‘Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood’ Writer Explains Story’s Secret Meaning

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Assassins Creed Brotherhood Writer Secret Political Story

For those who have already picked up their own copy of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, it’s clear that Ubisoft is not afraid of venturing into serious political waters. The previous games in the series have had quite a lot to say about the Crusades, religious division, capitalism, meritocracy in church hierarchy; all topics that most video game studios would shy away from.

Now Brotherhood‘s lead writer Jeffrey Yohalem has revealed that while his writing is at times an injection of humor or satire into dry historical exposition, there is no shortage of criticism when it comes to legislation passed under both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama.

Yohalem spoke to Kotaku at length about his motivations for political satire, as well as how he sees the narrative of Brotherhood as analogous to many issues in today’s political arena, and a means to deliver a better message.

While the immediate assumption may be that a writer is using a game to slant a political ideal in the direction of his own personal views, the fact is that Yohalem, a former intern at The Daily Show has taken the opportunity to do what any good art seeks to: educate as much as it criticizes.

In the case of Brotherhood, shedding light on the influence of private corporations in American politics, while also educating youth on the dangers of entitlement.

Although Ubisoft is a French company, Yohalem is a Yale-educated American who traveled to Montreal to work for the game studio that had developed a game that truly moved him: Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. After getting into the studio, Yohalem began work on Rainbow Six Vegas 2 and eventually Assassin’s Creed 2 in 2009. After being given freedom to design the story behind AC 2‘s hidden areas, Yohalem was promoted to the role of lead writer for Brotherhood, and his commitment to explore areas unchecked continued.

Assassin’s Creed 2‘s hidden puzzles dealt with a variety of portraits and text that implied great historical figures like Joseph Stalin and Mahatma Gandhi were in fact members of the great struggle between the Templars and Assassins. As these were little more than secret bonus areas, it was clear to players that the famous individuals were being used for humor, or a historical nod, and not being lampooned or criticized in any way.

With Brotherhood, Yohalem changed his outlook, seeing the franchise as an opportunity to say something about the moral and ethical problems found in modern powers at a time when they would still be relevant. It is a compliment to the series that Yohalem felt that the next installment in the Assassin’s Creed series could be:

“a video game was that was talking about modern day politics, instead of all these cheesy stories that pretend to be about reality but use fake names in different time periods.

“That was really my intention to do something that had never been done in video games before, that dealt with topical issues that video games hadn’t been able to do in the past because they take so long to develop….Anything current always ends up falling apart before the game is done.”

Anyone who has watched the Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood developer diaries knows how passionately the game’s scriptwriter speaks about both the story and its protagonist. Given the current political issues regarding universal health-care, big business vs. regular citizens, and corporations becoming more and more powerful in the election of officials, it’s easy to understand why a video game writer would inject his own frustration into a game dealing with many of the same issues.

For example, many of the secret puzzles featured in the second game were designed around the concept of scanning a famous portrait of a historical figure for a hidden point, and the player would succeed when that point was located.

Assassins Creed Brotherhood Writer Supreme Court

In Brotherhood, Yohalem replaced deceased figures with collages of current public figures like former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, former Vice President Dick Cheney, and even the former President George W. Bush himself.When the player scanned over the figures, quotes would be revealed regarding their support of corporate rights and interests over that of the public.

These figures are certainly no strangers to public criticism, but Yohalem was merely reciting their own words, along with those of the Supreme Court to draw attention to a current political issue that shares a connection to events in the game. Don’t assume that these bits of satire made it into the game without being seen, since Yohalem commends his superiors at Ubisoft Montreal for their “bravery” in allowing most of them to be approved. Apparently, some criticism of French President Nicolas Sarkozy had to be removed for fear of a lawsuit.

It’s not totally uncommon for the plot and theme of a game to mirror real world events and figures, but actually naming them is rarely seen by studios and publishers seeking to avoid any negative publicity. Yohalem wanted to take the opportunity to teach American youth something about the world, and not to expect great things based on potential alone. This is mirrored in Ezio’s need to climb to power following the fantastic events of Assassin’s Creed 2. In Yohalem’s eyes, the presence of Machiavelli in Brotherhood got him thinking about what kind of message he wanted to give young people in regards to the real cost of leadership:

“I wanted to discuss leadership today, because I feel like a lot of kids coming out of school today feel that just making a charismatic speech means that you’re a leader…I think Obama has kind of proliferated that too: The idea that you can just wow people with this really good speech and you can write some really good letters and you’re the head of your company, right? You just start a company and that’s it…

“I feel like now kids are taught in America  you can be anything, do anything – everyone in your class is your equal – and it’s all about whether you’re smarter than them or not. And I think the workforce is not structured that way at all. Kids come out of college, encounter the workforce and this power hierarchy they’re not used to and they have no idea how to gain levels in that power hierarchy. I think it’s incredibly frustrating both for them and the people who are currently employed.”

Assassins Creed Brotherhood Writer Youth

Who would have thought that a game seemingly based around executions and stealth would have so much to say about today’s world? We’ve spent some time thinking about the relationship between games and literature, as well as other periods of world history that the Assassin’s Creed series could explore, so we’re well aware of the unique abilities the development team at Ubisoft has.

At the end of the day, the game has sold spectacularly well, and been praised for its action and story. So the satire and commentary that Yohalem has brought to the franchise clearly didn’t put off fans, and this relevance to today’s world may even be part of the overall evolution of the series that Ubisoft is planning. We won’t know until Ubisoft’s next mysterious Assassin’s Creed title comes next year.

Do you agree with Yohalem’s idea that writers can have much more freedom where videogame writing is concerned, due to the sentiment that it’s really only secondary to the actual gameplay? Or would you rather politics and lectures are kept in the classrooms and Congress?

You can see Yohalem’s political theories and opinions in action today by picking up Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood on PS3 and Xbox 360.

Source: Kotaku

TAGS: Assassin's Creed, Assassin's Creed Brotherhood, PS3, Ubisoft

13 Comments

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  1. “a former intern at The Daily Show has taken the opportunity to do what any good art seeks to: educate as much as it criticizes.”

    This. More people should do this.

  2. This type of thing is wonderful to see. I feel that some of the best art and artists in the world are the ones that use their art to critique and educate their audience. Certainly, not everyone will pick up on the message underlying the art, and I’m sure that there will be people that play Assassin’s Creed that don’t even bother with the story or putting much thought into what the story is trying to convey. However, if even only a small fraction of the people that play Brotherhood pick up on the comparisons and commentary contained within it, that is still a victory and an accomplishment by the developers. It is such because if more people become aware of the corruption taking place today, then the harder it becomes for that corruption to spread.

  3. Yes, this fine and dandy, but their is an obvious injection of his own bias. And the Daily show? Seriously? Jon S. has had a woody for Obama since day 1. And also — a more serious matter — the reason why the supreme court ruled in favor of corporations was because unions are allowed to. And see that is the problem of bias. It’s always about the corporations vs the little guy, except in some states you have to join a union and you have to pay union dues to that union, and many times that union gives to a politician you may not like. So why can’t a corporation do that too? And so far all I have seen in this game is an obvious bias. Where is a joke relating to the fact that the Norwegians gave Obama a Peace prize like they were giving out candy. Why not mention something like that. OR, Clinton ignoring 5 terrorist attacks during his presidency. Or a now public operation during the JFK admin to fake an attack to blame the Cubans. But that’s what you get when you get a writer from the Daily Show. Next time get a libertarian. There are plenty of us out there. And historically minded. But this game ruined the Assassin’s Creed line for me. I went from playing the game through twice for II, now I don’t even want to finish it. Too boring, and too filled with liberal biased predictability.

  4. Sorry for the improper grammar. It is a mix between public school and progressive teachers who didn’t test on actual substance, and my iPhone keyboard and predictive text.

  5. @John, I noticed this too while playing the game. The fact that they are trying to influence people politically upsets me. I play video games to have fun and escape from reality, not to have political commentary thrown at me.

    • Here here, I liked it before because of the historical points. Then you had this religious/what ever story in the memories. Now it is just liberal tripe. I will form my own opinions without this commy and go back to Call of Duty.

  6. IS the Assasins Creed 4 is making?

  7. I wasn’t too upset at the political side notes in the game because they were involved/relevant to the story going on between templars and assassins. The templars are all about putting their people in high places and controlling the masses. A quote from the game that goes to show this is, “Soon, capitalist and workers, will be locked in a closed loop that is safe and prosperous for humanity. No more war, only desks, cars and TV sets. We will protect them and keep them safe, forever.” The templars intentions are good, but the means of doing so are not.
    I guess what it comes down to is whether you mind a story having modern day relevancy or not.

  8. John, you are most certainly right that the writing is biased in this game. However, I feel that it is almost impossible to create something that is truly without any bias at all. No matter what, a person is going to have an opinion, view, outlook, or perspective that is based solely upon their own experience, logic, and knowledge. After all, we can only comment on things that we ourselves have seen, felt, or heard. So the question is: where do we draw the line on something that is overly biased versus something that is still reasonably fair despite the apparent bias that it contains? I feel that the story presentation in these games happens to fall on the reasonably fair side of things. Of course, Yohalem could have criticized JFK, Clinton, and even Obama; this is an indication of his own bias. What makes this game still seem reasonably fair to me, however, is that if he had decided to criticize those people in the game, that criticism would have still fallen in line with the direction of the overall story as well as the message that it is trying to convey. Granted, the people that he did choose to criticize in the game were from a particular party or had a similar belief system, the main purpose the story really is not intended to be “Republican vs Democrat” or even to single out people based on their beliefs. The real goal of the story, as far as I can tell, is to try and reveal the potential dangers of powerful secret societies. It’s not so much about any one person, as I feel that Yohalem could have equally criticized Clinton and Obama in this game and would have STILL been able to tell the same story and convey the same basic underlying message. I feel the game tries to give an ‘alternate-reality’ take on real history, with the purpose of either pointing out or exaggerating aspects that parallel true human history. It is not hard to imagine that people who have money and power, also would want to use that money and power to influence the world for their own gain based upon their beliefs and bias. Being a Republican or a Democrat doesn’t matter when money is involved, greed is universal. Likewise, there can be the matter of fundamental ideologies, while it may seem that the political party system is designed to cater to people of different ideologies, those are more at the micro-ideological level. This is where every small detail of the way a person thinks is taken into account (such as stances on abortion, same sex marriage, taxes, etc.), thus affecting how they tend to solve issues and handle business. When talking about matters on a macro-ideological level, however, then this tends to speak of a person or group of persons fundamental life views and morals. These types of things are harder to describe in specific detail because it all comes down to a person’s philosophy and moral fabric. We all look back at Hitler as an evil lunatic, but I’m willing to bet that he felt like he was a hero. Not every example is so extreme, of course, but when determining what type of a person you are on this level, the political party that you associate with is of little consequence. I feel that this game tries to point out potential dangers that can apply to all of us, regardless of our party, if we don’t stay vigilant and do our best to hold our elected officials accountable for their actions.

  9. I know I’m late to the comment section but I just finished playing the game and wanted to shed my 2 cents.

    If there was one thing I could say to Yohalem it would be that I think a lot of your stuff went over the heads of people. They didn’t make the deeper connection.

    As soon as I found the Templar ring on Justice Roberts, I laughed my ass off. It was such an appropriate slam and it had that unique Photoshoped pic Daily Show-esque humor feel. Well done.

    I saw Yohalem’s point to be a satirical jab at our political environment so I interpreted it to be thus: While Capitalism can work well as an economic system, be wary because it’s also very susceptible to sabotage. Anyone with lots of money could hijack this incentive structure that is Capitalism – markets and money used to channel the actors within towards a useful end – and use it to herd the masses in whatever way they see fit; basically as a means of gaining power.

    It’s a great point that he makes when juxtaposed to the contextual settings provided within the plot of Brotherhood. Religion, the structural system of life and governance found back then in Ezio’s time, was also frequently used as a means and way of gaining power through manipulation of said system; making people live a certain way (their way) because god commands it.

    Basically, the desire of the games various antagonists to use the day’s religious institutional complex as a platform to procure power or gain control over society, strikes a subtle closeness to what we see going on in today’s political world with all the influence peddling in government. In some ways, it is simpler to execute today because all it takes is a rather large check book rather than a necessary reliance on people to blindly accept you as an absolute authority.

    Overall the effect is more or less the same today as it was back then. The ways of organized religion served to benefit those in power and those who sought control, while capitalism can be used to buy that control over people directly. The gamer is supposed to heed this warning that manipulation is easier today than it was back then during the Renaissance when religion was starting to take a backseat to logic and reason. As the Abstergo phone records conveyed.. “Capitalism is the walls of the 21st century”

    Of course nothing highlights this more than the relatively recent ruling of the Citizens United Supreme Court case. Whether you are a liberal or not, there is no denying that money guides behavior and when a large chunk of that money is in the hands of a single entity, their opinions can have more weight than the next person if they send that money towards a politician and which could then ultimately become policy.

    I think this is where Yohalem was going with those 2 quotes provided in the article. While we are taught to think we are equals, the reality is we are not (I’m not sure why he talked about business hierarchy though, that didn’t seem to fit given the context).

    The “corporations are people” ruling just extenuated this truth 20fold at a time when there is also an unprecedented wealth gap in the United States.

    The game was bold for going there, but it also carries the attractive quality of being truthy… While many people played it for the action based content and fun with swords genre.. a lot of people I think found added value by tying the historical with the present all the while done in the shadows of an otherwise fictional premise.

  10. I think its awesome what their doing. Actually pursuing freedom of speech and press like were supposed to be allowed to without the fear of persecution. And I think it’s pretty damn cool somebody’s bringing the power struggle in America and bringing it to light the people don’t have as much say as were supposed to have. And the quote from him talking about Americas kids thinking they can be whatever / do whatever also holds alot of truth in itself.

  11. I think its awesome what their doing. Actually pursuing freedom of speech and press like were supposed to be allowed to without the fear of persecution. And I think it’s pretty cool somebody’s bringing the power struggle in America and bringing it to light the people don’t have as much say as were supposed to have. And the quote from him talking about Americas kids thinking they can be whatever / do whatever also holds alot of truth in itself.

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