Orientalism in Assassin’s Creed: Self-orientalizing the assassins from forerunners of modern terrorism into occidentalized heroes
By Mirt Komel
Teorija in Praska, No.51 (2014)
Abstract: The article delivers an analysis of the first of Ubisoft’s long and popular franchise Assassin’s Creed (2007-) in order to show how it conforms as well as how it distinguishes itself from similar cases of Orientalism in video games. If Orientalism traditionally depicted a negative picture of the Oriental Other in general and the so-called Assassins in particular (seldom associated with extremism and terrorism), then in Assassin’s Creed we find at work a certain self-orientalistic subversion that mediates a positive identification, rather then disqualification of this privileged Arabo-Islamic Other. Thus, the article proposes a close examination of the orientalistic and self-orientalistic elements in the selected video game from a cultural studies approach in order to answer the question of how is it possible that the Assassins, traditionally understood as forerunners of modern terrorism, became the heroic protagonists of a western video game.
Introduction: On first glance Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed from 2007, the first of a long and popular series, presents itself as yet another example of Orientalism in video games; but although fruitfully exploiting the Arabo-Islamic Orient in terms of landscape, its peoples, their cultures and their cities, the game distinguishes itself by an intriguing self-orientalistic character.
The legends about the infamous Assassins are first and foremost an imaginative fruit of the Oriental world itself, where in medieval times hostile images were grown by historical accounts and folktales alike. After being exported to Europe during the Crusades they were given great currency through the works of classical orientalists of the 19th century, and despite the serious intellectual endeavor of 20th century scholars to deconstruct the orientalistic imagery, the Assassins apparently remained so fascinating that they acquired an almost autonomous existence in western popular culture from literature to cinema: most recently they appeared as demonic murderers in the Hollywood blockbuster Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010), while in literature are whole novelistic tradition can be tracked back to Vladimir Bartol’s Alamut (1938) from the interwar period and then moving along the historical line up until our own post-9/11 era to works like James Boschert’s Assassins of Alamut (2010) and Scott Oden’s Lion of Cairo (2010). Last but not least, the Assassin made many appearances in the rapidly developing media of video games, but nowhere on such an enormous scale and with such popularity as in the Assassin’s Creed franchise.