Rook takes King

Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate (2014) is set in 1868 Victorian London. Here we are introduced to the Frye twins, Evie and Jacob. Due to recent events, they are now orphaned and have just officially started their fight against the Templar Order, an organisation which have fought against the Assassins for decades. The twins have been raised from birth in the Assassin way, led by their Brotherhood and their recently deceased father. The Frye twins stand out from each other with Evie as the more collected and rational assassin, and Jacob as the brash and punch-first, -ask-later type. While Evie works on locating an ancient artefact known as the “Shroud of Eden”, Jacob starts his own gang called the Rooks to overthrow the Templar’s positions in London. 

Jacob is early on depicted as the brash and straightforward twin, not really caring about the history of the Assassins and the “Pieces of Eden”. Caring more about starting and maintaining his street gang syndicate, The Rooks, than helping his sister in searching for ancient artefacts, his assassin methods aren’t directly of the orthodox method. More than once his sister, Evie, is needed in the aftermath of his actions, cleaning up after her brother. 

On one occasion, Jacob sets out to assassinate the Governor of the Bank of England, the Templar Philip Twopenny. During the mission, which consists of sneaking inside the bank and assassinating Twopenny, the instructions are clear: limited casualties, no alarm going off and stealth being of utmost importance. If the mission is played as suggested by the game, it does in its own way turn out to be a perfect assassination. Jacob Frye eliminates an important Templar and stopping him from robbing the bank. The consequences of this act should speak for themselves; no robbed bank, a fraud is stopped, and the people are oblivious and happy. 

As it turns out, in the mayhem caused by Templar associates, a group of thugs manage to steal the currency printing plates from the bank. The media is also all over the murder of Twopenny despite Jacob being careful for a change.  The aftermath of the assassination leads to Evie having to secure the currency printing plates, return them to the bank and burn any false money she encounters. Chaotic as it may seem, this was not Jacob’s intention when he assassinated Twopenny. His actions inside the bank could, albeit good as they were, have been even more discreet, but there’s no suggestion that he could’ve known about the thugs stealing the currency printing plates. The lack of knowledge does not intend to justify the aftermath of the mission, only pointing out that consequences come in all shapes and sizes, in this case causing more havoc than first intended. 

At the end of the game, the Frye twins are at each other throats, Evie blaming Jacob for the havoc he has created all over the city, and Jacob blaming Evie for not doing anything but searching for ancient artefacts while he’s been off fighting Templars. Having done most of the dirty work during the game, it is understandable that Jacob is frustrated at Evie for not giving him more credit. In Evie’s case, it’s also understandable she’s frustrated after having to clean up her brother’s mess. (Bowden, 2015, p. 405) Nevertheless, the main objective here is to point out how different the course of action can spread out from its original intention and source. Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate is an example of good intentions gone, in some cases, horribly wrong, and that we have a responsibility to clean up our mess.

 

From Greece with Love

In the latest game Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey (2018), the tables have turned. AC: Odyssey is set in 431 BC Ancient Greece with the Peloponnesian war between Sparta and Athens as its base. Here we are introduced to the main protagonist, Alexios or Kassandra (you can choose), as a mercenary living on the island of Kephallonia. The mysterious mercenary fights mainly for drachma (money), but when leaving his/her home island is soon faced with more complex decisions to make and people to deal with. 

Both AC: Origins (2017) and AC: Odyssey (2018) are open world games where you can travel anywhere at any given time in Ancient Egypt and Greece respectively. Originally, in every game so far, the player must accept what is said and done by the ancestor you play, and the world you play in has its limitations. In AC: Odyssey, however, Ubisoft have taken it up a notch and made it a role-play-game (RPG) which includes the player even more in deciding the fate of the main protagonist throughout the course of the game. Here you must choose what is said and done in the game by the protagonist. While playing as the protagonist, I chose to stick with Kassandra for this text, you are from the very beginning given the choices of what to do and what to say in any given situation. At first it may seem easy enough, but as the game unfolds, grander choices turn up. 

As an example, one of the first tough decision presented by the game is whether to spare the life of Kassandra’s father, Nikolaos, the very man that tossed her from Mount Tyagetos in Sparta when she was a child. She survived the fall and escaped to Kephallonia Island, making everyone believe she was dead. When deciding to leave her island home, she meets Nikolaos again and is given the choices to forgive him or kill him. 

To decide whether to kill her father or not, is visually hard on Kassandra. This is the man that raised her and her brother, who loved and trained her for years just to betray her when she needed him the most. If the player chooses to get answers from Nikolaos, or to kill him, either way it is revealed that he isn’t Kassandra’s and Alexios’ father at all. This staggers Kassandra and leads her on in her quest to find the truth about herself and her brother. 

Depending on the choice made, the consequences have ripple effects throughout the game. Were she to kill Nikolaos, she is forced to fight her adopted brother Stentor, and later when she meets Stentor again, is forced to kill him when confronts her about the missing Nikolaos. If she chose to spare Nikolaos, he intervenes with the fight and prevents Kassandra from killing Stentor (AC: Odyssey, 2018, mission The Conqueror).

Although it appears there’s a lot of killing whom and where in this game, it teaches us that the consequences of our actions both have imminent effects but can also backfire further into the future. Whether consequentialism holds imminent or distant consequences as the most important, the outcome of our actions should in any case be of a greater good. By making the player responsible for the game’s outcome, it teaches us to be more aware of our choices because both the player and the protagonist will have to deal with the outcome. Compared with consequentialism, the RPG AC: Odyssey stands out from the other AC games in its way of making the player a part of the story and how it eventually unfolds.

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A Duet with Blades and Words
A game franchise built around consequentialism

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03/12/19                               By Thea Marie Rivendal                      Edited by Ashlea Buckley

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What can a modern game franchise like Assassin’s Creed teach us about consequentialism. Assassin’s Creed (AC) is a tactical assassination-based game franchise developed by Ubisoft Entertainment which started in 2007. The historically inspired franchise is, in 2019, 12 games strong with stories spanning from Ancient Greece to Victorian London. The characters are as different as the history behind them, but they do have the same fundamental idea as their base; to protect innocent lives against the Templars, an organization who wants to enslave and reshape humankind for their own benefit. 

Throughout the franchise we are introduced to several important Assassin figures. From Altaïr and Ezio Auditore, as the first beloved Master Assassins, to the brash Frye twins in Victorian London and real-world Assassins in modern times. All the characters are bound by the Creed, a Brotherhood which fights for human rights and freedom through history. The Creed’s maxim is something every Assassin is taught; “Nothing is True. Everything is Permitted.” This maxim is found in about every game from the franchise, and Ezio Auditore, the Italian Renaissance Master Assassin explains it like this:

To say nothing is true, is to realize that the foundations of society are fragile, and that we must be the shepherds of our own civilization. To say that everything is permitted, is to understand that we are the architects of our own actions, and that we must live with their consequences, whether glorious or tragic. (Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, 2011)

At first, the maxim can appear as rather cynical, but when explained like this, it reveals a deeper understanding of the foundation the game franchise is built upon. When the very maxim of a Brotherhood, a Creed, is to be aware of your actions and their consequences. What can this modern game franchise like Assassin’s Creed teach us about consequentialism?

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Consequentialism in Short

Consequentialism is a branch in Philosophy which focus on the consequences of our actions rather than the moral status of an act itself. This loosely means to do as much good as possible. Within the ethic there are several consequential forms, like Utilitarianism and Rule consequentialism. Even so, with different approaches to consequentialism, they all have in common the same basis; they all look at the importance of the result, the consequence, rather than the act itself. In this article I will be focusing on act consequentialism (from now on simply consequentialism), where the right choice is the one that brings better consequences than any of the other choices a person could have made. 

 

There are three consequential games in the Assassin’s Creed franchise

The Assassin’s Creed franchise is a franchise with many faces and lots of stories, and it is hard to choose which games have the best presentation of consequentialism. The reason I’ve chosen the games that I have is due to their placement in time and their technological advances. The first game, Assassin’s Creed (2007) is the first in the bulk and is set in a time where the consequences of your actions could mean the rise or fall of nations on both sides of the Third Crusade. The second game, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate (2014) is set in Victorian London and poses a different approach to consequentialism. Here the inner feud with Assassins and Templars go mostly unnoticed by the common folk, but the protagonists are no less irresponsible or guilty of their actions by that matter. The last game, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey (2018) is yet again altogether different, both in layout and framework. Here the player is indulged in the very fate of the game as you have to choose what the protagonist says and do. 

 

Master and Mentor 

Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad is the first Assassin presented by Ubisoft Entertainment in 2007. Set in Syria and the Middle East around the Third Crusade in 1191, we are introduced to the Assassins, a Brotherhood which have their base in two great fortresses, Alamut and Masyaf, where they fight for justice for the common folk caught in between the fighting forces. The Assassins answer to the “Old Man of the Mountain”, Grand Mentor of the Assassins, Al Mualim. The Assassins work as an organization which mainly fight against the Crusaders, but due to feuds between different sects in Islam, they are now fighting Muslims as well. In the Crusaders there is a group called the Templars who is the main nemesis of the Assassins through the franchise.

Altaïr is introduced as an arrogant high-ranking Master Assassin who doesn’t care about his actions or the weight of the Assassin’s teachings. After a mission goes wrong, where both Assassins and a valued treasure is thought to be lost, Altaïr is stripped of his ranks and is forced to start over again as a novice. To please his Mentor, Al Mualim, he sets out on a mission to eliminate nine important Crusader associates which later appear to be a part of the Templars; who want to use the Third Crusade as a cover-up in their objective to take control of the Holy Land for their own benefit. However, after every assassination, Altaïr grows increasingly worried and confused whether his actions are of any utility at all. When Al Mualim turns out to be on the Templar’s side in all of it, Altaïr is faced with the decision to back down or fight his own Mentor to save the Assassin’s Creed. 

As stated in the introduction, some consequences have the power to change nations and people, and Altaïr’s actions are of no lesser scale. After the death of Al Mualim, Altaïr takes the place as the Assassin’s Mentor, tasked with guiding his people after the betrayal of their previous Mentor. Altaïr’s true nemesis wasn’t, however, his own Mentor, but a childhood friend named Abbas. 

When they both lost their fathers, Abbas and Altaïr where placed together to be raised and trained as brothers in arms. Abbas’ father was captured during the siege of Salah Al’din’s forces while attacking the Masyaf fortress and the Assassins when Abbas and Altaïr where young. Altaïr’s father took the place of Abbas’ father and was executed in the name of a nobleman being murdered by the Assassins during the siege. Driven mad by grief, Abbas’ father cut his own throat in front of the young Altaïr to regain his honour, and upon learning this after some years, Abbas branded Altaïr as a liar and would become Altaïr’s greatest challenge (Bowden, 2011)

To keep the life-long story of Altaïr rather short, Abbas becomes the sole enemy of Altaïr as the years go by. When Altaïr leaves Masyaf to face the Khans in the East and is gone a decade, Abbas cease the chance of taking control of the Creed. When Altaïr returns, his eldest son Sef is murdered, his closest friend Malik is in prison, and the unfolding events leads to the death of both Malik and Altaïr’s wife Maria. After fleeing into exile, Altaïr returns as an old man to find the Creed in ruins. After some struggle, he gets the Assassins to join him and kills Abbas. In his dying moments, Abbas is still hostile to Altaïr, and yet, after a life-long hatred, Altaïr forgives Abbas for his actions.

Altaïr was an old man when he forgave Abbas, but their feud started beyond both of their comprehensions. Any Assassin could have been captured in the siege of Masyaf, and Altaïr couldn’t do anything to save Abbas’ father. Even so, they remained hostile towards each other, and their actions came with heavy consequences. Sometimes the ripple effects of someone’s choices come from the outside, sometimes they come from within. Nonetheless, we are all responsible for the choices we make, and blaming others will only result in our own suffering. This game teaches us to be responsible for our actions, no matter how good or bad they are.

Conclusion

As shown in this text, even modern games aren’t just for the entertainment, they can also teach us fundamental ethics like consequentialism. The reason the games are in the order they are listed is because of Ubisoft’s growing attempt to include the player. I have also not graded how much each game leans towards a type of consequentialism, only that their presence gives indications to a build-up around the ethic. What they can teach us about the consequences of our actions in this text is, for me, more important than to classify them. 

From Altaïr we have learnt that what you are told and raised to believe doesn’t make it the whole truth, and you must live with the consequences of your actions. From the Frye twins we have learnt that consequences don’t necessarily come in the shape and way we expect them to, and for this we must be ready. From Kassandra we have learnt the importance of choosing for yourself, and it makes you no longer a bystander, but responsible for the consequences that may come, and how big an impact one decision can have on the course of the future.

Games can teach us to choose better, to be aware of our actions and think twice before making a choice. They also teach us that we are not alone with our consequences, but that they spread to everyone around us, making them as affected by the choices we make as ourselves. To have games as a medium of teaching and honing skills could be just as significant as that of a good book or an article. They are after all, in this case, a visually engaging representative for our own morality and teach us to look deeper into ourselves when we make both vital and everyday choices. 

Further reading 

Bowden, O. (2011) Assassin’s Creed: The Secret Crusade. London: Penguin Books.

Bowden, O. (2015) Assassin’s Creed: Underworld. London: Penguin Books.

Gamlund, E., Svendsen, L., Säätelä, S. (2016) Filosofi for humanister. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget. Page 101-105.

Ubisoft Quebec (2015) Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate. Xbox One game. © 2015 Ubisoft Entertainment. https://www.ubisoft.com/en-gb/game/assassins-creed-syndicate/ 

Ubisoft Quebec (2018) Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. Xbox One game. © 2018 Ubisoft Entertainment. https://assassinscreed.ubisoft.com/game/en-gb/odyssey

Ubisoft Quebec (2011) Assassin’s Creed: Recelations. Xbox One game. © 2018 Ubisoft Entertainment. https://www.ubisoft.com/en-gb/game/assassins-creed-revelations/

About the Author

Thea is a full time student studying archaeology at the University of Bergen in Norway. She is a huge fan of the franchise and enjoys writing both fictional and academic texts.

As a member of the AC Partnership Program, she will be writing regular articles for the AC community, and her work will soon be available in the Community Hub.

 

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