Assassin’s Creed is a complex game series. It blurs the lines between where the human player ends and where the assassin memory begins, with a digital human player somewhere in the middle of the two. It traces major events in world history, from the Crusades to the American Revolution to Transatlantic enslavement and most recently, the French Revolution. It has incredible graphics, awesome music, and an immersive gaming experience even as we play in third person. It is no secret, however, that the AC franchise is primarily concerned with, well, assassinating. The fighting is easily the best and most fun part of the game, partially because it requires much more skill and tactic than the average shooter. As an assassin the “shoot first, ask questions later” motto is not applicable, because part of your job as a player is to kill and not be detected. This aspect of the game is exciting as a normal assassin, but is heightened when playing as a character that is not only an assassin and thus cannot be detected but is also marginalized in the community of the game–they are forced into hiding or disguise at almost every point of the game, assassin or not.
Such is the case in the memories of Aveline de Grandpré, the assassin whose memories are at the heart of Assassin’s Creed: Liberation. She is the daughter of a French slaveowner and a black enslaved woman living in 1789 New Orleans, yet is also an assassin. Her three personas in the game embody the three aspects of her identity: she can be an assassin as she is trained to be, she can play the part of the lady that she is in “real life” with a rich, slaveowning father, or she can play the part of an enslaved woman as her birth mother is and as she easily could have become. Each persona comes with a different set of skills and limitations. As a lady, she cannot run, fight, or do anything unladylike in public, but she completes missions through flirtation, opening herself up to sexual harassment even as she does her job. As an enslaved woman, she can fight using basic weapons (no guns) but always has to publicly perform a role of submission lest she be beaten and discovered. Of course, as an assassin, she can do anything. In the latter two personas, the game provides plenty of opportunities for her to fight people and defeat them in badass ways.
The most anticipated fight of the game always comes at the end, and in this game Aveline battles her evil stepmother, Madeline. Aveline has just discovered that Madeline is the Company Man, the mastermind behind a operation involving the kidnapping and exportation of enslaved people from Louisiana to Mexico. One of the exported people is Aveline’s birth mother, which she discovers after assassinating 3 other men she thought were the Company Man and traveling to Chichen Itza to visit the plantation. As a result, Aveline is quite angry, and in the scene below has come to kill her stepmother. It is important to point out that Madeline/Company Man has been playing the role of evil stepmother the entire game–she is never overtly contemptuous, but there is always something off about her interactions with Aveline, and now we know what.
My issue with the game comes with the way that their ending dialogue is written. While it is true that the game places fighting above all other aspects of interaction in the game, I find that the writers revert to a surprisingly stereotypical framework for laying out a conflict between two women, especially these two women. One is an assassin, the other is a slave trader and plantation owner, yet somehow the major conflict of the game comes down to jealousy and bitterness over love.
Not only because this is the penultimate scene of the game, nor because Aveline and Madeline/Company Man are two incredibly strong female characters, but also because Aveline is the first female assassin to be featured as a playable character in the entire Assassin’s Creed franchise, it is disappointing to see their conflict reduced to jealousy and bitterness. This is not to say that it is impossible that Madeline had Aveline’s mother, Jeanne, sent away to her plantation in Mexico. There is a historical precedent of slaveowner’s wives having their husband’s enslaved mistresses tortured and perhaps sold away and, as the legal status of the child comes from its mother, having any resulting children sold as well. There is no sense through the rest of the game, however, that Madeline did any of what she did because she was bitter at not being loved–in fact, Madeline as the Company Man was a leader in the Templar Knights, the enemy organization of the Brotherhood of Assassins, and she was trying to bring Aveline to her side. The conflict between the Templar Knights and the Assassins drives the game–Aveline is searching for the Company Man in order to kill him(her), end the exportation of enslaved people to Mexico, and get rid of the presence of the Templars in Louisiana. Why, then, does their conflict have to come down to love? Why not have an ending dialogue having to do with the fact that Madeline was a leader in the Templar Knights, Aveline is an assassin, and therefore they are sworn enemies? Keeping in line with the historical trend of the Assassin’s Creed series, why not talk about the fact that Madeline owns and transports slaves? Many critics have agreed that the plot of Assassin’s Creed: Liberation is tenuous and I agree, but there is enough of a plot that the writers of the game do not have to resort to stereotypes about women in order to close the game.