One thing I noticed early on in the game is the role of females. The women do not play the usual stereotyped female roles: the strong, sexy, dominating types nor are they portrayed as weak, frail, and in need of rescue. If anything, the game shows a couple aspects of realistic female roles in the set time period. During Renaissance era Italy, the woman’s role was limited. Since pursuing the arts and sciences was off-limits, the only real job for them is to become a nun. But if all else fails, they sell sexual services. In the game, the protagonist, Ezio, can stumble upon prostitutes on the street and ‘hire’ them to protect you and distract enemies. Although this may at first seem like an obvious hegemony of play as described by Fron et al, remember that in a cultural standpoint (in that time and setting) prostitution was commonplace. But instead of having Ezio sleep with the women to increase health (like in some of the GTA games), the game designers transformed them into a helpful mechanic that made them act more as fellow party members than as, say, bottles of potion. They aren’t even wearing revealing clothing. There are a number of strong-minded female NPCs in the game as well, and general civilians walking about.
The cultural and racial details of the game are primarily there for a sense of immersion into the gameplay. From the smallest details – like different Italian dialects – to historical facts, you can just tell that the game makers put a lot of research into the setting. While Assassin’s Creed II does not use this cultural implementation to “shape values and inform citizenship” as Laurel tried to do with her Purple Moon project, it does portray game space in a slightly different mindset than the traditional “Western, Cartesian, and male” (Fullerton et al). It also has a good bit of accurate history, so the culture can be there for an educational purpose. Of course, not the whole game is immersed in Renaissance Italian culture. Elements of pop culture are still retained to keep the audience interested in the plot, keeping with Laurel’s belief in the “power of popular culture to shape values and inform citizenship” in games.
What about the play space of Assassin’s Creed II? Being an exploration game, it would need a large, intricate map. Using Jenkins’ comparisons between “Traditional boy culture” (a name for the cultural expectations of a boy’s idea of play) and contemporary game culture, the gamespace in Assassin’s Creed II employed four out of his eight “boy culture” game mechanics. The game shows “recognition for daring stunts”, “mastery of self-control”, “violence”, and “role-playing” aspects of “boy culture”. Does this tell whether the game is male-oriented? Probably not. Jenkins continues to analyze play spaces that are more geared toward girls:
“Play spaces for girls adopt a slower pace, are less filled with dangers, invite gradual investigation and discovery, foster an awareness of social relations and a search for secrets, center around emotional relations between characters. Both allow the exploration of physical environments, but are really about the interior worlds of feelings and fears”.
In this game, our exploration of the physical environment plays like it’s purely for the sake of discovery. There might be a complex series of rooftops to navigate with hidden treasure or something. The danger level in this game is actually surprisingly low. Unlike certain FPS games where enemies can jump out from any corner, you play in an open town with a few patrolmen hunting you down… and countless hiding areas. Finally, early on in the game the player feels an intimate connection with Ezio. When you witness your parents being murdered, you feel the bitterness of revenge; this allows you to justify your actions throughout the rest of the game.
Personally, Assassin’s Creed II has a lot of appeal to me. I do like how the game does not fall into the hegemony of play trap that popular console games so often do. Also, the protagonist’s persona does not strictly fall into the “third gender” category of stereotypical video game males [Fron et al]. What we see in this game is not a fully male-dominated game, nor is it specifically designed with women in mind. In my opinion, it falls more closely to an androgynous game with aspects both males and females can appreciate. This androgynous mindset is promoted by Fullerton, who hopes more games will be able to draw from “a number of cultural practices, literary sources, and existing games in order to pave the way for a playground that is more open to female players”. In this way he can “encourage designers to think in terms of ‘androgynous space’ that engages all aspects of all persons” [Fullerton] . Jenkins agrees: “To be gendered is to be constrained; to escape gender is to escape gravity and to fly above it all.”
Fullerton, T., Morie, J. & Pearce, C. (Fullerton et al) (2007). "A Game Of Ones Own: Towards a New Gendered Poetics of Game Space." In Proceedings, Digital Arts & Culture 2007, Perth, Australia, September 2007.
Fron, J., Fullerton, T., Morie, J. & Pearce, C. (Ludica) "The Hegemony of Play." In Situated Play: Proceedings of Digital Games Research Association 2007 Conference. Tokyo, Japan, September 2007.
Jenkins, Henry. "Complete Freedom of Movement: Video Games as Gendered Play Spaces" The Game Design Reader, ed. Salen, Katie and Eric Zimmerman.MIT Press:Cambridge, MA, 2006. 330-363.
Laurel, Brenda. (2001). Utopian Entrepreneur. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001.