The oft forward-thinking folks over at Ubisoft have just recently released a new, modified version of their massively popular Assassins Creed: Origins to the world. This version of their game is intended to be used as an educational tool or for those simply wishing to immerse themselves in the Ancient Egyptian world they have reconstructed. Within this ‘Discovery Tour’ as they are calling it, all of the key mechanics related to exploring the digital space are intact, such as climbing, horseback riding and even using boats. But with one key difference, all the mechanics relating to violence, combat and the actual core storyline have been removed, making this suitable for a younger audience. As well as allowing those who dare to use it as a mode of teaching or immersion with history do not have to be concerned about gameplay elements detracting from the teaching value.
As an idea, I absolutely adore what Ubisoft have done here, while I have not played Assassins Creed: Origins myself yet, though I was working as head of the games section in a HMV store at the time of its release and was therefore very on top of reading all of the reviews and gauging reactions to the game. It was an extremely popular game at release and this was primarily based upon the immersive world they have constructed. Rather than good reviews focusing upon the combat, the story or the character design, virtually every single good review had at least something to say about the attention to detail within this digital space, about the immersive nature and sense of realism created by Ubisoft’s Ancient Egypt. Ultimately, regardless of actual historical accuracy (which I will discuss a bit further down), there is little doubt that Ubisoft have succeeded in creating one of the most immersive historical environments within a digital space to date. The ability for players to now be able the immersion, the history and the details, arguably the greatest parts of the game, for a significantly reduced price, is a fantastic move on behalf of the developers and a much-needed boon towards exploring the use of historical video games within a teaching environment. Using video games in such a way has been of academic interest for a while now, but pragmatic issues involving cost, age-appropriate content and non-relevance of most mechanics within the games in question has really stunted research. Moves such as this will really allow research to move forward and I expect a massive boom in research involving the use of Assassins Creed within the classroom.
Arguably just as importantly, it is also a recognition on the part of the developers that their games are used in this way by a recognisable sum of their community. While previously it could be argued that developers were either unaware or simply did not care about the historical teaching element of their game beyond what is imparted upon the average gamer – this move is clearly a nod towards the ever growing community of individuals who engage in immersive historical worlds for the historical immersion rather than necessarily for the games own narrative. The fact that the sales of Assassins Creed: Origins surpassed its predecessor by over double on launch sales indicates that clearly something about this title appealed to those beyond the typical fans of the series.
It is important to note that the ‘Discovery’ mode was already included within the core game through an update soon after the games release. However, the addition of a standalone version containing just the discovery mode is unprecedented and a fantastic move by Ubisoft. And in my opinion a gesture of good will towards the community of interest which has formed around the digital space the developers have lovingly crafted.
In terms of the historical value of using the ‘Discovery Mode’ to explore Ancient Egypt, this is their own description of the standalone ‘Discovery Tour’:
Ancient Egypt transformed into a living museum.
Discovery Tour by Assassin’s Creed®: Ancient Egypt is an educational mode of the game Assassin’s Creed® Origins in which you can discover and explore the world free of conflict, or gameplay constraints.
The Discovery Tour allows you to roam freely in the beautiful world of Ptolemaic Egypt. Learn more about its life, habits and customs by yourself, or let historians and Egyptologists guide you on one of the 75 available historical tours they have curated.
And here are some images of the kind of information available within this digital world and the aesthetic of the world itself:
And here is a great example of one of the guided tours available within the game:
As you can see, the world is rich, immersive, filled with tiny details and based upon the knowledge and advice of actual Egyptologists (who have also actually helped design historical tours within the game!). What Ubisoft have created here is no less than a fully immersive, explorable and richly detailed digital museum for ancient Egypt. Could this be the future of museums? At the least, this idea of creating a digital museum is not innovative due to concept, but innovative due to execution and scope. Never before has such a vast space been filled with so much detail and information and then given to the player to immerse themselves in freely and without distractions. The success, research and interest within this idea could have vast implications for the future of teaching. Especially as technology advances allowing even greater degrees of immersion within digital worlds. Consider this kind of commitment to an explorable digital space in the future when Virtual Reality technology becomes mainstream for example.
However, this is not to say that the guided tour is perfect. As an idea, it is a promising step forward and hopefully will recieve enough attention to warrant further investment in similar future endeavours. But, there are clearly issues with this as well. I will not talk about the issues so much here as they have been discussed at length in many other corners of the internet but issues such as the percieved racial/gender pandering in the portrayal of history as well as the removal of anything even remotely not considered ‘PG’ regardless of historical authenticity and teaching value are some of the biggest gripes people seem to have. If this is something which interests you I would definitely have a poke around to read some of these more critical articles for yourself.
Overall, Ubisoft have done something wonderful here even with the negatives of this particular attempt, and I sincerely hope people take full advantage and voice support for this decision. All people with a vested interest within this area of research will appreciate this step in the right direction. Let us see this for what it is, a building block on which future work can be refined, honed and built upon.