Ubisoft Taps Local Native Community To Bring Authenticity, Cultural Sensitivity to Assassin's Creed 3's Setting
Games "don't need to rely so much on white males for mass appeal," says creative director.
AAA game design's history with race representation is, well, checkered at best. Certainly, the Assassin's Creed franchise has had its share of pitfalls, from bad accents to worse caricatures. But with the newest installment to the franchise quite literally hitting closer to home for the Montreal-based studio, developers have sought to do right by their game's settings and characters-- in particular the game's Native American protagonist, Connor, and the representation of the indigenous North American cultures featured in the game. Says Techland:
Ubisoft had the concept for a half-Mohawk, half-British assassin named Connor, who would fit the role of an outsider during the game’s American Revolution setting. But the last thing they wanted was a collection of clichés and stereotypes. [...] The team was running into too many faux pas and factual errors, so around April of 2011, Ubisoft Montreal hired a Mohawk cultural consultant to be on call at all times. The team also worked with the Kahnawà:ke Mohawk community near Montreal and contracted some of its residents to help translate, sing and voice act for the game.
While it's a sad state of affairs that a major game developer still stands out, in 2012, for doing what might be considered the bare minimum in historical and cultural research for their project's source material, the effort is nevertheless a positive one. Even now heading into the second decade of the 21st century, main characters of color remain virtually nonexistent in media, despite gamers of color making up a considerable percentage of consumers of AAA titles, to say nothing of the US population. Where characters of color do appear, their roles are usually limited to low-tech, stereotypical and violent parts. Native Americans in particular, the Techland article notes, are exceedingly rare in games, and are almost never elevated above the "Hollywood Injun" stereotype. In this light, Ubisoft's efforts to incorporate actual Native voices and perspectives in Assassin's Creed 3 is a definite step forward and should be praised as such.
Assassin Creed 3 creative director Alex Hutchinson also advocated directly for increased representation in mainstream games, noting the introduction of women and black squad members in Gears of War 3, and adding that "game developers [...] don't need to rely so much on white males for mass appeal."
I think they’re missing out on some fascinating stories and some fascinating opportunities by constraining themselves."