On the week that America’s minorities raised their voices and voted Barack Obama back into the White House, it seems only fitting that I’ve been playing a game that is doing its bit for ethnic minorities. Assassin’s Creed III has swept to the top of games sales charts everywhere, which can go some way to proving that a non-white lead can hold their own in the appeal stakes. Connor a.k.a. Ratonhnhake:ton is one of the few Native American game characters we’ve ever had. Most importantly, he’s the first to avoid tired cliches and tropes.
My hat goes off to Ubisoft for pushing the envelope on the ACIII protagonist. The latest game is set during the American Revolution, so the team had a tough decision when it came to the nationality of their hero. Would he be British or French, and what side of the war would he be on? Then they struck gold and decided to create a Native American character who could witness historic events from a certain distance and make gaming history of his own.
Ubisoft Montreal, reportedly, went to great lengths to get their half English, half Mohawk character right. The team apparently worked closely with experts in the Mohawk community. They focused on the accuracy of the tribe’s language, clothing, dwellings, music and more besides. Ubisoft had an expert on hand to help them avoid a minefield of faux pas; consulting the expert on things like avoiding the inadvertent use of sacred symbols and music.
All this care and attention shows in AC III. The focus on Connor’s language and culture makes parts of the game something akin to Dances with Wolves. It’s great to see a game that embraces the other without exploiting it for the sake of pure exoticism. The fact that Connor is Mohawk isn’t all that makes him interesting. That’s just one facet of who he is.
Before playing the game, I’d read that Connor was dull. I can see that some people may see him as a bit serious and boring. Ezio, the beloved protagonist of Brotherhood and Revelations, is a hard act to follow. He had charm and swagger and he was a hit with the ladies. And then he became the suave, silver fox in later games.
In contrast to Ezio, Connor is bound by a rigid sense of honor. In early stages of the game, he tries to take the non-violent route in a world that’s being torn in two. Then he takes on the inevitable role of freedom fighter for his people. He’s earnest and rarely smiles or laughs, but then Altair wasn’t exactly a bundle of fun either and he’s always been popular for his cool detachment. However, I can’t help feeling that Ubisoft could have done more with Connor.
At this point, I have to hold my hands up and say I haven’t finished the game yet, so I don’t know how Connor’s character arc develops. But I’ve played a good few hours and I’m about halfway through the main story, so I’ve got a good feel for our hero. Ubisoft have taken such care not to offend, that I feel Connor has no real character flaws. Sure he can be a little hot-headed, but he’s lost his mother, his father is a Templar and his tribe’s land is being sold from under them, so I’m giving him leeway.
Connor’s default setting is serious, honorable and good. He gets a bit angry and that’s it. He never laughs, has a drink, makes a humorous quip or says much at all, unless it’s lamenting his plight. I’m hoping he’ll have some sort of love interest or a strong and meaningful relationship with someone.
I don’t want to take anything away from Ubisoft because they’ve done an amazing job at giving us a rounded, non-white protagonist. But, you know me, I always want more. As I play ACIII, I’ve got this nagging feeling that Connor is so pure and good because they were afraid to make him even a bit ambiguous. Who knows, maybe he makes some tough decisions later in the game, which will give Connor some added depth.
Even if Ubisoft don’t get everything right at every turn, the team has still made a leap forward that should have been made a long time ago. In our white, middle-class, male-dominated industry it’s easy to ignore ‘the other’ or to be afraid of tackling it. Assassin’s Creed III shows that we don’t need to be afraid; we just need to put some time and effort into avoiding the pitfalls. Games can tackle anything if it’s approached with the right level of respect and understanding.
Let’s hope ACIII is the first of many games to feature ethnic minority lead characters. Hell, let’s even have some rounded female characters, or LGBT and disabled people. Now that’s the sign of a mature industry.