There's similarly a Jewish culture that one can identify with without practicing Judaism.

Yeah! Jew-ish, haha. It's not unique to Christianity at all. I love using the term I learned growing up. We're a bunch of back-row baptists.

Not sure if the game has an "anti-christian" tone, but I think in a secular society that should not be a problem, even if true.

Try replacing "christian" in your statement with "jew" or "muslism", and read it out loud.

Being "anti-christian" is an issue, because it is always an issue when a society is against a group of people.

One has the right to make fun and criticize religions, but not a large group of people, especially solely based on their traits, be it religion/faith, sexuality, etc.


It's funny you say that because most modern FPS games are about American Christians 'taking care' of large groups of people in foreign lands, including Muslims in the Middle East, Chinese, North Koreans etc.

This is somehow fine as these are our official 'state enemies'. It is funny how the problem is when it is turned around.


I think this is a dated comment, actually. Scifi is increasingly popular, with multiple CoDs using it, the new Prey, Titanfall/Apex, the upcoming (unless it’s delayed again) Cyberpunk, etc.

CoD and BF both went back to WWI/WWII for some releases as well.

And whatever Fortnite and Overwatch’s settings are. Kinda-cartoon kinda sci-fi?

I don’t think there as many generic modern shooters these days.

Doom is kinda sci-fi and kinda killing actual demons from hell ¯\(ツ)/¯


What do you do when people identify first by their religion ?

Islam is quite problematic in this aspect. AFAIK the current resurgence of political Islam stems from its very core. Maybe it could be reformed to be (durably !) compatible with a secular state, but would that reformed religion be still Islam, or would it be as different as Christianity is from Judaism ?


The article notes that if the same portrayal was done to any other religion besides Christianity, then there would probably be an uproar.

In today's society, with emphases on unconscious bias, race theory and egalitarianism, we are generally not okay with this kind of tone.


> The article notes that if the same portrayal was done to any other religion besides Christianity, then there would probably be an uproar.

You mean like every single Call Of Duty game? Because it is in fact regularly being done.


keep in mind roughly half of the call of duty games are set in WWII (or space, lol) where this religious subtext doesn't really exist.

the franchise does have you spend a lot of time killing people in the middle east, but the games don't explore religious ideology. the context clues pretty clearly point to your adversaries being jihadists and/or soldiers for a fundamentalist regime, but I don't recall the games ever explicitly saying so. in COD, terrorists blow things up simply because they are terrorists, not because they have any sort of coherent goal.

this is not to say that depictions in COD are not damaging in their own way, but they don't have anything quite so blatant as what is described in TFA.


The author's problem with the game is, in fact, that it ends up mirroring Nazi ideology almost exactly: Manly men with superior genes and culture, looking for lebensraum, improving the effeminate, "weak" culture they're colonizing. Oops.

This is in fact what American Exceptionalism leads to as well, frankly.

I think no religion or religious organization should be spared of critique, but realize that in the West, (Christians), have been exporting culture that's kind of about trashing other peoples.

Take a look at Call Of Duty or even something as innocent looking as Uncharted for how 'we' are treating other cultures.


Well, given the 'inspirations' that regime had, one shouldn't be surprised.

All characters and events in this [media type], even those based on real people, are entirely fictional.

Pretty sure all voices are impersonated as we didn't have the same recording tech about 1000 years ago.

I think you have the right idea with this claim. It's a statement of the diversity of the development team not a promise the content is perfectly PC or historically accurate to the smallest detail.


"It's ok: My best friend is black"?

It might be the author's explanation, via standpoint theory:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standpoint_theory

https://meaningoflife.tv/videos/43188

But it probably started out how you said ("Let's not anger any muslims....") and turned into something else.


I saw it as a trigger warning for the small but strangely vocal contingent of gamers who still reek at the presence of non white-male characters in video games.

I've been playing the game and was thinking last night that statement is (to me) an anachronism: it made sense in the first game where it was clearly dealing with the Middle East and choices made for the sake of a more playable game may have come across as culturally insensitive and started problems online. It felt a lot less likely people in the current world would be upset at or read deeply into the depictions of old Norse and Saxons, but it looks like I was wrong.

I would suggest, as the author seems to propose but not allow, many of the issues are there for the sake of game play: I am currently using a flail and questioning my choice every time I get whacked because the thing takes a week and a half to pull start. But it's the strongest one-handed weapon currently available to me. So it makes for interesting tradeoffs in a way "axe v sword" might not.

A similar case could be made for fudging the details about sexual equality among the old Norse. I doubt anyone is watching the game imagining Vikings were tender and considerate self-reflective modern males; it just makes the story flow better than having to watch a cut scene of 10 dudes throwing food at each other in conference.


Seriously, do people not remember that this statement was first made for the first game, in 2007, at a time when so much of what was in the game could've been a political lightning rod? You're playing someone from an organization that was historically associated with Islam, going around killing Crusaders (and everyone else, but still) in the Middle East during the Middle Ages. This was the time of the 2nd Bush administration, the occupation of Iraq was still in full swing, and the news was still filled with daily fearmongering about Muslims and imminent terrorist attacks. IIRC this was still the era of the color coded terror threat levels that the DHS would issue, and that was still getting cited every day on TV nows as if it were the weather or sports scores.

Basically it was a batshit crazy collection of historical, religious, and political trivia that was used as the background for the game's narrative, but at that time there was so much potentially controversial stuff if anyone took it too seriously that it could become a marketing nightmare. Boycotts from Christian groups and/or right wing nutjobs claiming that the game would encourage children (gotta think of the children!) to become Islamic terrorists. That sort of thing. It was a complicated game to market in that atmosphere. All sorts of different groups could have latched on to it as the epitome of how video games rot kids minds and turn them violent. It doesn't require anyone to actually do anything violent, it's just fuel for a gazillion fearmongering rants for Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, etc. All they would have to do is describe the game and demonize Ubisoft for making it; instant ratings gold.

They've continued having that statement at the beginning of each game, at this point as more of a tradition I think. Once the franchise was established, and got out of the Crusades, it gradually lost its potential to be a lightning rod for politically- or religiously-motivated anti-video game criticism. Although let's not forget the later game in which you have a boss fight vs. a historical pope who ended up being the villain in that game. Considering how freaked out certain demographics got by things like The Passion of the Christ (the movie), it's not much of a stretch to imagine somebody like Glen Beck going on an anti-video game crusade (no pun intended), throwing gasoline on the fire by going on and on every night about how these evil Canadians made this evil video game where you play an assassin from an order that was historically Islamic, where you're literally sneaking in to the Vatican to kill a historical pope (albeit with non-historical superpowers). Therefore kids are being brainwashed by Ubisoft to become Islamic terrorists right before our eyes. You know, Glen Beck stuff.

So it's really always just been a marketing CYA thing to reassure everyone that the game wasn't made with any particular political/religious/historical agenda. Admittedly, "we've got Catholics therefore we're obviously not in favor of assassinating popes" and the like is the "but I've got black friends" excuse for racism, but FWIW the intention was to proactively disarm accusations of biases or hidden agendas. It was not to be some sort of diversity statement.

But of course, it goes without saying that even if it was a statement of pride in diversity (which it wasn't), WHO THE EFF CARES. People getting triggered by such things need to go back to their safe spaces on Parler or wherever. So much projection from the 8chan kids. Who cares.


Heh, reminds me of :

Hail Caesar! Rabbi and Priests :

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJEiDRi4Itc


This is a pretty high effort article, let's take a deep breath. I enjoyed it because it uses Assassin's Creed as a lense to teach us a bit about history. No culture war related baggage is required for admission into this article IMO; the narrative compromises necessary to make a playable game out of a 9th century setting are kind of hilarious, and this article helped me process the cognitive dissonance that comes from playing such games.

The bit about christian churches being decorated like abandoned shacks, with all the gold in a chest in the middle, I thought was funny. Making game worlds that feel 'used' by their inhabitants is a really interesting one.

idk, games are different things to different people; they're escapism and we don't all escape the same way. Some of us enjoy pillaging inaccurate churches, and some of us like chortling about how silly it is while we do it.


My biggest takeaway: this question of how to be truthful about history and simultaneously sensitive to people who are traumatized by the memory, or have a unique or minority perspective - it is neither and easy question to answer, nor an easy problem to solve. Parties who would debate the question would do well to respect the problem and others who would offer solutions.

I lean more towards honesty and accuracy, and if you can't handle the truth then go read something else, but my perspective is probably closer to one of decadence, rather than persecution. Also, I haven't played the game but I thought the article was a good read regardless.


This kind of sensitivity/accuracy issue and how it relates to culture broadly is one of those things inherent to fiction that isn't necessarily obvious when you experience it, but looms ever-larger as you get deeper into crafting it. At first you're OK with putting throwaway stereotypes in your work, and then you start thinking, "well, why?" Because if you don't take the question head-on, you aren't going to craft something coherent and directed towards a point or a purpose. And asking that that can lead you towards an elaborate justification, to some kind of critique, or to a nihilistic dismissal.

And while that can feed into culture wars issues, and popular works often arrive at the right time to be a lightning rod for them, it's equally often a case of "the real point being made is going to be esoteric anyway and only a fraction of the audience will work at understanding it properly." Especially with big productions like AAA video games, the prioritization is on rushing to produce big spectacles, and a majority of the production effort goes to the technical part of that, while the concept is kept to something easily described in blunt shorthand: "you get to play as a Viking and pillage the British." And it's like, oh, okay, gotta live up to the audience expectations here, make it a fun thrill ride with a happy ending, let's ignore the implications. The novel stuff and minority views usually can't get represented in such productions for structural reasons.


Red dead redemption II made the looting part feel a bit more real, albeit painstakingly slow.

This is the problem with historic games. Either you acknowledge the bad and good things, or you white wash the past. As the author notes at the end: „As I have argued here many times, fiction is often how the public conceptualizes the past and that concept of the past shapes the decisions we make in the present.“

"Who controls the past, controls the future: who controls the present, controls the past… The mutability of the past is the central tenet of Ingsoc. Past events, it is argued, have no objective existence, but survive only in written records and in human memories. The past is whatever the records and the memories agree upon. And since the Party is in full control of all records, and in equally full control of the minds of its members, it follows that the past is whatever the Party chooses to make it." - From George Orwell's 1984.

What's weird is that this was meant to shock, but here we are in 2020 and this seems to be a good idea to a lot of people for some reason. 1984 was influenced a lot by Orwell's observance of Stalinism, where they would edit out people from old photos who had been executed and so forth. Stalin took a close interest in editing screenplays, editorials and even fiction produced in the Soviet Union to make it fit the narratives of Marxism. Why did he spend so much time on all of this? You have to make the whole ideology hang together if you want to transform society. The ruler must remove all contradictions everywhere so that all voices sing in unison one unifying vision and that includes popular art and media. There must be no contradictions!


It has been often observed that 1984 was a cautionary tale, but some have mistaken it for a playbook.

Orwell is accurately describing how history is recorded. Yes, all history, well-research history included. History is necessarily fuzzy and non-absolute. Historians work in conditions (social/political contexts) that shape not only what records are deemed appropriate to use, but also the means through which history ought to be recorded, presented and publicly disseminated. For example, Herodotus was a historian who relied in hearsay and myth to inform his largely oral depictions of world cultures. This was the accepted standard of his time. Fifty years ago, history was largely told as a series of 'big men' whose impact was absolute and only resisted by other big men. Today, history is largely social history, and uses lots of sources that account for everyday interactions, and the product is typically a monograph and a few blog posts or op-eds.

To get back on track, Orwell (in this passage and throughout the entire book, really) is basically dramatizing fundamental means of understanding the past, and the effect this has on how the future is imagined. Yes, it is about dogma, but no, the enforcement of dogma does not necessarily have to be as institutional or intentional as you seem to be suggesting. A fundamental aspect of social existence is that understanding the past draws heavily on our assumptions in the present, which in turn are drawn from how we view the past. Our understanding of the past shapes how we reify the world around us, which in turn influences how we imagine future possibilities.

See [double hermenutic](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Double_hermeneutic), [reflexivity](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reflexivity_(social_theory)) and [postmodernism](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postmodernism) (please actually read about what postmodernism is, rather than relying on popular understanding of the term, which is very often inaccurate)


> Who controls the past, controls the future: who controls the present, controls the past… [...]

As quoted in the original Command & Conquer!


They had an actual time machine though, didn't they ?

“History is a set of lies agreed upon.” ― Napoleon Bonaparte.

Owell was a Democratic Socialist, FYI. There used to be a lot more nuance to these things before the cold war.

The problem is more with the positioning of the game. They want the "Historic" label, but in reality it's Fantasy. Modern fantasy is a fertile ground for fun, diverse and "history inspired" stories. But trying to rewrite history with the excuse of "but it's fiction" is wrong, and I agree with the author, irresponsible and dangerous. But I guess the marketing is too tempting, AC:Valhalla should instead be positioned as Skyrim, not as a "moderately historical accurate game with more diversity".

His complain is waaay more nuanced then that. It is that that while the game acknowledges bad in England Christianity and even adds some more ahistorical bad, the Vikings are treated as basically saviors.

>Either you acknowledge the bad and good things, or you white wash the past.

And the way you white wash the past is also very interesting, because it shows the preset-day values of the storyteller.


I disagree with this conclusion because it disregards agency of players. I see more similarities to warnings about the dangers of books in contrast to how it might display historic events too critically or too uncritically.

One mistake might be that we try to patronize people too much and that enlightenment might favor a relaxed approach. I am sure if historic depictions nurture interest in an era, people would search for additional information.


As a player you cannot do _anything whatsoever_ to change the setting and rules of the game: you cannot be nicer or less nice to the indigenous people, you have to loot and destroy their religious centers, you have endure having their religion mocked by your compatriots, you cannot convert to the local religion...

You have to play a Aryan colonial invader who disdains the local culture and religion because your own culture is so much superior, and you have to do that wearing the historically inaccurate trappings of of what people a century ago imagined vikings looked like -- trappings that have been appropriated by neo-nazis.

There's no agency at all for players in this regard.


Spec Ops: The Line [0][1] puts a nice spin on just that. You have agency. Just stop playing [2]. It might just be the most harrowing game I've ever played.

[0] - https://store.steampowered.com/app/50300/Spec_Ops_The_Line/ [1] - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8dzstxE_5Rc [2] - https://i.imgur.com/VSi8EOG.jpg


Spec Ops: The Line was trying to make that point with respect to you, the player, committing virtual war crimes. I thought it was clumsily executed, but it had a point. You knew what you were doing and the game told you it was wrong.

The problem with Assassin's Creed Valhalla is that, rather than presenting you with the option to kill civilians and take slaves and letting you choose not to participate in this aspect of the time period/history, the game is hiding that historical fact in order to let you safely indulge in a sanitized historical fantasy. As a player who doesn't know better (AKA most people in the world), you don't even know the alternative you could be choosing.


My experience of that game was quite different. I found it to be the heaviest handed, hypocritical virtue signaling of any game I have ever played. "Just stop playing"? Are the developers going to give me my money back?

I would guess¹ that DayZ would also be just as, if not even more, harrowing. I mean, in DayZ you are playing against actual, real people.

1. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7003821#7004805


I meant agency in regard to the conclusions you draw from playing, not that the degrees of freedom within a game are unlimited. You played it perhaps (I did not) and thought that the game forces you to identify with characters mocking something or someone. I haven't played many games that didn't depict such mockery in a negative light if the player has no influence on it anyway.

Some games allow you to have a choice in it, but doing so is not synonymous with holding that view.

> trappings that have been appropriated by neo-nazis.

Don't make the mistake in handing such symbols to neo-nazis. They will turn it around on you. For them Vikings might depict an ideal but they probably aren't interested in a deeper cultural analysis anyway.


The Norse are not Aryans. The Aryans were nomadic horse tribes who lived some 3000 years before the game started and were closer to the Mongols than anyone of recent memory.

But words sometimes mean more than one thing, and for better or worse, "Aryan" is far more frequently used in the sense developed in the scientific racism movement of the 19th century.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aryan_race


In modern day society, the term "Aryan" has a different meaning than what you use.

Most people full understand what people are trying to say, when they use that word.


Surely people are aware of this before they buy a game? And I mean, at the end of the day, it's a video game. There are also video games about killing aliens, killing other players, killing monsters, capturing animals and making them fight other animals, and more. You could likely pick any game created and find someone that it upsets.

Nobody plays a game and suddenly becomes the character in the game, no more than anyone reads a book and becomes the character in the book. If someone disagrees with it after purchasing it, then they don't play it.


It sounds like this game is vilifying one religious/cultural group as a whole while glorifying another. I’m not familiar with many games that do this (at least not for real/nonfictional, extant groups at any rate). Some might argue that this is the same things as having Muslim terrorist villains, but the distinction is that these games don’t vilify Muslims in general but rather terrorists.

Player or reader agency is not in contradiction with "fiction is often how the public conceptualizes the past and that concept of the past shapes the decisions we make in the present."

People do conceptualize past based on entertainment they have seen voluntary, whether consciously or subconsciously. Majority of people engaging with fiction wont rush to read about real history. Which is not even complaint, it is just a fact.

Which is why blog posts and writings that compare the two from people who actually know history do have value for minority of those who are curious or interested to fact check fiction. Cause even curious minority wont be necessary interested in reading massive historical book about vikings or England just because they played game.


An historically accurate game isn't much fun. For one you can't play as a female protagonist.

Videogames can be an inspiration for someone to read up on the real history so its not all bad.


TIL that South Park™: The Fractured But Whole is an historically accurate game :

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i1EbPpyq91U


Great write-up. I'm sure this will be a good game, but the issue with romanticizing of the Vikings was evident in the trailer[1]. The eye-rolling moment for me was at 0:35 which contrasted how the Vikings were described by the Saxon King versus how peaceful and chivalrous they "really" were! It was total cringe because you don't need advanced History degrees to know that Viking raids, which spanned hundreds of years, were devesting to the local populations.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ssrNcwxALS4


I have no interest in these games, nor do I expect them to have any historical merit. My only observation is that the hard points of this article appear to be that the game aggressively asserts cultural superiority of the Norse over the evil, or, much worse, weak willed Christians who appreciate being shown non-Christian views; as well as as vaguely racist depictions of weak Saxony. Whatever your views on Christian (or Saxons?) this feels like a bad take. They want to make a story about how Vikings were unilaterally the good guys rather than a group of nomads who like all other humans wanted to take prosperity and geopolitical power, but only had a bunch of weapons, boats, and muscles (no need to prove me wrong on many technicalities here).

Yet contrarians here seem to anchor on the inclusion of other races and women as the "bad pc" to be debated.


I think you lost the forest for the trees in the blog post's arguments. The treatment of Christianity and depiction of the Saxons is only part of the bigger problem of a colonizer narrative. Big issues in actual history are just glossed over, like the Viking use of slaves and collateral damage to civilians.

The argument is that pretending that the Vikings were unilaterally the good guys is an irresponsible thing to do when your game claims to be made by a multicultural team (AKA "we're trying to be sensitive about it") and when the game series has always tried to weave the stories into real-world settings.

One of the interesting things the author points out is that they were open about slavery in a previous game set in the Caribbean, but it's almost never mentioned here despite its historical prominence in the setting.


Here is what the game's creative director has to say:

“The history of the invasion itself in this time period is, of course, a critical part of the journey,” Ismail said. “What did it mean for the Vikings of the Norse to land in England and to cohabitate?” Ismail enunciated that last word carefully. He said the historians that his team worked with suggested that the “Viking approach to this invasion was cohabitation.” He continued: “Yes, there was war and it was bloody, and it was very brutal. But they adapted themselves to the people they came to. And this is an aspect of it that we do look at. Some historians will even say that this is maybe why the Vikings sort of lost their way of life and culture over time—that they adapted themselves rather than forcing others. And so that aspect is something we do explore to a certain degree in the game.”

Source: https://kotaku.com/the-many-things-we-ve-learned-about-assas...

No mention of slavery, and even brutal colonisation is dismissed with "but", instead talking about "cohabitation". I'm truly baffled by how ahistoric and whitewashing it is. What for?


> I'm truly baffled by how ahistoric and whitewashing it is. What for?

Because most players don't want to play as someone who captures people for slavery, or invades a monastery by slaughtering all of the monks inside.


>Because most players don't want to play as someone who captures people for slavery, or invades a monastery by slaughtering all of the monks inside.

The slavery I can understand, but the violence is kind of what makes Vikings a popular character archetype. I can't imagine wanting to play a Viking protagonist in a "realistic" setting without the pillaging and bloodshed. That's kind of the draw.


> I can't imagine wanting to play a Viking protagonist in a "realistic" setting without the pillaging and bloodshed.

I get your point, and you're probably right, but at least one person (namely, myself) has no problem with violent fights in a videogame, but would not enjoy playing a game that required me to slaughter unarmed civilians. I still want to think of myself as a hero, not... that. All those Goombas had it coming to them, is what I'm saying.


I hoped it doesn't mean the creative director has to actively whitewash the period in an interview quite ahead of the release.

Lovely article.

The conflict between making a videogame (or any bit of popculture really) enjoyable and inclusive vs. historically accurate often comes up and both sides have a fair point. My personal solution is to both enjoy the content and then try to educate myself through articles like this one.


Why do they need to be inclusive? Do samurai games need to include red-haired Celts and curly-haired Bantus, you know, for diversity?

What's the point of this? Lying about history to make some people feel better?


That is a fine argument as long as your game actually is historically accurate. The 'problem' (if you believe it is a problem) is once game companies are happy to "lie" about one aspect of history without any concern while at the same time refusing to "lie" about another part of history because it would 'ruin the historical accuracy'.

If your samurai game includes werewolves and machine guns you don't get to turn around say you didn't add something because it wouldn't be historically accurate. You have to use a better excuse, like you felt it would be dumb or that you didn't feel like it.


> That is a fine argument as long as your game actually is historically accurate

See, that makes some sense if you're doing high fantasy and shit that's set in a wholly fictional world.

But just because some parts of a game are not realistic does not mean you should just forget about even trying. It makes no sense.

> If your samurai game includes werewolves and machine guns you don't get to turn around say you didn't add something because it wouldn't be historically accurate

You're treating this as if it was an excuse for some sin. If I want to make a werewolf story in Belle Époque Paris, there could be some historically accurate black African representation, but if the setting is the middle Ages it would be just stupid and lazy -- UNLESS there is some effort to bring some lore into it.

And that's the main problem I have here. Suspension of disbelief and all that. Just adding $tokenblack012 and $eastasian499 to a setting where they don't implicitly belong is just lazy pandering.


but if the setting is the middle Ages it would be just stupid and lazy

And here is the crux of our disagreement. I see it simply as an aesthetic choice. An art director got bored and thought adding some different looking knights might be fun.

Personally I'm far more 'offended' by overly unrealistic weapons and combat in my 'historical' games than I am by an unrealistic number of women soldiers.


It's lazy, but maybe it just makes more money than not adding them. I mean people won't boycott it (not that they ever really work) for having $tokenDiverseFeature, but maybe the game sells better for that.

Obviously, ideally people would not identify with a game character (and with other humans) based on color/sex/gender but on a moral/ideological level. But apparently we're not there yet.


> but if the setting is the middle Ages it would be just stupid and lazy -- UNLESS there is some effort to bring some lore into it.

The article we're commenting on does make the point that people of African / Asian descent being present in middle-ages Europe isn't unreasonable:

"I will say that, as travelers and traders, it is not crazy that people with these backgrounds might be in England, even in the ninth century. The decision to include so many characters from Asia and so few from Africa is a bit more frustrating; I’d expect to see a lot more North Africans in 9th century England than either Middle Eastern or East/Central Asian characters (because it is closer, as a matter of trade-routes)."

The article's quibble is mostly with it concentrating them into your settlement, rather than around pre-existing trade hubs.

It's still a stretch to have a randomly diverse community... but the "historically accurate black African representation" is probably enough that you don't have to work at explaining a minority of diverse characters.


I'm not too familiar with that period, but North African probably doesn't mean 'black' ?

The answer there seems to be "it's complicated", and some cursory research turns up a whoooooole lot of what I'd characterize as "angry nationalist arguments" that makes it difficult to get a good picture of what might have been going on a thousand years ago.

Majority Arab with a healthy mix of black people seems reasonable, though.


You realize that the premise of this series is that, in a distopian near future, scientists unlock the ability for people to access their genetic memories and inhabit the bodies of their ancestors, who were guided by alien forces and augmented with powerful technological relics.

The AC series really never asks you to take it very seriously. To the extent that actual history is present, it's almost like fan service.


It may not ask you to take it seriously, but it says "now you're in a period based on reality you know and a specific culture". The sci-fi part is pretty disconnected from the history part.

Compare that to time travel in dystopian future in the last bioshock where you have some known elements but you also project fire from your hands to fight a mecha-lincoln. That establishes a parallel universe where anything goes and it doesn't matter what you borrow into the story.


Yeah so in that universe it's technically possible / lore-able to have Africans in medieval England. It's also technically possible to have neanderthals by the same account yet we don't see any. The problem is, it's not motivated by any story element, only by diversity compliance checkbox-ticking which is definitely not in-universe.

> To the extent that actual history is present, it's almost like fan service.

if this were true, it would certainly nullify most of the critiques from TFA. the meticulous attention to detail in creating historically accurate (or at least plausible) set pieces works against this argument.


Well, the first game wanted to be taken seriously. That went out the window with the second game.

How about letting storywriting itself be the most important thing for games in fictional or pseudofictional settings. Adding racial quotas or gender quotas does not improve the writing of the story (or gameplay for that matter) automatically at all.

Bold of you to imply that quality of story is something AAA game companies ever care about, like, at all.

CD Projekt Red does. Old Bioware did. Rockstar. Obsidian.

>If your samurai game includes werewolves and machine guns you don't get to turn around say you didn't add something because it wouldn't be historically accurate. You have to use a better excuse, like you felt it would be dumb or that you didn't feel like it.

So a werewolf invasion of the Tokugawa shogunate would need to include Latinx genderfuild bipocs or be racist?

I guess I'm racist then.

Puts on Nazi hat and reads historically accurate accounts of Stalingrad


So a werewolf invasion of the Tokugawa shogunate would need to include Latinx genderfuild bipocs or be racist?

Literally no one is saying that.

I guess I'm racist then.

If that makes you happy.


>Literally no one is saying that.

You literally were: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motte-and-bailey_fallacy


Not at all. My point isn't that you must include diverse characters, but that you cannot say "I really wanted to included more diverse characters in my werewolf samurai game, but couldn't because of historical accuracy". You should be honest and say something like "I didn't add South American warriors to my samurai werewolf game because it honestly never crossed my mind to do so, and even if it had I wouldn't do it because it goes against the feel and aesthetic I was going for."

The only thing you need to defend in a game is why it doesn't have laser raptors, because there is no game that doesn't get better with laser raptors.

> Latinx genderfuild bipocs

I can't help but think there's a field of woke eugenics that uses terms like this completely unironically.


Because games are supposed to be fun and it’s more fun if the player feels included.

> Because games are supposed to be fun [...]

I'm gonna have to disagree with you here and reiterate a point from a "Co-optional Podcast" episode from years ago:

Games don't _have to be_ "FUN", they have to be "compelling" / "engaging". The thought that games can only be fun is a relic from video games's infancy stage much the same as once upon a time when films/movies were new and there were only short slapstick flicks. The medium film matured to where a film can be about utterly horrible things/ideas but it's still seen as a good piece of media because it was "engaging" on some level.


That’s a great point. If someone panned Schindler’s List because it doesn’t include Larry, Moe, or Curly, we’d rightfully tell the person to revisit their ground-level assumptions about what makes for good cinema. The fact that we still have this problem in video games really points to their immaturity as a medium.

I think the problem is the term 'game.' If you made 'The Schindler's List VR Experience' that would be reasonable, but if the same software was called 'The Schindler's List Video Game', that would sound crass and disrespectful. Games, computerized or not, are generally understood to be for amusement (maybe unless you're talking to mathematicians.)

I wish the games that aren't meant to be fun would state this plainly in their promotional material.

"Buy our new awkward conversation asset flip; it's NOT FUN!!"


Fun-centrism certainly helps if you're making something that (1) targets mainstream audience and (2) takes 50+ hours to finish.

Do you feel excluded by samurai games?

No because I’m white and I can play a million games with white protagonists. I don’t need to be included in every game.

If I were nonwhite I think I’d want to be included in some games, yes.


I must point out two problematic assumptions in your reply:

First, you're assuming "minorities" (and just that word is a problem, as it's utterly US-centric) are insecure and hypersensitive, which is quite patronizing.

Second, this is the line of thinking that has led privileged American influencers to accuse slavic developers of neo-colonialism when they just wanted to represent their own otherwise underrepresented culture. See the reactions to CD Projekt Red's The Witcher 3 or Warhorse Studio's Kingdom Come: Deliverance. This is particularly infuriating when considering how Poland or Czechia have been victims of imperialism themselves, and quite recently to boot.


As a minority, I agree with OP. I've been playing video games for my entire life and the only Hispanic main character I can think of is that guy from Shadows of the Damned, which had potential to be great since it was made by my two favorite directors, but it's just awful. The character (along with every other) is terribly written and their qualities, like his origins, only come up to be played for cheap laughs. Horrendous.

That said, I really enjoy Lucio from Overwatch in every way I can think of.


Although he's Italian (and created by the Japanese), Mario is a common Hispanic name, but I never really cared about that back then.

It was something that he was a 'human', since Pac-man, Q*bert, Donkey Kong, and Frogger weren't.


I didn’t use the word “minorities”, so please read my post again.

I said include in “some games”. There can be games that justify being all white, sure.

The rest can have nonwhite characters without ruining any white person’s day.

Furthermore, this is not the main problem with AC and I now regret taking up this bait.

The game is either a willing or unwilling nazi racial theory apology. Let’s focus on the implications of that please.


Probably the smart move is to make the playable character customizable (so you can be a black samurai girl with pink hair or whatever).

(Though naturally there will be some people who will feel that's just not enough. But that doesn't mean that these voices are right. Creators/publishers/developers have the right to make whatever game they feel like, with as much "accuracy" as they want.)


There are loads of games with characters from every corner of the planet as playable characters. Why do people always pretend they don't exist?

Just having a cursory look over my collection on steam:

* Streets of Rage had black, white, asian, men and women.

* Street Fighter had every nationality on earth represented.

* Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Almost all the characters were black.

* Grand Theft Auto V - One of the main playable characters is Black (there are 3)

* Sleeping Dogs which is set in Hong Kong so they are Chinese.

* Yakuza Series - Japanese.

* Prey (the first one) you play a Native American.

* Prey (the new one) you appear to be of Asian decent (probably chinese if I were to guess as the surname is Chu).

* Assassins Creed - Altair is a Arab.

* Assassins Creed 3 - Ratonhnhaké - Mixed Native American and White.

* Kratos - Greek

* King Pin - Black

* Aladdin - Arab

* Loads of Micheal Jackson games (Black)

The Grand Theft Auto series on its own has sold million and millions of copies.

I am still not including all the games where you can literally design your character to be anything you want. Or all the strategy games where you can choose your historical factions such as Age of Empires.

> If I were nonwhite I think I’d want to be included in some games, yes.

Have you ever thought that other people don't judge or identify characters in their entertainment on what race they are? I couldn't give a monkeys the race of a game protagonist. It literally doesn't enter into my mind. Why are you soo pre-occupied with it is the real question?

It only seems to be rich white people in the US (nobody cares about this shit in Europe btw because our identities are based on our nationality) seem to care about it.


> It only seems to be rich white people in the US seem to care about it

I do think there is a kernel of truth to what you're saying, but I don't think it's right to dismiss entirely the fact that representation IS important.

Historically, "rich white people" have been in control of the media, so it's great to see this group becoming more self aware. Sure, from time to time there is some overcorrection, but eventually things will settle down and the world will be better for it. We should let people with compelling stories tell their stories! Now that streaming is the norm, there's room for everyone, now that we're not limited to only the stories which are marketable for primetime.

Speaking from my own experience, I have been so so happy to see so much positive representation of LGBTQ characters in mainstream television / movies lately. As a kid, I had no positive examples of LGBTQ adults in my life, so I had no choice but to struggle by myself. Whether we like it or not, many children learn about the world through television.

It would be difficult to express in words how deeply moved I was to learn that Disney Channel aired a children's show ("Andi Mack", [1]) with a gay main character, whose relationship with another male character was a major plotline. Shows like this give LGBTQ kids characters they can relate to, and gives non-LGBTQ kids a positive story about someone who is different from them. That children today might not need to deal with the same pain and isolation that I felt as a kid makes me so incredibly happy.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andi_Mack#:~:text=Andi%20Mack%....


I certainly don't mind LGBT characters, but the itemized tokenism present in such franchises as Star Trek: Discovery is so blatant it's ridiculous. One bi-racial homosexual couple, check. One overweight female scientist, check. One non-binary, check. One African American lead, check. One Asian captain, check. Ok I think we're good for now, we'll revisit the list when they add more letters to LGBTQIA.

> I do think there is a kernel of truth to what you're saying, but I don't think it's right to dismiss entirely the fact that representation IS important.

This idea is insidious.

Firstly people have to remember fiction is fiction. The reason why the first few seasons of Game of Thrones was compelling was because the world they lived in didn't have any modern sensibilities in it. The more they threw in modern sensibilities the worse the show got (thought the action scenes for the most part got better).

There was some show recently where Black slaves in the USA had taken power over the whites and a white KKK member from another dimension somehow got transported there. Some decried the show and wanted it banned. I thought it sounded excellent, because it was soooo divorced from reality. Same with the "Man from the High Castle". The setting in which the enemy won WWII was compelling.

Secondly just randomly pushing people into roles for the sake of representation ends up cheapening any genuine effort. The Wire was brilliant because the huge number of black people being in the show made sense. At the time I didn't actually notice that most of the cast was black.

You know what the end result is. It made me notice skin colour when I didn't used to and made me start to resent any effort (no matter how genuine) because I know there is probably some quota involved somewhere to pander to a demographic.

> Historically, "rich white people" have been in control of the media, so it's great to see this group becoming more self aware.

It isn't self awareness though. They are projecting their prejudices onto the rest of us. This includes places where it just isn't relevant and makes almost no sense.

How dare they project their prejudices onto me in an effort to absolve themselves of guilt, then have the gall to tell me that I am the one with the problem when I object to it. Fuck them!

I clearly remember when I decided I wouldn't watch anymore broadcast television (this was about 8 years ago now).

There was a show hosted by Scottish Comedian Frankie Boyle that was infamous for his offensive comedy. On that show there was a rich Canadian woman on the TV telling people in the audience that all men had done through the centuries was raping and beating women.

Then there was a black musician called "Akala" telling me the British Empire institutions were guilty of perpetuating racism. He seemed to be obilvious to the fact that he was on a British Institution being broadcasted to every home in the country.

Other the gross oversimplification of history. I had nothing to do with it (nor did my family as they were all very poor). It would be like blaming today's Germans for what Hitler did. It is absolutely disgusting.

You know what the end result of this is? It made me hugely suspicious of any claim of sexual misconduct or racism. It is the classic story of the boy that cried wolf.

> We should let people with compelling stories tell their stories! Now that streaming is the norm, there's room for everyone, now that we're not limited to only the stories which are marketable for primetime.

Maybe I am getting old but I remember a lot of this already happening. I am not saying it was perfect and I don't disagree with it in principle.

Recently "Black Panther" was released. "The first black super hero" they said. People seemed to forget Wesley Snipes played Blade for 3 movies (starting in 1997) and they were the first Marvel Movies and made the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe viable as it showed that a comic book property could be successful.

Before that we had the "There are no female action heroes" they said. Forgetting all thrillers in the past with heroines, a whole movie franchise called Aliens, Cherry 2000, Nikita, Tank Girl, Buffy and a bunch of other movies I have probably forgotten about where the woman had taken charge of the situation and won the day.

People increasingly think that the world before they were born didn't exist.


Look, I think there's room for nuance. I agree with most of the specific examples you pointed out, and generally agree that big blockbuster films / network television shows are trash, for more reasons than just the recent diversity push. I 100% agree that token black / token gay characters are problematic.

My idea of representation is: Let people with interesting stories tell their stories. Modern audiences don't really care if the protagonist looks like them, so let's push for interesting stories rather than a specific character archetype. Invite writers of all backgrounds to the table, and allow their experiences to shape the story.


How about we just do stuff based on merit rather that picking people based on arbitrary characteristics? If there are these great stories to tell then they should do well.

> nobody cares about this shit in Europe btw because our identities are based on our nationality

This seems to be changing : in France young Muslims are now placing Sharia above the secular law :

https://www.marianne.net/societe/laicite-et-religions/des-fr...

Note that the USA (and European Union, and of course the Muslim countries) are blamed for the dissemination of this dominant communitarian model.


It is an unfortunate export from the US that seems to have made it way over the pond.

I think the problem, is because if I can't play a black guy in a Japanese samurai game, its okay, because it is a samurai game, and its normal to think that. But if you hold that view to medieval europe games set in Poland or northern europe, that added artificial diversity so there are less whites and more representation thats a good thing. It is like a double standard I guess, and if you even question it, you are not progressive or fair. I never see articles on Rock Paper Shotgun saying JRGs or Samurai games are needing more diversity.

Are nonwhites incapable of making games to represent themselves?

They are capable, but market forces were creating a monoculture which made it harder for them to make them, and some people voiced their concerns regarding this phenomena. (The regular systemic inequality problem, which means the status quo is hard to change, because the advantages/disadvantages are propagated.)

Okay, and how big the videogame representation aspect of this problem is? Yep, good question, but even if it's small, it doesn't invalidate it.


That's really not the point; Ghost of Tsushima is based in Japan with Japanese and Mongolian characters but was made by a US developer.

Some of the stuff outside the game was amusing. There were all these white progressives complaining about cultural appropriation, on one hand, and on the other a bunch of Japanese people celebrating how awesome the game was.

This comment is being downvoted, but I'll reply to it.

In the 90's there was a short-lived company called Motown Software (who's parent company was Motown Records), created to make video games for African-American players. They released two video games: Bebe's Kids and Rap Jam: Volume One.


Yeah lets just racially segregate game development.

That is not at all an answer to the question. But if you have an answer, I would like to read it.

No thanks.

>Because games are supposed to be fun and it’s more fun if the player feels included.

Yes, playing CKIII I feel the need to be included when I setup an African cannibal tribe that invades Europe and commits genocide.


I never once played a violent game and felt the need to have my own character included.

They need to be more inclusive to get more sales, which is the entire point of making video games. To make money.

Gamers in particular are notorious for "cancelling" (ie, refusing to buy / play a game) due to one or two small issues. For example, see loot boxes in recent games.[1] How much these small vocal groups impact sales is still up for debate, but gaming publishers would probably try to avoid bad press if they can help it.

So, rather than spending months of time and resources trying to explain to 12 year olds' parents why there's slaves in a game, it's easier to simply omit that part of history, or rewrite it to be modern-day-friendly. It's a "work of fiction" after all.

[1]: https://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2019-02-21-call-of-duty-b...


>Lying about history to make some people feel better?

Yup. The point is that almost no one cares about history, so even a few people whining about "inclusion" is enough make a nonsense historical game.

Forget about ancient norse and greeks, they can't even make a halfway accurate WW1 game.


No, not at all, IMHO it's purely about empathizing with the character, feeling more immersed and consequently improving your overall experience of the game. For some people, it's about how well the character is written, for some it's about being able to affect moral decisions, for some it's about deciding how they look and sound.

I think playing the historical accuracy card here is pointless as games (and popculture in general) always sacrifice accurracy to increase fun - no point in getting upset over this one specific thing.


It is fascinating argument give that the article has much bigger complains about much bigger historical inaccuracies in the game. And giving those much bigger inaccuracies, the gender thing is completely moot.

In any case, game developers are trying to break the cycle where games primary cater to one demographic, where all inaccuracies put in are so that one demographic feels better about themselves. And then lesser engagement of demographic that is not catered to (instead the games sometimes insert inaccuracies that makes them feel even worst) is then chalked on "they naturally cant be interested, lets cater to other demographic even more".


Don't use Assassin's Creed as a history lesson!

To be fair, a video game could include a curly haired Bantu and be historically accurate. One of Nobunaga's retainers was an African.

The point could be to make a political point, which is perfectly normal for a work of art. And why shouldn't they?

It's about appealing to as many buyers as somehow possible I guess.

It's also one in which the side Ubisoft picked is pretty clear.

We're talking about a game series whose central conceit is that an obscure Islamist sect noted mainly for murdering religious figures they disagreed with is actually a secret society acting to preserve an Enlightenment-style libertarian ethos for centuries before the Enlightenment (yet staying curiously neutral during the French Revolution!) Every design decision made in other periods shoehorns in the assumption whichever faction these ahistorically-inserted Assassins are allied to are 'good guys' who believe in freedom fighting an evil conspiracy very loosely associated with a historical Christian order, as well as assumptions like the opportunity to roleplay Vikings will sell more games than protecting Saxon homesteads (commercial pressures the author is well aware of when discussing other design decisions). I'm more surprised by the historically inaccurate weapon choices tbh.

It's clearly an article written by someone with plenty of knowledge about the actual history to share, but still reminds me of an old flatmate criticising the physics of the Simpson's Movie!


No one takes the Simpsons Movie as representative of real history, though. You absolutely do find people doing that with games in the Assassin's Creed series. Whether the developer intends that or not - and I'm sure they don't; whatever the intentions of anyone working there, Ubisoft collectively cares only for money - that it happens still makes it worthwhile for someone to criticize the work from a perspective knowledgeable of history.

> No one takes the Simpsons Movie as representative of real history, though

True, Assassin's Creed is certainly marketed as having more attention to realism than the Simpsons Movie. It's more like a Dan Brown book though: people might find the stock goodies and baddies narrative, historic/mythologic references and attention to detail with symbols and places all too believable but it's certainly possible to overanalyse design decisions which amount to stereotypical heroes in stereotyped historical settings sell better.

If one actually wanted to produce a nuanced representation of that historical timeline, it would be difficult to do so as a game based on killing large numbers of NPCs


People make the same mistake with Dan Brown books, too.

The point is that for the player character and allies to be killing large numbers of NPCs - well, killing small numbers and enslaving large numbers, more accurately - would itself constitute a nuanced representation of that period in history, this being very much what the historical viking raiders actually did. The major flaw Devereaux finds in the text is that it discards this nuance.

That Ubisoft's motivation in making the game they did is to make a lot of money, and only that, does not vitiate the value of the analysis with respect to history, both that of the 9th century CE and that of today. Devereaux makes clear enough, I think, that it's not about authorial intent, but about the meaning of the work in context - which is to say, the style of textual analysis he's using is the one that has been solidly doctrinaire for many decades now. To call this "overanalysis" seems to me to miss the point.

It's not to say anyone shouldn't enjoy the game as a game; Devereaux says right up front that he does enjoy it for its own sake, and isn't trying to detract from anyone else's enjoyment either. He's a historian knowledgeable of the period the game purports to represent, and so he analyzes it from that perspective. Anyone who does not want to partake of that perspective or that analysis is, it seems to me, at perfect liberty not to do so.


I'd say they chose pretty early in the series to show that neither side is good or later in the series even acting in good faith. I'd say somewhere after Assassins Creed 2 they tried to portray the 2 factions mostly as political factions favoring a type of rule. The insurgent/partisan/kinda communist vs the aristocratic/oligarchic. I think only in AC1 they actually portrayed the Assassins as good guys because they took the most simplistic look and even then the problem was rotting in the core of their order. Later on they increased the alien/old race bullshit which doesn't really make sense for the series as a whole and now it really just seems like they want to create an action adventure game in various settings and sprinkle some backstory on top

The fact that foreign traders are present in a game that, produced a decade or so ago, would very much not have had them means that the tension is less between "inclusivity" and "historical accuracy", and more between "contemporary, preconceived notions" and "historical accuracy". It turns out that "inclusivity" is more historically-accurate when compared to what we would have gotten in the past.

In the end, it really is about healthy skepticism, especially of long-held beliefs and "knowledge".


> > 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 statement is making ... implicit [claims] (our diverse team means this game was produced in a careful, sensitive way)

For everyone who isn't aware of the history of this statement, it was a way for the game to include a scene of beating up the pope without (pardon the pun) getting crucified.


I fail to see how that in any way justifies the decision. Seems like the implication is that christians (specifically catholics) should just be okay with having their religion insulted if the decision was made by someone of a different cultural background.

If anything, that just makes it more offensive instead of less, IMO.


I think the idea was that the team had Christians and they were okay with the depiction (or perhaps didn’t feel safe objecting), not that the decision was expressly made by non-Christians.

Again, that doesn't justify it, in fact, if your interpretation is correct, it no longer even explains it. The implication still remains that "hey, we're insulting your religion, but there are people of multiple backgrounds here so it should be okay"... which really doesn't follow at all.

And I didn't say that the decision was expressly made by non-christians.


I agree that it doesn’t justify it, but to be quite clear, the argument isn’t that there are many backgrounds represented but specifically that some of those backgrounds are Christian and they were presumably okay with it. Again, this is terrible logic because one or two Christians don’t speak for the lot.

> And I didn't say that the decision was expressly made by non-christians.

I don’t know what else you could’ve meant by “the decision was made by someone of a different background” (paraphrased because copy/paste on HN mobile is tedious).


No, the implication is, "we (some of us) are insulting our religion, and we're OK with it".

Vikings invade England, pillage and massacre the English, yet they are still seen as the good guys.

I wonder if the people who made this game have some historical resentment towards the English.


What do you mean by "English", in a modern day sense or in a 10th century sense? I'm not even sure there was a concept of "English" in the 10th century.

it was precisely the 10th century when the concept of English emerged, with Athelstan being regarded as the first king of England.

the ideas of a unified Anglo Saxon people started to emerge at the end of the 9th century I believe, with leaders like Alfred the Great


What he means is that you can't expect a mostly French Canadian talent pool to create a work of fiction that isn't at least slightly biased against the English. Everyone has their biases.

This is just untrue. Most French Canadian don't have anything against the English and most certainly did not use a video game to express their "anger" of events that happened more than 300 years ago.

9th century England had very little in common with the British empire of the 18th century that crushed the French in America. If you want to argue that they have biases against the English because they are "French" Canadian, then I think you need to avoid making claims on the Internet on topics of which you know nothing.


Most Americans don't have anything against the Russians yet they seem to be the default bad guys in a lot of our fictional entertainment.

And you need to do some reading up on Canadian history. French Canada doesn't like the rest of Canada and vise versa. But the animosity extends in part to the European counterparts.

You seem to think I think the Ubisoft employees are seething with hatred for the English. I don't. I'm just saying that given their cultural baggage (as a group) this is likely to a blind spot where they're less likely to notice.


> French Canada doesn't like the rest of Canada and vise versa.

Please stop these generalizations that are borderline racist. I personally have nothing against the English, for example. If you hate us so much, that's on you.

Go watch, say, The Last Kingdom on Netflix. It wasn't made by Ubisoft or French Canadians. And yet the depiction of English vs Danes is pretty much the same: the cowardly christians with their silly religion. That's the POV of one character. It is flawed as well. But it has nothing to do with French Canadians, come on.

> I'm just saying that given their cultural baggage (as a group) this is likely to a blind spot where they're less likely to notice.

I'm sorry but you seem to be showing your own "cultural baggage" here and projecting it onto others.


That's just nonsense. The Last Kingdom literally includes every element that the article complains is missing from the game.

Cornwell certainly has an anti Christian bent, but he at least tries to compensate with some relatable characters (Leofric for example).


I live in Quebec and spent most of my high school learning about Quebec (and Canada's) history. Guess what, we actually had a vote on whether we wanted to stay in Canada twice and decided than we'd rather stay with the federation. Do people in Quebec have various opinions on Canada? For sure. Does it extend to the US, UK and the rest of Europe? Absolutely not.

And since this is about Valhalla, why on earth would people in Quebec have some biases for Vikings? Quit spewing nonsense on the Internet.


Vikings invade England, pillage and massacre the English, yet they are still seen as the good guys.

It's curious that what is now Britain has been invaded and its people enslaved many times over the centuries but no modern day British person harbours any resentment for it towards present day Italians, Scandinavians, French, Moroccans...


We were never taught that we were invaded by those nations - history lessons talk about “Romans”, “Saxons”, and “Normans”. None of those nations are around any more, so the obvious conclusion is that we must’ve “won”, probably by virtue of England being the strongest most pure-blooded nation, or something like that...

None of those nations are around any more, so the obvious conclusion is that we must’ve “won”, probably by virtue of England being the strongest most pure-blooded nation, or something like that...

You must have had a very different education than me then. We were taught that the Vikings we bought off, the Roman Empire collapsed for reasons unrelated to us, and the Normans stayed and intermingled with the population.

Nevertheless for a present day Brit to harbour resentment against a present day dweller in Rome because of galley slaves would be considered utterly absurd.


Moroccans? Think you mean Dutch. Unless you're talking about the Barbary pirates.

Are you sure? There are always a few ultra-nationalists in every country.

Viking fetishism is very much an artifact of English-speaking pop culture. I don't think people have as much an agenda about England as they have about what medieval England might represent in an English-speaking context : traditional authority structures (monarchy and Christianity) and a military culture driven by male aggression.

Ubisoft is French…

He carefully distinguishes the game from his criticism of what it portrays and elucidates the discrepancies with careful reference to how things actually were so I can learn something[0]. IMO it's a first class perspective which I'll print out to read properly later. I can't complain about any of this.

(Massive moggy BTW)

[0] although vikings being predatory bastards I pretty much knew already, but there's plenty more I don't.

(edit to remove innuendo)


You're supposed to see the world through the memories of a 9th century Viking (who also happens to be a great figure of the Nordic mythology), of course the invasion of England will be portrayed in a positive light and Anglo-Saxons would be seen as inferior people. It's a Triple-A game featuring gods, diverse Vikings, and a dude with an axe in his head; if one takes it as a reputable historical source, I say the problem is them, not the game (although IMHO there's many things wrong with the game in general).

Anyway, perhaps it's a fair point to make if your blog is called "A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry"...


As the blog post points out within a decade of the 'great heathen army' and just four years after this game is supposedly set a majority of these vikings had converted to Christianity including prominent leaders among them. That's a very different picture than what the game portrays.

There is also a difference between what the characters say and believe and what the environment depicts - e.g. there's not a problem with the norse thinking that they're doing good but rather with how the game constructs places which reinforce that narrative. e.g. the uninhabited river valley, the lack of slave trading


Seems like the only way for this to work out at all is for the hero to go home after a year (ie before converting): grow old. The entire setting needs to be an old man telling young kids about the old glory and trying to convert them from Christianity. That is about the only way you can justify only showing those actions: his memory, and latter life surrounded by Christian means he wants to remember only those parts. But now you really need to get the player to realize that this his a romanticized past - the player must spend a lot of time seeing contradictions in the player (that is it becomes obvious some things didn't happen the way the player played them!). There are a lot more implications of this line that I can figure out in a few minutes.

So many things in the blog post I didn't know - but fascinating and makes you think.... it's like the Spaniards and Portugese would have adopted Native American religions at one point.

By the logic of showing you the warped perspective of a 9th century Viking, slavery should be presented in a positive light, not minimized.

But of course that's not going to fly.


> Absolutely, there are other games that indulge in the ‘virgin lands’ fantasy – Minecraft, Factorio, Dwarf Fortress

I feel Factorio is the counter example, you are a settler on a planet wiping out the local inhabitants mostly just minding their own business, who are attracted by the pollution you are generating. I definitely always feel like the bad guy when playing.


> Now, do I think that the developers set out to create a sanitized defense of colonialism (much less an apologia for Nazi race ideology)? Of course not. But they ended up doing it anyway.

I agree with the article's main points, but I think the author gives the game's creators too much credit here. You could tell from the first trailer that this game was going to engage in historical revisionism of the "the Vikings were really noble heroes" type. This isn't oversight or subtext, it's a conscious and deliberate choice.

The people who made this game weren't stupid or ignorant. If they chose to erase the reality of Viking slavery and violence against defenceless civilians, it wasn't an accident. They may (or may not) have intended to defend colonialism in general, but this game is an entirely intentional attempt to defend _Viking_ colonialism specifically. And they will have been perfectly aware that this played into neo-Nazi tropes.


I don't think it's Ubisoft's fault, really - in 2020, you just can't produce a game where migrating people are presented as the bad guys who kill, rape and loot the locals indiscriminately.

I'm more frustrated by the lack of diverse body types... there is no way malnutrition, lack of modern-day medicine and violence can produce as many healthy bodies as what we see in Ubisoft titles.


Unfortunately in 2020 it looks like even acknowladging the existance of things like slavery is somehow equated with approval of those things. There was a case where someone got upset(on twitter, of course) that there is a character in Valhalla who is described as "disfigured" - apparently that's ableism. So Ubisoft apologized, don't know if that description got changed or not in the end, but even if such small things end up getting the company to apologize, how could you even contemplate adding a topic like slavery in?

Calling someone with a disability disfigured is mean. Just because in the past you wouldn't get called out for it doesn't make not mean.

Then you have to realize that in having your character call someone disfigured in your fictional work is also mean without treading extremely carefully. You have to use your voice as the narrator to make it clear that this wasn't an okay thing to do. It's the same as DnD rules where "it's what my character would do" isn't an excuse for being cruel and making people feel uncomfortable or unwelcome. Everyone has a story of that one guy who makes women uncomfortable by having their character rape someone -- sometimes someone in the party -- and get mad when the DM says no and kicks them out.


I literally don't understand, maybe it's because English is not my first language, but I don't think that's it. The person in question was literally described as "disfigured in a house fire" - she's not disabled. She is disfigured. How else would you call it? "Damaged" in a fire? That sounds like talking about a washing machine not a human.

Just make sure the slaves are Slavs, that's probably the only way to include it in the game.

Considering Ubisoft's track record with depicting the disabled and downtrodden I'd rather them not engage with the subject at all. You may recall the homeless beggar woman and mentally ill man from Assassin's Creed 1, both of which existed just to try and annoy the player into killing them.

I don't remember those characters (AssCreed 1 was a long time ago). Thanks for the reminder !

This is a disturbing trend that I hope to see called out more frequently in the future. Several of the latest Call of Duties "play" similarly. Even fantasy isn't immune: imagine my dismay, as a fan of Werewolf: The Apocalypse, when I found that the protagonist of the long-awaited game adaptation unambiguously resembled a paramilitary skinhead type (both in look and language). It's frustrating, with everything going on in the world, to see game devs cynically tapping into that toxic vein.

Call of Duty is even more egregious because they took something which has been called a US war crime (Highway of Death) and used a fictionalized version of it in the game but made the Russians do it instead of the Americans.

https://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2019-10-28-call-of-duty-m...


> but this game is an entirely intentional attempt to defend _Viking_ colonialism specifically. And they will have been perfectly aware that this played into neo-Nazi tropes.

I think they just optimized for a wide audience. They romanticised the viking age from the perspective of a modern day person in the shoes of a viking. I don't think they had an agenda to defend viking colonialism.


It's not about what their agenda was, it's about what the perceived message is. The article clarifies it in great detail.

Let's compare this to the recent PC brigade efforts of banning "master/slave", or "blacklist/whitelist" terms in software. Whoever introduced "master/slave" terms into e.g. database software certainly did not have an agenda to defend slavery, yet people still got mad.

And if something as minuscule as a simple word can spark so much outrage, then a mainstream, ridiculously popular game doing such blatant and heavy-handed history whitewashing of an entire culture is a veritable powder keg waiting to explode.

("Whitewashing" is also a potentially dangerous word, I hope I did not trigger someone here.)

But you are correct in one thing - Ubisoft, being a greedy corporation, optimized for getting the most money, even at the expense of making the game's "made by diverse team" disclaimer a sad, tone-deaf joke.


The whole viking craze that's been undergoing for the last ten years or so has been a vehicle for the most fantastical right-wing and left-wing rubbish.

Everybody seems to have their own personal viking. From the strong, pride of the white race, Christian-killing raider to the inclusive feminist bossgirl shield-maiden. The only thing tied everything together being the subjects' immunity to the corrupting influence of Western Modernity, whatever that influence means to you.

In the end, the best recent work of fiction I've seen in this setting happens to be... Japanese. Vinland Saga manages to be faithful in the things that affect historical awareness (the details of everyday life, the structure of society, the perception of the world) and still be very romantic in its character-building.


So many people missing the point, and not reading the article.

TLDR; Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla constructs a deceptive apology for colonialism. Colonialism = Good. And that is a irresponsible message.


I actually quite like the part where you have to wait to get all types of armor etc. It makes you actually use more variety of tools than using one type for the whole game

Thanks for posting this - my vocabulary and knowledge of history have been improved by reading this.

A slave raiding realistically violent viking game would be R18+ easily and lose most of its paying audience.

There was a resurgence of neo-nazis a few years ago, all of this is trapped in a cultural time bubble, along with the concern?


Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is already rated PEGI 18.

The ESRB rating is "Mature". There are hardly any games besides pornographic games that get "Adults Only". Even the Witcher 3 is only "Mature".


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