For many of us, the games that forged our long-lasting appreciation of the medium came in our teenage years. As we develop physically and psychologically, so does our perspective of the world through the media we interact with. Back in 2012, Assassin’s Creed 3 was no exception. Not only did this entry of the series offer an evocative, dynamic journey into the American Revolution, it also told an eloquent and mature narrative of Indigenous plight through the tale of its half-British, half-Mohawk protagonist, Ratonhnhaké:ton.
The game’s integration of Indigenous themes into its storytelling set it apart from most of the other triple-A games of its generation. It’s even more striking to revisit the game now, in an era where mainstream entertainment is – slowly but surely – embracing a new range of diverse voices.
For its time, Assassin’s Creed 3 took far more daring risks than we give it credit for. No video game before had depicted an Indigenous culture more authentically, or conveyed themes of identity, dispossession, and disenchantment from an Indigenous perspective more skillfully.
The game’s larger canvas is the American Revolution itself, playing out as a new chapter of the ages-long rivalry between the Assassins and the Templars. But the beating heart of the story is the personal struggles of Ratonhnhaké:ton from the final days of the Seven Years’ War to the ultimate outcome of the Revolutionary War.
From the moment his village is set ablaze and his mother Kaniehtí꞉io killed in the attack, Ratonhnhaké:ton’s guiding commitment is to protect his people. Upon being trained as an Assassin by his mentor Achilles – who names him Connor after his late son – he resolves to eliminate the Templars’ colonial order, whom he holds responsible for the attack on his village. Connor also becomes supportive of the Patriot cause, hoping they will in turn protect his people’s land from incursions.
The story drastically pivots at the events surrounding the Battle of Monmouth in 1778. After befriending George Washington and forging an uneasy truce with his father Haytham, the leader of the Colonial Templars, Connor is furious to learn that Washington, as part of the British forces in the Seven Years’ War, had led the attack on his village that killed his mother. He also learns that, at that very moment, Washington has sent troops back to his village after the Templars manipulated his people into siding with the Loyalists. To avert conflict, Connor is forced to kill several of his fellow Mohawk warriors, including his childhood friend Kanen’tó:kon. He angrily cuts ties with both his father and Washington, and this feeling of betrayal and profound resentment shapes his journey until the end of the war.
“Connor’s arc ultimately showcases the immense complexity of honoring an Indigenous heritage while trying to ensure the preservation of an Indigenous people in times of enormous socio-political upheaval.”
Once the British forces are defeated and the Colonial Templars eradicated, Connor finally returns to his village, only to find it abandoned. He learns that the land has been sold to colonists to settle the war debts of the new United States government. As shown in the game’s epilogue and its follow-up novel Assassin’s Creed: Forsaken, Connor regrets that he was unable to protect his people from oppression but vows to continue fighting for a better future.
Connor’s arc ultimately showcases the immense complexity of honoring an Indigenous heritage while trying to ensure the preservation of an Indigenous people in times of enormous socio-political upheaval. Despite the tide of history being to his disadvantage, Connor showed a staggering level of commitment and resilience in the face of an overwhelming antagonistic force that eventually led to displacement and dissolution. His perspective in the game’s open-ended conclusion provides hope in the belief that actively and consistently fighting for Indigenous rights will eventually lead to some retribution.
The characterization of Connor and the representation of his struggles throughout the American Revolution hit so powerfully because of Assassin’s Creed 3’s writing. However, this thematic and narrative angle would have never been as poignant and sincere had it not been for the extensive consultation between the Ubisoft Montreal team and the Kahnawà:ke Mohawk community.
As reported by Time around the game’s release, the team was committed to avoid factual errors in depicting Mohawk culture, striving towards a degree of authenticity that was unparalleled in triple-A development. Working closely with Thomas Deer of the Kanien’kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Center, the team evidently made an incredible effort to steer away from clichés and stereotypes. Deer advised, among other topics, on the types of Mohawk clothing and jewelry to represent and the types of spiritual music to omit. Many residents of the Kahnawà:ke community were also hired for the game’s translation, voice acting and songs.
This combination of sterling writing and comprehensive cultural research made Assassin’s Creed 3 a unique product for its time. The degree of accuracy and detail that went into the game’s conception continued throughout its design all the way to its release, allowing for a strikingly authentic story to emerge and connect with gamers. Game developers today, more attuned to the vitality of new voices in the medium, can draw inspiration from this milestone in continuing to strive towards an earnest, sincere representation of Indigenous peoples and themes.
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