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Assassin's Creed: Games with a Libertarian View of the World

A look into the philosophy of Ubisoft's long-running franchise.

Video games have become one of our most influential, popular, and creative forms of media. Last year, the industry generated almost $150 billion in revenue worldwide, rivaling books and films and dwarfing music.

Gamers spend over three billion hours a week in the virtual worlds of their choosing. And more so than other contemporary forms of media, video games explore the themes of freedom and personal agency, allowing players to go where they want and do what they please—as long as they're prepared to bear the consequences. Two of the three best selling video games of all time are Grand Theft Auto 5 and Minecraft. They're polar opposites in terms of violence and target audience, but both were designed to offer players the opportunity to make their own destinies.

But it's the Assassin's Creed series, published by Ubisoft, that puts the conflict between liberty and authority at the center of its plots, its characters, and the alternate history in which the games are set. Reason takes a look at the series' narrative merits, and at the titular creed.

Written and edited by Ian Keyser. Read by Andrew Heaton. Gameplay footage by Sean Keyser.

"Plague" by Kai Engel is used under CC BY 4.0.

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  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Neeeeeeeeeeerds

  • Citizen X - #6||

    allowing players to go where they want and do what they please—as long as they're prepared to bear the consequences.

    I had no idea that If You Meet The Buddha On The Road, Kill Him was so influential in game design circles.

  • CE||

    I'm pretty sure there's nothing libertarian about assassinating someone.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    It seemed like a stretch, knowing nothing about the game, but Wikipedia says, "It depicts a centuries-old struggle pitting the Assassins, who fight for peace and free will, against the Templars, who believe peace comes through control of humanity."

    So, I guess it's sort of true.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Real talk (All the times before this I was lying and they weren't actually real, this. is. real).

    I don't know a lot about Assassin's Creed.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    I only played half of AC2, but as I recall, it's basically Crypto-Anarchists vs. Corporatists.

    Every big business, church and government in history is Secretly Templars, while the Assassins secretly had the help of every "free thinker" in history (Da Vinci, the Founding Fathers, etc.). The game treats corporations as the same thing as governments, and only individuals operating outside of business, often for altruistic reasons, are portrayed as "free thinkers".

    So basically the standard Anarchist conflation of "hierarchy" with "coercion". Hardly statist, but definitely not doctrinaire libertarian.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    That movie was terrible. What was New Magneto thinking?

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    American Truck Simulator is a great libertarian game, since it's all about making money and it makes you hate cops.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Another libertarian point. They are also mostly for autistic people.

  • WWJGD||

    Counterpoint: No, this game is not libertarian at all.

    From AC Wiki, text found in AC:Brotherhood:
    "With Roberts on the Court, Scalia and the other conservative members of the Court ruled against limits on corporate campaign financing in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, ensuring that Abstergo Industries could secure the election of their preferred candidates for Congress and the presidency."

    Also: Kotaku article (https://goo.gl/jXPFCX) highlights more things.

    The war between Templars and Assassin's is just a conflict between different flavors of management of society.

    Multiplayer was a blast in AC:Brotherhood, at least.

  • damikesc||

    Kotaku is a bit of a clown show.

    Also, having played all of them, there is no coherent political ideology behind the AC games.

  • StackOfCoins||

    Yeah, this game is definitely not libertarian. Anarchist maybe. Going around stabbing people because they are the enemy is pretty much a violation of the NAP, no matter how terrible those people may be.

    If anything, a game like EVE Online is more libertarian. Whether you are engaging in peaceful of destructive methods, the goal is to make money, and the best way to do that is cooperate with others on a shared goal. The world has a highly secured central cluster of systems with facilities, and is surrounded by a lawless frontier of ever-richer systems that players vie for control over directly.

    Also worth nothing that every single ship, rocket and weapon hardpoint was made by another player, somewhere. The economy is entirely player-supplied with very few "spawned" items.

  • StackOfCoins||

    worth noting* and other spelling errors brought to you by no coffee.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    You need to get a better sponsor, man.

    Anyway, the stabbing part isn't unlibertarian: you're always killing government officials, crony capitalists, statist conspirators, and their usually-state-sourced henchmen. Redcoats, Italian mercenaries, Crusaders, Spanish Empire troops... No one for a libertarian to feel badly about there.

  • SimonP||

    The only thing truly "libertarian" about the Assassins' "philosophy" in the AC games is its utter incoherence. Otherwise, the Assassins are just a rival gang - a "master race," really - aspiring for total control of society shaped in an image of their own choosing. Also, apparently, incompetent at achieving their goals, if the overarching narrative (such as it is) is any indication. So I guess they share that with real-world libertarians, too.

  • SusanM||

    The Borderlands franchise is much more libertarian than AC.

  • SimonP||

    No government to speak of, corporate domination over everyday life, endless violence and chaos and everyone armed to the teeth... Yeah, seems legit.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    I didn't realize Venezuela was a libertarian paradise.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    Oh, you meant "corporate" as in "private sector", rather than "large violent profit-seeking entity". I just sort of assume when people say "domination", they mean "government", sorry.

  • SusanM||

    Or - an authoritarian organization's attempt to pose a particular kind of order upon unwilling people who've worked out their own way of doing things.

  • SimonP||

    Libertarians don't have any issue when the "authoritarian organization" in question is just a private corporation, so...

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    Your link didn't work.

  • SusanM||

    From a limited technical perspective, perhaps. But in the Borderlands Universe, government as we know it really doesn't exist. What does exist is a mish-mosh of private mercs and "Megacorporation"-type organizations who field armies as well as accountants. Additionally, the overall plot of B2/BPS was that of the attempted takeover of Pandora by force which the players try to thwart for freedom, justice and shitloads of cash. So it sounds close enough.

  • JeremyR||

    Yeah, that's what I was thinking

  • JeremyR||

    I would also say the Shadowrun games are libertarian. One of the old RPG sourcebooks actually had a small section on Anarchocapitalism

  • Murray99||

    Libertarian thinking in Assassin's Creed? Are you serious, guys? The games of this series are about a bunch of murderous conspiracy theorists who feel justified in killing anyone who allegedly is a templar. And whoever takes part in the plot of the templars obviously deserves to die...
    Replace the conspiracy of the templarswithin the storyline with e.g. the conspiracy of the Elders of Zion and you get an idea where this kind of thinking might lead to.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    Well, other than the part where the Templars in-universe are, like... real, and stuff.

    As the player learns when they kill your loved ones. In every single new game.

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