Monday, February 9, 2015

Update 19 and Thoughts on Assassin's Creed

Some Thoughts

Recently, a friend who does not follow my blog essentially said to me: “Didn't you change your blog? Didn't you stop writing stuff and start saying you were writing something people would read later?”

While this is not entirely true, his point is taken. So, today begins a more concerted effort to say at least something interesting and thought provoking about pop-cultural subjects every week. I warn you though, it will be largely extempore, as I really am working on the book (don't look at me like that!) and I've got other things in the works. So, it's gonna be off the top of my head more often than not.
See that tiny haystack in the bottom middle of the frame?
Yep, he's gonna make this jump just fine.

Thoughts on: video games in which you play a total jerk and/or complete scum

Another friend and I were recently discussing Assassin's Creed: Black Flag. If you are unaware, this is a series of video games in which you assume the role of, well, an assassin. These games are about killing people in various historical periods. The story is much more complex and entangled than that and, honestly, I don't follow the series, so I don't know most of it. (Time-travel through genetic memory or something?)

But, I have played some of Black Flag. And, in this particular AC game, you assume the role of a pirate named Kenway. And he acts like a pirate (which means you act like a pirate) if a pirate could scale almost any surface and dive from any height into inertial dampening haystacks (this is when someone shrugs and says “it's a video game”).

Anyway, what my friend and I were discussing was:

  1. Neither of us can see any redeeming qualities in Kenway at all. He is a murderous knave who kills people in order to steal their goods (doing this at sea is what being a pirate means, after all).
  2. At one point in the game, when he is talking to a member of the group of assassins who have the titular creed, she says that the Assassins believe “nothing is true, everything is permitted.” Kenway (understandably) likes this maxim.
  3. People seem to think (even after having this information) that the Assassins are the good guys in this series of games.

This baffled my friend. He couldn't understand what people were thinking. I do sympathize with his bafflement. I mean, this group's identity is built around being amoral murderers. I thought guys like that were the obvious bad guys myself.

But, here's the thing. The Assassins are fighting the Templars (named for the historical chivalric order) who (in the games) are in favor of controlling people in order to enforce peace. So the idea is: freedom good, domination by others bad.

Domination by others may be bad, but killing people (as assassins do) is a pretty clear form of domination. And, believing the universe to be completely meaningless and using that to justify whatever you want to do is a bit more extreme than “freedom good.” so, how would people come to identify with the Assassins? I'll suggest the possibility to you that I suggested to my friend and then (whether you play Assassin's Creed or not) I will leave you to search your soul on these matters.

A group like the Assassins would appeal to people who felt oppressed and dominated in their own lives and thought that oppression and domination were all there was. If, like Lenin, you think that the only question is “Who? Whom?” (meaning: who's sticking it to them and who's getting it stuck to them) you would be attracted to power and the freedom to use it because you'd only be thinking of power, and the question would be whether you were using it, or it was being used on you.

Are there other, less extreme possibilities? Could be. But this one is worth considering.

So, there you go. That's my grim, snap psycho-analysis.

Progress Report

I'm still working on writing about the last of three theories of human nature. I think I've found a way to keep a balance between arguing heavily for this third theory and simply describing it.

I'm also thinking it might soon be time to show Part 1 of the book to a group of friends and see what they think. I need to know what has to be fleshed out, what doesn't make sense, etc.

© 2015 John Hiner III

1 comment:

  1. I think you make good points and I particularly think it is interesting to characterize the worldview of the purported protagonists as limited. The "AC" games, or at least the pirate one, leave me with the impression that either the writers for the game have not even attempted to imagine a comprehensive worldview for the assassins, have utterly failed to do so, or have even intentionally left their viewpoint as incoherent. I wonder if the game, in having such an unabashedly evil main character and organization, really tells us something about what it is like to lack perspective. The character is focused on wealth, even above peoples lives, which seems shockingly different to me and the beliefs to which I am accustomed. It makes me want to read accounts or letters from pirates of the time, which might contain real world examples of such people and demonstrate if it is really possible to be so seemingly inhuman, or whether other trials and motivations would have to be at work in such a person.