Using Assassin's Creed II to Teach the Renaissance

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Last spring I constructed a project-based lesson (PBL) titled The Assassin's Creed: Renaissance Character Web Project. This PBL is framed around creating additional Renaissance-era characters to further integrate into the video game series via downloadable content. The students were asked, “what if Ubisoft decided to integrate other real Renaissance figures as characters in the game?” The unit was tied to historical fiction, which makes history more “real” and relatable to middle school students. The culminating activity was the student-created character pages on a wiki.

A_Roll_of_the_Dice_3 “Inspired by Historical Events and Characters.” This is how each game in the popular open-world, third person, role-playing game (RPG) Assassin's Creed series, available on PC, Xbox and Playstation, begins. The Assassin’s Creed series of video games is an example of historical fiction. Examples of historical fiction in film range include Titanic and Saving Private Ryan. The storyline of the Assassin’s Creed is essentially The Matrix meets The DaVinci Code. Here is the link for the game series, published by Ubisoft: assassinscreed.ubi.com. Check out this clip in which Assassin's Creed Revelations' lead script writer Darby McDevitt talks about the historical setting and people that lead character Ezio meets in the game Assassin’s Creed: Revelations: youtu.be/Kn-310RoBMY.

In the book What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy (2007), James Paul points out gamers interact and collaborate beyond the game world in “affinity groups.” It is on sites like Wikia that affinity groups flourish. Wikia, which specializes in topics such as game, movie, and television characters, is the for-profit, user-created wiki owned by the Wikipedia Foundation’s Jimmy Wales. Here’s a link to the Assassin’s Creed Wikia fan page, which has over 4,000 subpages: http://assassinscreed.wikia.com/wiki/Assassin%27s_Creed_Wiki.

Many games feature an "in-game economy." In the Assassin's Creed series, opponents can be looted and pick-pocketed. Money can be found by unlocking hidden treasure chests. The currency is historically accurate depending on the time period and location of the game setting. That money can be used to improve buildings, upgrade the avatar or purchase maps featuring hidden locations of desirable objects.

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