I should start by saying that I love Assassin’s Creed IV. I don’t love it because it’s got a cohesive narrative, I love it because it’s really fucking fun. It’s a fun game. That said, the narrative is a hot mess, and there’s a bunch of really dumb decisions they make. Ubisoft, huh. We’re gonna talk about some of those decisions.
So here’s the context. I’ve just finished Assassin’s Creed III. The protagonist of the last five games, Desmond Miles, is dead. Alright, well, sucks to be him, but what about the plot? What about his ancestors? You begin as a new employee at a modern corporation (a corporation like Ubisoft, say). This company is called Abstergo Entertainment, and even though it seems hip and trendy, it’s secretly evil (is that like Ubisoft?). Apparently they extracted Desmond’s DNA and now you’re replaying through his genetic memory – whatever. So you’re introduced to the company, and they talk about pay and leave and required hours, and it sort of makes you think of Ubisoft as a company. I wonder what it’s like, as a business. What are their required hours? They’re an entertainment company too, you know.
And you start playing the game, and it’s a Ubisoft game, so the plot’s a bit shitty and incoherent, but it’s fine, because the sailing’s fun, and you’re playing, but this company thing is still in the back of your mind. This is a game made by a company, you muse. It’s really just a product. Doesn’t the incoherency actually highlight its status as fictional construct? Doesn’t it pull us out of the historical period and make us think about the world outside the fiction? There was a world outside the period in the previous five games, but it was always boring, so you never really cared. Well, except for maybe in AC1. But that was just two different-but-connected plots. It was never making you think about Ubisoft.
And the trendy corporate hack has a bluetooth earpiece, because of course he fucking has a bluetooth earpiece, but you try to ignore it, and you finish the first mission, and it asks you to rate the mission out of five. No, really! You don’t want to rate the mission, so you ignore it and move on. But it nags at you. Is it Ubisoft asking you to rate the mission? Is it Abstergo? Even if it’s fictionally for Abstergo, will Ubisoft see this data? Will it be sent to them? Will they use it to design missions that the player-base respond to positively?
And you keep playing, and you keep getting asked to rate each mission, and then partway through the game you find some emails. Oh boy, those emails. They’re full of corporate bullshit buzzwords, and they’re full of frank and cynical discussions of how to market their product, and – sorry, are we meant to be thinking about Ubisoft as a company? Are you being intentionally metafictional, in some weird ironic self-depreciation? Or are you just really fucking stupid?
‘Edward Kenway’s virtual pirate experience,’ they prate. Hang on, you think, I’m playing a virtual pirate experience. I’m enjoying it too. ‘It’s a complete product,’ they sing. This is a complete product, you think. ‘It’s an immersive, interactive pirate experience drawn from actual historical data,’ they sob, exhausted, orgasmic, spent. Blackbeard is historical, you think sadly, and so is the Golden Age of Piracy. ‘It’ll be ready in time for the next holiday season.’ October. October 29th, 2013. It’ll be ready. Prepare your wallets. And it doesn’t stop! ‘Executives at Abstergo Industries have given me the goal of producing one complete virtual experience per annum!’ Main games: 2007, Assassin’s Creed I; 2009, Assassin’s Creed II; 2010, Brotherhood. It continues: 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 twice, 2015, and now 2017. October. The next holiday season. ‘Additional smaller offerings… books, recordings, films, trans-media offerings.’ When was the film released? ‘Consumer cloud-interface app.’ ‘Sexy name forthcoming.’ Are you paying attention yet? There will be sex. Eyes open, consumers, prepare for titties. Oh yes. Many titties. So much sex. Consume. Be aroused.
They’ve even gone to the trouble of listing the most interesting time periods available. The Italian Renaissance, the Crusades, the Ottoman Empire, the American Colonies and the War for Independence. The French Revolution. Egypt. It must be a joke. They’re joking! They can’t be serious. It’s their attempt at humour. And then hey look it’s a poster for the game, the game you spent money on, lots of money, money on the game, the marketed game, the game with marketing and corporate emails and posters. Do you hate yourself yet? Are you becoming aware of the modern neoliberal market? Have you seen the product? Corporations rule the world and it’s a conspiracy and they’re making you think they’re entertaining you when actually there’s a nefarious plot at hand to oppress and enslave humanity who are only truly happy when they’re being told what to do but active tyrannical monarchical society doesn’t work any more because they’re too aware of it with their historical perspectives so we have to try a more subtle approach, we have to lull them to sleep gently gently and make them comfortable and make them placid and promise them sexy oh my good golly goodness sexual consumer cloud-interface apps but hahaha I’m actually just talking about Abstergo Entertainment and the fiction and the game it’s just a game it’s just a… it’s okay. It’s fine. It’s just a game. Take your Joy. Be happy. Happiness is a choice.
Is this the way the world ends? I’ll leave this last email exchange for you to read by yourselves.