Uncloaking Assassin's Creed
By jett farrell-vega
July 19, 2011
Gripping intrigue. Silk-smooth game play. Men who survive leaps from skyscraper-high buildings. There is good reason why Assassin’s Creed has sold more than 28 million games.
The first time I stepped into the world of Altaïr, Ezio and Desmond, I was in love. The series follows the story of assassin-turned-bartender Desmond Miles as he relives the memories of his ancestors via a machine called the Animus. Despite offering a superb gaming experience, for some, Assassin’s Creed comes with a bittersweet edge. I’m not referring to the trachea-splitting violence, the colorful multilingual swears or the brief sexual content. Rather, there has been concern among some Christian gamers that the series has a Da Vinci Code-like bias against faith.
At the root of this theory are the games’ core treasures: Pieces of Eden, items that can control humans in unimaginable ways. According to the fictional conspiracy, just about every leader in history has had a dirty hand in the use of one of these coveted treasures; it is implied that the Church (possibly even Jesus) used them to deceive the masses. Some players have also been wary about the series’ historical accuracy, especially in regard to the free-thinking Assassins and the planet-enslaving Templars. The latter include a cadre of seriously diabolical villains who arguably fall under the sphere of Christianity. By the end of Assassin’s Creed II, even the pope can only be described as goatee-twistingly evil.
Is the series really as accurate as it’s touted to be? Is Assassin’s Creed peddling anti-Christian sentiments? Are the bad guys all Christians?
Not always. In almost every assassination in game one, the target renounces their faith. This carries into A.C. II—in one scene, Ezio is disgusted when the Pope goes on a tirade about the Bible being just a book.
And with the exception of some minor nuances, the game goes above and beyond in historical richness and accuracy. Leonardo da Vinci did design a tank, courtesans were required to wear hair horns (though the writers conveniently forgot about that syphilis problem) and Rodrigo Borgia (Pope Alexander VI) was a real person with a seriously messed-up family. One of his notable moments of naughtiness was circumventing his celibacy vows by stating they only applied to marriage and cohabitation. His son and daughter may have had an incestuous relationship, and the Borgia family committed a laundry list of crimes under the cloak of the Church.
Still, it is difficult to ignore a postmodernist sentiment throughout the series, best stated in the creed itself: “Nothing is true. Everything is permitted”. An interesting example is Sister Theodora in A.C. II, a nun turned madame who uses sex to minister God’s love. Overall, the series lacks sincere, solid Christians: some use religion for evil, some are naive and others compromise. Strangely, Richard the Lionhearted provides the most upright example, which is an odd commentary since his actual reputation was far from squeaky clean.
There seems to be a ubiquitous distaste toward faith except as an abstract concept, demonstrated both in tone and in a story where Christianity has deception at its roots. Still, the ending is surprising: After being defeated while using the “Apple of Eden,” the villain begs Altaïr to destroy it, quoting that he who increases knowledge increases grief. We’re left uncertain who we can trust in the entire plot—not to mention we learn some psycho named Subject 16 graffitied Desmond’s room with blood. We later find pages Altaïr wrote while fidgeting with the
Apple. He makes some stark claims about truth and the non-existence of
God, but the impression we’re given is that the Apple ultimately drove
The real doozy is the ending of A.C. II, which has raised brows amongst Christians and Atheists alike. (SPOILER ALERT) In Ezio’s final confrontation with Rodrigo, the Pope-Gone-Wild claims that God lives in a vault beneath the Vatican. Inside, Ezio finds a projection of a beehive-helmeted-she-being named Minerva who proceeds to tell how man stole the Pieces of Eden from her people. Supposedly this race created man and were wiped out, though they are not gods. She then predicts a 2012 uber-disaster. In AC: Brotherhood, we meet her kinswoman, Juno, who makes similar statements before going completely postal on Desmond.
While there is speculation whether the Genesis account is literal or symbolic, it is difficult to ignore the elimination of God as Creator. By A.C.: Brotherhood, it is depressingly stated that Ezio is an atheist. The undertones chill a bit, though there is one particularly awkward scene where Ezio has to rescue an actor playing Jesus on the cross. It is of note that the actor accepts the wine offered by the Roman soldiers, whereas the real Jesus did not.
The signs seem to suggest that the creative team for Assassin’s Creed has no issue courting controversy. Are the games a blast? Certainly. Are they outright offensive? That depends on the gamer. There is a key separation between Assassin’s Creed and The Da Vinci Code: the former does not make the mistake of claiming fiction as fact. (Let's keep in mind we have no idea how these faith themes will progress in sequels.)
Assassin’s Creed offers an intriguing story with strong postmodernist themes, cleverly cushioned with a quasi-supernatural twist. But one thing Assassin’s Creed does very well is get its audience thinking. If gamers can use the game not as a reference guide but a conversation point, their play could serve a purpose.