How might we teach and discuss video games, both in the classroom and in the world at large? The video game, perhaps more than any medium, presents unique challenges to those seeking to engage with it critically: not only is it an immensely hybridized medium, drawing from film, animation, sound, writing, and code, but its key distinguishing feature—interactivity—grafts poorly onto “static” forms of critical representation, like writing. How can we talk about video games in ways that engage with the entirety of their material and formal complexity, and how can those approaches structure classroom pedagogy? These are the core questions of The_Critical_Is.
This project begins with Assassin’s Creed: Freedom’s Cry and Assassin’s Creed: Liberation, downloadable stand-alone games for Assassin’s Creed III and IV. Both games, as per the template of the Assassin’s Creed series, refract their narrative through a framing device of a person—in this case, a man named Desmond in the “present day”—reliving and playing through memories, aided by a simulation device wielded by a shadowy corporation. Both games follow their protagonists’ (in Freedom’s Cry, Adewalé, a formerly enslaved person turned pirate, and in Liberation, Aveline, the daughter of an enslaved woman and a rich French man in New Orleans) attempts to liberate enslaved populations and extract revenge through murder and espionage. These games, then, thematize complex relationships between race, gender, colonialism, enslavement narratives, historical trauma, individual and collective memory, and technology in fascinating ways—ways that are admittedly unprecedented in most video games and are ripe, we argue, for critical unpacking.
While Liberation and Freedom’s Cry are the inspiration for and basis of this project we are in the process of expanding our scope to include other video games posing similar questions: Bioshock Infinite, The Last of Us, and WatchDogs are some of the games on our list. Follow us here and on Twitter at @TheCriticalIs for updates on our progress.
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