Slavery in the Transatlantic of the 1700s was a complex, interconnected network of financial systems, social engineering and psychological repercussions. The Assassin’s Creed video games that have dealt with it head-on made good use of that subject matter but also stumbled in particularly clumsy ways. “Collecting freed slaves like they’re coins in Mario,” for example. Oops.
Over on Errant Signal‘s YouTube, Chris Franklin shares a video essay that looks at how slavery and the construction of racial personas has played out in Assassin’s Creed: Freedom Cry, Assassin’s Creed IV and Assassin’s Creed: Liberation. While these games are still pretty singular for talking about historical practices of white hegemony — which still has effects on how we live our lives today — some of the game design undercuts the emotional impact that Freedom Cry is trying to deliver.
Some of Chris Franklin’s comments touch on Freedom Cry‘s biggest problem, namely the way the game’s mechanics essentially has the player treating freed slaves like a resource to purchase stuff. That mechanic is uncomfortably close to the way that slaves were used in the bondage that players are supposed to be freeing them from.
I liked Freedom Cry a lot , both for choosing to tap into the Transatlantic Slave Trade as fodder for its storytelling and for how it resonated with my own personal ancestry. And I’ve studied and read about black history almost my entire life, so it’s possible that I filled in a lot of the blanks (like the lives of those freed slaves) that Franklin calls out on my own. I talked about that resonance and the game’s ethical construction with Giant Bomb‘s Patrick Klepek. Still, it’s helpful to recognise that the people you’re fighting for — whether they’re slaves, victims of war or senseless violence — should be closer to the center of the story and rendered as more than just plot devices. That’s the promise that games like Thralled and This War of Mine hold. Hopefully, the next game that takes on race learns from these missteps and moves things forward even more.