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I guess I just like liking things

Aveline de Grandpré is not going to put up with any of your guff

Aveline de Grandpré is not going to put up with any of your guff

One of the games I’m playing these days is Assassin’s Creed Liberation. It’s set in the latter half of 1700 in New Orleans and Mexico, and the main character is Aveline de Grandpré. She is of French and African heritage, born to a French father and an African slave mother. Aveline was raised in a wealthy environment and was later recruited to the Assassin’s movement. Her goals in the game are to uncover a mystery, defeat the Templars, and free slaves. Throughout the game, she uses three different personas: lady, slave, and Assassin. Each persona has different abilities (the Lady can’t run up walls and use a whip, but she can defend herself when being mugged and she can go to fancy parties; the Slave can blend in more places, but can’t use “charm” on fancy gentlemen; and the Assassin can run around, climb on things, and use any weapon there is, but she can’t go anywhere without being eyed suspiciously) and each persona has a specific set of goals to accomplish.

Right off the bat I don’t know what to make of this “persona” mechanic. I’m uncomfortable playing the Slave persona because of how horrible slavery is and especially was in 1765. Is the game trying to make any sort of statement about how a person dressed and acting differently will be accepted into vastly different social groups? I suspect it was more of a “here’s a way to break the gameplay up a little differently” decision, but I honestly can’t tell.

All that to set this up: one of many things the main character in Assassin’s Creed games can do is pickpocket people. If you want, you can just go out into the city and do nothing but pickpocket people all day long. You’ll get 15-50 monetary units most times, and if you’re needing some cash to buy more poison darts, it can be just the thing for you. Like most of your abilities in AC games, you are directed to pickpocket a particular someone first, both to advance the storyline but also to introduce you to the fact that you can do it. Once I’d met that goal and was free to pickpocket wherever and whomever I wanted, I quickly found that I would only pickpocket rich white dudes. You can tell the rich people from the poor people by their clothes, and a white guy in a top hat might as well have a target on his pockets as far as my version of Aveline is concerned. She’s never going to rob a slave, and it has nothing to do with how much money she’d be able to pickpocket from a slave versus how much she’ll get from a top hatted fellow. It has everything to do with kinship.

This might surprise you to learn about me, but I was never a French-African slave girl/assassin in the 1700s. There is nothing in my background that even remotely resembles what that experience would have been like. My one connection to a French-African slave girl/assassin in the 1700s is that we are both humans. That one connection, of course, is all anyone needs to treat another person with respect, but it doesn’t tell you that person’s story at all.  Further point of fact, just because you’ve met one French-African slave girl/assassin in the 1700s it doesn’t mean you immediately know every French-African slave girl/assassin in the 1700s’ story, and it’s rude of you to think you do. Assumptions are not your friend when meeting new people.

Right about now you might be thinking, “Wait, he doesn’t have any connection to her at all because she isn’t real.” You’re not only right, you’ve also just made my exact point for me, thank you: stories are important. Whether it’s a book, a movie, a videogame, or a story you’ve heard someone tell, you’re getting the chance to learn something about other people. I’ve never been a Jewish person during World War II, but watching Schindler’s List can give me at least a glimpse at what it was like. I’ve never been inside a crack house, but Breaking Bad can verify that I never want to be. And it’s not just the Big Serious Movies that can teach you. We watch Groundhog Day and wonder how we might react in the same circumstance. We watch Sam Malone chase after women but admit to being lonely and unfulfilled. We watch Lucy disguise herself to try out for Ricky’s band so she can share in that part of his life. If my own experience is the only one I judge all other experiences by, I’m going to turn into… well, we’ve all seen that guy in real life and in movies.

Movies, books, and TV give you the chance to see it and glean information. Games give you both the chances to see it and to choose it. In most RPGs, I create a version of myself. In those games, it’s a chance to (within the guidelines of the game, anyway) see how I would react to extraordinary circumstances. (In these instances, it’s very frustrating to not have a choice that reflects what I want to do!) In games that follow an unchangeable script it’s a chance to see how others would make those decisions, while at the same being forced to be the one making those decisions.

I’ve been fascinated by this concept lately. I know it’s not revolutionary or anything, but it’s been on my mind a lot. We side with characters, we urge them to make different choices, we get angry that something-or-other happened – we get tied up in stories because we either relate or we want to. And if we’re paying attention, we can learn about the lives of others and realize we have a lot more in common than we maybe thought.


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