Archive | March, 2012

A Historical Deconstruction of Assassin’s Creed 2

30 Mar

Exploring the vastness of Italy in Assassin’s Creed 2, players find themselves noticing various famous landmarks riddling the landscape. In Florence, you are greeted by the Ponte Vecchio, the Santa Maria Novella, the magnificent Santa Maria del Fiore, the unforgettable Piazza della Signoria, however; the mind-blowingly accurate architecture is not limited to Fierenze. Taking Ezio through Tuscany and Venice, San Gimignano and Forli, you will find that many of the in-game structures are real-world architectural masterpieces.  As incredible as this may seem, the precision of these landscapes is only one facet of Assassin’s Creed 2 that maintains some sense of historical accuracy for not only is Renaissance Italy remembered by its architecture, but also the family feuds of the time—most notably of them being between the Medici and the Pazzi.

Detest between the Madici and Pazzi families were the result of the power struggle for dominant influence in Florentine politics. To understand this struggle, one must first recognize the two families for what they were. The Medici family was relatively new to the Florentine society and politics, yet they had money to lend, alliances through marriage, and a vast social network. These factors allowed for the family to become the dominating banking powerhouse of Tuscany and gain influence within the Roman Catholic Church which, during the Renaissance era, played a major role in politics itself. This newfound power gave rise to a natural rivalry between them and the Pazzi family, whose roots were deeply entrenched in Florence well before the presence of the Medici.

This rivalry would later reach its apogee when the Pazzi and Salviati families manufactured a conspiracy for the assassination of Lorenzo di Medici and his brother, Giuliano Medici. Their plan was to be carried out on April 26, 1478 while High Mass was taking place at the Duomo. Overall the attempt failed and resulted with the death of Giuliano, the execution of the conspirators, and the banishment of the Pazzi family from the city of Florence.  With that banishment, all Pazzi family assets were seized and all remaining traces of the family were both forbidden and destroyed. It is with this conspiracy the developers of Assassin’s Creed 2 created such a brilliant adaptation of Italian history.

Throughout the game, the Pazzi conspiracy is reenacted with identical characters from real-world history, however; in order to provide a more complete story and gaming experience, the developers of Assassin’s Creed 2 allowed for a few historical inaccuracies. For instance, the game allows for the plotters to seek refuge in Tuscan. Furthermore, in the game Baroncelli is killed by Ezio in the city of San Gimignario after a failed escape from Constantinople whereas in reality he did attempt escape but was caught and hanged in Florence. Following the Pazzi conspiracy in Assassin’s Creed 2, the game tends more towards fiction and consequently becomes less concerned with historical accuracy. It is an adaptation, after all, not a textbook.

Evaluating Assassin’s Creed 2 as such, the developers of the game have done a magnificent job meshing history and fiction into a virtual medium, effectively creating something that gamers have never experienced before. The game is truly a staple of pop culture, justifying its value with its rich historical flavors. It is in my hopes that Ubisoft will continue to release titles like Assassin’s Creed 2 so that society may begin to appreciate all that video games have to offer; an interactive and immersifying experience that, in this case, allows the player to relive history.          

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The Pazzi, Medici, and Assassin’s Creed

30 Mar

By:  Andrew Schuster

Assassin’s Creed II follows a lot of real historical events in 15th century Florence that are shrouded in enough mystery that some of the occurrences are believably accurate.  Understanding the Pazzi family and their wish to overthrow the Medici also places a new dimension on the gameplay in that as the character you’ve been thrusted into a family debacle involving differences in power.

Most video games don’t play into real history seeing as historical inaccuracy can usually lead to some distaste from a more educated crowd, but having the setting in Florence around this era brings a very special instance to the developers, in that there is a set knowledge of what happened and yet a lot of the occurrences are up for interpretation.  Basically speaking, even though the Pazzi striking the Medici is a known event in history, witness accounts are the only thing that we have to go by, meaning there’s a lot that could have been happening.  This changes the dynamic of the gameplay in that instead of a fictional character, the player can be immersed in the feeling that he is part of an unrecorded piece of history.

Another aspect these historical perspectives present to the player is the opportunity to learn of real historical figures.  Normally, a player would be presented with completely fictitious characters and would play along a made up storyline and while this the storyline aspect is still slightly true (there are, in reality, no Assassin’s versus Templars), the characters are for the most part real and had some part in their contribution to the outcome of Pazzi Conspiracy.  These all play out as being actual problems of the higher class and reflect real concerns of those involved.

The final aspect I wish to touch upon is the social aspect of the game, namely the characters that are part of the crowd.  The main reason behind staging an assassination during high mass was to prove a point to the public and send a message.  The public as a whole is just as important a character as Lorenzo de’ Medici because they as a whole represent the stability of the city.  If the people are at a state of unrest, the whole city is, making things fairly difficult for the families in charge.

The historical perspectives add a new dimension to the gameplay that you can’t get in all games due to the fact that Assassin’s Creed II put a lot of time an effort into being as historically accurate as possible.  This concept brings a new experience to the table that allows for both an immersive experience that also offers the chance to better understand the world of 15th century Florence.

Ezio’s Honor from a Historical Perspective

30 Mar

In Assassin’s Creed II, honor plays a huge role in the development of the story. Many of the decisions that Ezio Auditore makes are based on his honor and he takes actions to maintain or redeem his honor. While playing Assassin’s Creed II, one of the our assigned historical readings was “Honor and Gender in the Streets of Early Modern Rome,” by Elizabeth S. Cohen. In this article, there was one quote that stood out to me. “Honor is highly vulnerable and men must be vigilant in its defense…An attack on honor is anything which shows to the audience of society that he cannot protect what is his – his face, his body, his family, his house, his property” (Cohen, 617). This quote perfectly describes the attitude that Ezio has throughout the game. Ezio’s decisions throughout the game are consistent with Cohen’s statement about men and their defense of their honor.

In the beginning of Assassin’s Creed II, Ezio’s introductory scene is about his family’s honor. We enter the scene as Ezio is giving his men a pep talk on a bridge. Ezio exclaims, “Do you know what brings us here tonight? HONOR!” Ezio and his allies are here to fight Vieri de’ Pazzi because Vieri has been shaming the name of Ezio’s family, the Auditores. Within the first few minutes of the game, Ezio has acted according to Cohen’s quote, “Honor is highly vulnerable and men must be vigilant in its defense…An attack on honor is anything which shows to the audience of society that he cannot protect what is his – his face, his body, his family, his house, his property.” Ezio is vigilant in the defense of his family’s name, and as soon as he hears about any attempt to shame his family’s name, he rushes to its defense and to fight the threat. By beating up Vieri de’ Pazzi and his men, Ezio defends the honor of the Auditore family name. Ezio’s first action that he makes in the game is consistent with Cohen’s statement about men of the period.

Further along in the introduction, we can apply Cohen’s quote again as Ezio rushes to the defense of his sister’s honor. Ezio learns from his sister, Claudia, that her heart is broken because her boyfriend, Duccio, has been cheating with other women. Again, as Cohen stated, “Honor is highly vulnerable and men must be vigilant in its defense…An attack on honor is anything which shows to the audience of society that he cannot protect what is his – his face, his body, his family, his house, his property.” Claudia’s heart has been broken and her honor is ruined because her boyfriend was unfaithful to her, and Ezio immediately reacts. Ezio decides to beat up Duccio and makes him stay away from his sister so that she won’t be hurt by him anymore. Ezio defends Claudia’s honor by beating up Duccio and shaming his honor. Ezio remains vigilant in the defense of his sister’s honor, and continues to affirm Cohen’s observation.

Later in the game, Ezio continues to fulfill Cohen’s hypothesis as he retaliates against a traitor who betrayed the Auditores. Ezio plans to exact revenge on the betrayer, Uberto Alberti, by assassinating him. By assassinating Uberto, Ezio partially redeems the Auditore honor by killing their betrayer. Again, Ezio acts according to “Honor is highly vulnerable and men must be vigilant in its defense…An attack on honor is anything which shows to the audience of society that he cannot protect what is his – his face, his body, his family, his house, his property.” Although Ezio was not able to defend his family, he retaliates by taking Uberto’s life and defiling Uberto’s honor. In addition, Ezio makes an angry announcement that the Auditores are not all dead. He, Ezio, is still alive! By making this announcement, Ezio restores his family honor by challenging his enemies and showing that the Auditores still have enough power to exact revenge. Although Ezio was not able to defend his honor in this incident, he still operates according to Cohen after he decides to take Uberto’s life and honor.

Ezio is a man who is fiercely protective of his honor. Whenever he makes a decision, it is clear that the motive behind his acts is his honor. Throughout the game, his honor is challenged many times and Ezio always reacts to the threat on his honor. When his family name is challenged, Ezio fights whoever is debasing the Auditore name and makes them stop. When his sister is being cheated on, he immediately goes and makes her boyfriend regret it. When his father and brothers are killed, he kills the man who betrayed them. These are only a few of all of the choices that Ezio makes, but all his actions are consistent with Cohen’s statement throughout the game. Ezio is a perfect recreation of an ideal man defending his honor in early modern Rome. In Assassin’s Creed II, the the portrayal of Ezio is historically accurate with men of the time period and is consistent with Cohen’s assertion of the relationship between men and honor.

by Kim Yie

Assassin’s Creed II From a Historical Perspective

30 Mar

While playing Assassin’s Creed II it was interesting to run into many aspects of the game that were historically accurate. To begin with, most of the characters, such as the Auditore family, are real figures from Venetian history. This adds to the historical feeling that the game sets. In a way, the player can relive fifteenth century Venetian life by interacting with other characters in the game, exploring the landscape and buildings, and following the journeys incorporated into the game’s plot. It was very intriguing to see how historical texts such as Veronica Franco’s poems tie hand in hand with many aspects of Assassin’s Creed II. In the four poems that were read Franco addresses her relationship with a lover, a hater, and a friend. These relationships are prevalent in the video game, and the player encounters situations dealing with each of the relationships Franco revolves her poetry around.

In Veronica Franco’s first two poems she addresses her relationship with her lover, Magnifico Marco Venier. As I read these two poems the romantic relationships between Ezio and the numerous women in the game came to mind. Of course Ezio shared a number of relationships with many women, but he did have a very serious relationship with Christina who he later finds out is engaged to another man. Soon after that Ezio returns to Florence and encounters an attack in which Christina dies. Later in the game Ezio and Rosa begin to develop a relationship. The game does not delve deep into their relationship, but hints at flirtatious comments and gestures. Ezio’s romantic life, whether historically accurate or not, adds to the historic effect that the game displays. At the same time it is helpful to read Franco’s poems because they address romance from the same time period. Her poems go into a bit more detailed love story than Ezio does with any of his relationships, but at the same time the poems do represent romance in fifteenth century Italy.

The next Franco poem describes a situation where another poet has insulted Franco. The poem is a response to the insults and slander that she received and how she reacted to the insults. In Capitolo 16 she addresses how she will confront the poet by describing situations such as “blade in hand, I learned warrior’s skills”. “The sword that strikes and stabs in your hand”, and “ for you may fall, beaten”. Although she will be using poetry and words to fight off the poet and not literally weapons and swords this poem still serves as a representation of what Ezio experiences during his quest when he encounters other assassins, evil townsmen, and other enemies and has to fight them off. As the game’s plot progresses Ezio faces many more characters that he assassinates using actually swords and weapons.

The last Franco poem that was read was Capitolo 23 describes a relationship with a friend. Veronica Franco approaches her friend for advice about dueling with another person. This poem is relevant to Assassin’s Creed II because the video game revolves around friendship, brotherhood, and family. The poem reminded me of Ezio’s relationship with Leonardo Da Vinci. Throughout the game Ezio encounter’s Leonardo many times which leads to great bond of trust and friendship between the two. Leonardo helps Ezio along the way by translating the Codex pages and by using his artistic abilities to help Ezio create weapons to assist him in his assassinations. This example of friendship relates to Franco’s Capitolo 23.

Assassin’s Creed II was a great journey that was filled with action, violence, romance, and friendship. The video game addresses family, conspiracy and history all in one game. The game is very unique and compelling because it inhibits all of these aspects into one game. Assassin’s Creed II can serve as a form of entertainment and an educational tool at the same time.

 

Samiyah Malik

The Role of History in The Sandman

2 Mar

I have not had any experience before reading graphic novels, so reading The Sandman, by Neil Gaiman, gave me a great first impression of the genre. Throughout the novel, the stories consistently impressed me and kept my attention. One of the chapters that really impressed me was Sandman #31, Three Septembers and a January. In Three Septembers and a January, the story kept my attention by its adaptation of historical events into the Sandman universe, attention to detail, and its connection of other historical figures within the plot.

In Three Septembers and a January, one surprising fact that I learned after reading the story was that it was an adaptation of a true historical event. In real American history, Joshua Norton was a businessman who lost his fortune investing in Peruvian rice. He disappeared for several years but eventually returned to San Francisco, appearing mentally unbalanced and claiming himself to be the Emperor of the United States. Gaiman takes this history and cleverly adapts it into a bet between Dream against Despair, Delirium, and Desire. It is amazing how Gaiman adapted the history into a bet, and it seems completely natural how Despair, Delirium, and Desire test Emperor Norton’s will and pride. Initially, Despair is about to take Norton because he is about to commit suicide after losing his entire fortune on Peruvian rice, but Dream saves him by giving him a dream to live for – living as the Emperor of the U.S. Later, Delirium comes and tests how sane Norton is, but despite his crazy idea of being the Emperor, he remains perfectly reasonable. Finally, Desire tries to entice Norton to lust after what appear to be prostitutes, but Norton’s dignity as the Emperor refuses to allow him to stoop that low. This plot line flowed so naturally that the first time reading it, I did not realize it was an adaptation of actual history. This adept adaptation of a historical event into The Sandman universe impressed me.

In addition to the historical context of the plots, Three Septembers and a January also impressed me by the staggering attention to detail in both the story and the artwork. In parts of the story, Emperor Norton writes taxes on his imperial subjects of 50 cents, and he writes receipts for people who pay their taxes. One of his receipts is briefly depicted in one of the art panes, and looks exactly like pictures of actual ones that have survived a few hundred years of existence. In another part of the story, Norton decrees the construction of a bridge connecting Oakland and San Francisco, and later Norton shows displeasure when San Francisco is called ‘Frisco.’ I did some research, and it turns out that all of these details are based on decrees that he actually made as Emperor. Norton made an imperial declaration for the construction of the bridge and he also decreed a penalty of 25 dollars on anyone that said the word ‘Frisco.’ These small details are only few of the details everywhere in the chapter, and the overwhelming amount of research and effort it must have taken to discover and reproduce these facts grabbed my attention.

One other way that The Sandman kept my attention was the way that Gaiman almost casually connects other historical figures within the story. In Three September and a January, Norton meets Samuel Clemens, a newspaper reporter. Later in the story, Norton and Samuel are eating at a bar, and Norton tells Samuel that he should write about the frog that could jump over everything because people like to read things that will make them laugh. It is implicit that this series of events inspired Mark Twain, which was Samuel Clemens’s pen name, to write ‘The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.’ I was very interested when I read about this in the story because I recognized Mark Twain, but I did not know whether or not he could have truly met the Emperor in history. It turns out that Mark Twain did live in San Francisco during part of Norton’s ‘reign’, so it is not impossible, although unlikely, that Gaiman’s adaptation retells how Mark Twain was inspired. Even though this event was not one of the main events of the plot, this digression caught my attention because it involved a historical figure I recognized and tied it into The Sandman universe.

The amount of history that is in Three Septembers and a January was extremely impressive to me. As a result of how much effort Gaiman made to portray historically accurate details in the actual adaptation of the history, I was constantly analyzing the story because I was eager to know which parts were actual history and which parts were fictional. However, Three Septembers and a January was not the only story that was written with these aspects. What was truly spectacular to me was that the majority of the adventures in The Sandman were written in this fashion. This style of writing inspired me to go and do research about each of the historical events to satisfy my curiosity about which parts of each chapter actually happened. As a result, the role of history and all of the different ways that Gaiman incorporated it into his stories is the most interesting and my favorite aspect of The Sandman.

by Kim Yie

Culture War: Old vs. Young and Their Gadgets

2 Mar

Upon reading Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, I found an aspect in The Hunt to be very interesting that dealt with a Grandfather who was trying to tell a story to his granddaughter but she was too preoccupied by wanting to watch a television show instead. This situation is extremely appealing because it reminds me of today’s society now more than ever. Being a bit of a generalist, I think there seems as if there is a culture war going on between old and young people due to the technological impact we’ve had over the past decade and a half.

Too many times I have heard parents and grandparents say to kids, “Put your phone up and enjoy the company”. I lost count as to how many times my granddad said that at Christmas this past year. And just the other day I witnessed a mom yelling at her son to put his little Gameboy up while they were in the car? Sure it can be irritating sometimes trying to have a conversation with others when they’re multitasking on their little gadgets, but does the older generation really understand how addicting these things are? Perhaps some of it is due to the unfamiliarity our older generation has with the emerging technology. While the young population is playing on their smartphones, iPads, tablets, and iPods, older people are sweating on how to even turn them on or how to even pronounce the name.

Personally, I think the main reason grandparents and older parents get so agitated with children as they use their little gadgets is because the older people feel less needed. In recent years, children always engaged in conversation with their parents and grandparents asking about this, that, and the other in order to seek answers about certain things. Nowadays, we don’t see that as often because of all the involvement children have with the gadgets and the information it can provide to them. It is indeed upsetting to see the wisdom of the older people not be in as much effect anymore, but that’s reality. The society is evolving and being taken over with the new technology.

This can most definitely be considered somewhat of a culture war because of the drastic evolvement. Grandparents seemingly don’t like the direction these gadgets are heading us towards where children and young adults want more and more of them and hate to have to put them away when being asked to because of the heavy addiction. It’s the old versus the young and their gadgets. Game on!

As Neil Gaiman incorporated this scene of the grandfather and his granddaughter, it can easily be seen that he’s also agreeing that the younger people are very attached to their technology and the older generation aren’t appreciating it very much as they try to share some of their wisdom. Gaiman should place this on an even bigger stage to present this to the public because it is something that needs to be talked about before these emerging gadgets take over even more and possibly tear apart a family.

Historical Context of Sandman: Fables and Reflections

2 Mar

The Sandman: Fables and Reflections is an interesting tale of tales from Neil Gaiman.  What I find to be so encapsulating about the stories is their incorporation of history throughout accompanied with a hint of mythology every so often. Specifically in the story of “Thermidor”, we get a glimpse of the French Revolution when dream proposes a business arrangement with Johanna Constantine at her manor in Wych Cross, England 1979. July 30th that very same year, Johanna finds herself in the attempt to liberate Orpheus’ severed head from post-Revolution Paris. “Thermidor”, taken from a month marked by the calendar of the French Revolution, is rich in history and more in depth than most give it credit for.

Both St. Just and Robespierre are real life characters associated with the French revolution. The illustrators based drawings of those two characters on likenesses found in paintings of the two men. Louis Antoine Léon de Saint-Just, regularly called St. Just, was a military and political leader during the French revolution while Robespierre was perhaps one of the most influential people of the revolution before being sent to the guillotine. Having an slight affinity for history, I found Gaimain’s incorporation of these two figures into the text particularly appealing. There’s even more to be said for Gaimain’s abilities to throw mythology into the mix, giving the story one of its more unique characteristics among many.

After extensive research, I could turn up no evidence to suggest that Orpheus’ unknown lineage has been attributed to any sort of dream god in Greek mythology. It was interesting to see that Gaiman granted Orpheus with the power to woo anyone with song; a power not so far outside those that dream possesses. I suppose it isn’t too much of a stretch considering older story tells have before considered Apollo responsible for the life of Orpheus. “Thermidor” does well in illustrating the danger of a society driven by a demagogue, the lengths to which people will go in the name of “the people” or “the nation.” — abandoning rationality for support. I believe this story has an ever increasing relevance to society today, particularly the more Americanized societies. Think Rick Perry before he dropped from the 2012 presidential race.

While “Thermidor” may initially seem to be nothing more than a mere horror story of a misplaced head, it actually goes much deeper than that. Not only is it about Orpheus and his father, but moreover the Reign of Terror and how those in power justify their atrocities. “Thermidor” provides us with a more supernatural scenario for the end of The Terror and by such trivialized the actual history. It is by no mistake, for instance, that we are introduced to the imprisoned Thomas Paine, a man who sought residence in France throughout the 1790’s, becoming a deeply involved and pivotal figure in the French Revolution.  Johanna is found on the final page of “Thermidor” saying, “What we obtain too cheep, we esteem too lightly”. A statement taken directly from Thomas Paine’s pamphlet series “The Crisis”, which he published in late 1776. Johanna attempts to calm  Orpheus for, no matter is immortality, his heart still finds itself haunted by the unanswered question of his father’s love. This microcosmic drama of history is what makes ”Thermidor” and moreover Fables and Reflections, such an interesting read.

Its this way of retelling the stories of the past that we find appreciation in the gravity of history — its precedence will forever be repeated, bringing some sense of order to the present. History contains a past of corrupted rulers, shattered hopes and dreams, and lessons learned. But with “Thermidor” and a little imagination, the ancient world can be transformed into a place for a lost head to long for a father’s love. History is but a dream, and the extent of its unanswered questions is what makes Sandman such an inviting and compelling read.

— Will Herren