Slavery as New Focus for a Game






In what sounds like a joke by a stand-up comic — Chris Rock? Dave Chappelle? — with a fondness for PlayStation, the greatest black heroine in the history of video games was forced to live for more than a year in the ghetto of Sony’s faltering hand-held console, the Vita.

This month, however, Aveline de Grandpré, a Creole who is the daughter of a Frenchman and an African woman, has been granted the wider audience she deserves. The game she stars in, Assassin’s Creed: Liberation, has been given a high-definition makeover as a downloadable title for far more popular platforms: the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and personal computers.

In a further twist to the cruel joke that has been played on Aveline, Assassin’s Creed: Liberation is not very good, even in its new form. Its setting — 18th-century New Orleans and the surrounding bayou — is not as fully realized or as beautiful as the historical backdrops (Renaissance Italy, the Golden Age of Caribbean piracy) for other Assassin’s Creed games with larger development teams and bigger budgets. Its story is convoluted in ways that are typical for the series (a Dan Brown approach to history that involves secret societies that feud and murder across centuries) and atypical (the plot and characters are inscrutable, even for an Assassin’s Creed game). The acting is poor. Many of the missions that Aveline is asked to carry out are dull.

And yet the unblinking focus on slavery in the Americas makes the game remarkable, nonetheless. In particular, it deftly uses the mechanics of play to interpret Aveline’s relationship to the culture of colonial New Orleans under French and Spanish rule....




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