by Weston Bensman, BGSU History major. This is one in a series of posts written by students in HIST 4800 in Spring, 2020, putting our world into historical context for the public.
Recent events have shown that video games may have other uses besides entertainment. In April 2019 Notre Dame cathedral caught fire and the structure was damaged extensively. Immediately after this disaster people in France and around the world called for a restoration and rebuild, but the difficulty of rebuilding the cathedral as close as possible to the original design was quickly realized. One of the biggest questions was whether the spire should be rebuilt after it collapsed during the fire. This is where Assassin’s Creed Unity can help as the creators of Assassins Creed attempt to be as historically accurate as possible when designing their games including architecture.
Assassin’s Creed Unity is a 2014 game from Ubisoft. The Assassins Creed series is a series of open world stealth games set in different historical time periods such as the Crusades, Renaissance Italy, Revolutionary America, Revolutionary France and other settings in the ancient world. These games let you interact and immerse yourself in these time periods as an “Assassin” who fights a secret war against an opposing group called the Templars. This conflict is the part of the game that’s not historically accurate but the conflict is what is set in historically accurate settings. Assassins Creed Unity is set in the Revolutionary France era where you get to explore Paris and the surrounding area. One of the biggest landmarks that your character gets to explore is the Notre Dame Cathedral. You get to explore much of the cathedral inside and out and it was made to scale and as historically accurate as possible.
“Caroline Miousse, a Ubisoft level artist, spent two years poring over details of the cathedral to create as accurate a depiction as possible in the game. ‘I made some other stuff in the game, but 80% of my time was spent on the Notre-Dame,’ she said.” This shows that the creators of the game took a lot of care in building an immersive historically based game. People in charge of the reconstruction efforts could pull a lot from the design of Notre Dame in Unity because the creators pored over photos and designs of the building while making the game. Unity could also help rebuilding other French landmarks such as Versailles or the Bastille if a similar event happened that damaged their structure. Miousse spent two years creating Notre Dame in the game which plays a big part but is far from the only huge landmark in Unity. If other designers spent the same amount of time in building the other French landmarks you explore in Unity, they could be very useful in any future rebuild efforts.
I think the potential of historically accurate video games helping reconstruct things t is huge, especially other landmarks and eras in Assassins Creed games. One particular era that I would love to explore more is Revolutionary Boston. Revolutionary Boston and the surrounding area is the setting of Assassins Creed III. This game immerses you in this era of American History with different historical events. An interesting proposition in the case of this game is to recreate in person, certain areas of revolutionary Boston such as the square where the Boston Massacre occurred and other areas of Boston and revolutionary America in general as a sort of theme park. Many of these sites still exist but I think that a theme park based on the Revolution and having buildings and activities in it that are historically accurate to the time period. I would envision this proposed “theme park” being similar to Colonial Williamsburg and having everything in the park be extremely historically accurate and full of experiences that would put people into the shoes of the people of the time. Having the “revolutionary” experience could inspire the next generation of historians to study the era. This is one of many potential things that could arise from applying the detail from the Assassins Creed games and other historically accurate games.
Overall, I think that historically accurate video games especially Assassin’s Creed have many potential real life uses that could include reconstructing damaged historical sites, making reproductions of historical sites, and helping immerse yourself in how life was in those times. Video games have a huge potential to be great learning tools for professional and casual historians alike.