The Gaming Library: How Assassin’s Creed Influenced My Interest in History Books
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Collecting has been my favorite hobby since I was a child. Whether it be games, comics, trading cards, or random items with a shared theme, I was always driven to collecting. As I grew, my focus would change and my collections would be the funding to help me start my next pivot at reaching an undetermined and unmet goal of having an interest to talk about. This would continue with only one collection ever growing, my gaming library. Each year (or sooner) I would find myself bored with my current system and with no way of getting money to purchase something new, I would gather what I owned, go to a game store and trade it all in towards a different console, usually something older as they were cheaper at the time.
In 2020 I made a decision to pivot my collecting of games for the Nintendo Switch, to the Xbox family of systems. Selling most of my games, I was able to fund a secondhand system (and later a Series X) and start a new collection of game series that I had interest in or had played before and wanted to revisit. It was a quick way to build my library up again and play games that I actually wanted to and not ones that I felt like I had to because I purchased them for my shelves. One of these series was Assassin’s Creed.
A few months after starting this new gaming journey, I began expanding my collection for the Assassin’s Creed series. Purchasing all of the games, their respective strategy guides, novels, art books, and anything I could get my hands on that were considered content for the full world of this franchise; in addition to collectables like statues and figures. My plan was to layout all of the content and transmedia into one large timeline and play/read everything from the oldest historical time periods to the most recent. This is something I have openly shared in other articles written for The Ones Who Came Before and one of the biggest accomplishments in my years of gaming.
Starting with Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, I explored and absorbed the history of Ancient Greece. I wanted to search every inch of the map to complete the game in its fullest form and try to catch up on the series as I was very behind, with Valhalla being the current game at the time. After finishing the game and reading the extra content in the strategy guide and art book, I moved to the novelization of the game and then onto AC Origins. This trend will continue as I work through the series, where I am currently in the 18th Century during the Golden Age of Piracy. As I continue, I keep revisiting older centuries while new content is released, waiting for more from Assassin’s Creed Mirage at the time of this writing.
In June of 2022, I was walking around a local bookstore and saw a series of museum photo books for Ancient Greece, Egypt, Rome, and the Viking era. I gathered them and flipped through a few pages to see what they were and sparked the idea of building a library to help me learn more about the real world history that is laid out in the Assassin’s Creed games so that I could have a better understanding and experience when I replay the games in the future. Prior to this visit, I had finished reading Kate Heartfield’s first entry in the Assassin’s Creed Engine of History trilogy; The Magus Conspiracy. In this story, Assassin in training, Simeon Price studies under the mentorship of Oscar Kane and is tasked not just in the art of stealth and combat, but also studies to better his education. Listed in various parts of the book, Simeon reads tomes of great historical value to mankind. This was the first time that an Assassin’s Creed story has provided insight to the materials an Assassin would study.
Opening the digital copy I kept on my phone, I went to my highlighted notes and looked at the books Simeon read. Two of them I knew to be easily available so I searched for them with the assistance of an employee and left with the four previously mentioned museum books and a copy of the 1818 text edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. The former was a book that Simeon was tasked in reading and the former was used in comparison of the creation and rebellion of Frankenstein’s monster to that of the humans to the Isu race; the ancient civilization behind the lore of the Assassin’s Creed franchise. I purchased these two books and when I returned home, I started my comment thread on Twitter to catalogue and share my progress on this new project.
Over the course of the next few months, I started scrubbing through the Assassin’s Creed transmedia items in my collection, looking for references to any book in their pages. When I started a new game, such as Black Flag, I would document the books that were used for the codex, mentioned in conversation, or referenced in the Modern Day content or the supplementary strategy guide and art book. I would continue to do this for each new media I consumed and at some point, I will go through the games I have already finished when I work through my timeline the second time. While doing so I will also make note of figures and events in the games so that I can expand my library past the referenced materials.
One of the more entertaining ways of finding books that were used to design the games was through old production videos from Ubisoft and pausing to look at the covers and spines and write down what I found. I luckily had picked up one of these books for Assassin’s Creed Origins titled, Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds without realizing it until I saw the BTS video for it. This just excited me more so when I ran out of videos to review, I reached out to a few people around the internet to gather additional book titles and would ask authors for their lists of research books for the novels I would read going forward.
Since I started I have collected 81 books covering nearly all of the time periods that have been depicted in the Assassin’s Creed series. Each section is noticeable, especially next to the games that were based around them, and Ancient Greece seems to be the largest group of books. What is funny about collecting is that I don’t read everything right away, so of the 81 books I own, I have only read 10 of them. I’m reading these sporadically, but collecting is the fun part.
It is because of Assassin’s Creed that I have an actual interest in history now. In all games and media that I consume these days, I am listening for period appropriate texts and plan on continuing this collection once I finish the AC series with other game titles. Wanting to learn more about the contents of history so that I can better understand the games is enjoyable and I’ve learned a lot in doing so. I think about the future, of having a library that I can not only enjoy, but share with others. Not knowing where the series will go, or if it will even continue after the next decade, I can guarantee that my exploration of history will continue with other games & media.
My most recent purchases have been based around the Middle East and The Golden Age of Piracy. I received books for Christmas tied to Assassin’s Creed: Mirage and Assassin’s Creed: The Golden City in addition to books I purchased about the pirates of the Golden Age of Piracy as seen in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. I wasn’t aiming to get these specifically, but they were what first caught my eye and I had been wanting a few of them for a while (mainly the pirate books). This weekend I plan on going out again to see what I can find and maybe one day I can find and afford to purchase an original printing of an old book such as The Prince by Machiavelli, or a first edition of The Hunchback of Notre Dame as that would be a great focal point to my library.
My love of the franchise has only grown with my yearning to learn more about history. Having the opportunity to look into the process of the developers and how they make the games, studying as Shaun Hastings would to assist Desmond Miles. For now though, I await to see what knowledge I will read from Feudal Japan, the witch hunts of Germany, the Great Wall of China and onwards. History has become my playground, much like Ubisoft sings from this franchise and the creed of the Assassins Brotherhood.
About the Author
Mike Smith is a collector of all things Assassin's Creed and a major supporter for the transmedia platform for the series. With nearly a full library of Assassin's Creed media, he is exploring the universe in order of Genetic Memory and waiting eagerly for the next story to be released.