How can Assassin’s Creed be used in History Education?

Fani Partsafyllidou Reviews ,

The stunning landscape of Ancient cities in Assassin’s Creed is too good to be neglected by the educational community.

What is Assassin's Creed?

Some of you might ask: ‘Assassin's Creed? A game full of blood, weapons, and beheadings?’

An action-adventure game, Assassin's Creed, was released in 2007. Having gained remarkable popularity, as it now counts 95 million players and it is one of the most successful games of all time, it kept improving its virtual world making it more and more detailed and sophisticated. Ubisoft, the developer company, decided to recreate entire ancient cities, street by street, to offer a fascinating world to the players, and hired a team of historians to do so.

Exploring Ancient cities

The final product was so captivating and informative that raised the question: How can this 3D, interactive depiction of ancient cities help education? Then, the discovery tour was created: a version of the game in which you can explore the cities, statues, and customs shown in the game without the gameplay.

Your character can walk, ride a horse, or fly on an eagle to see the city. Each time she reaches a station of the tour, you can listen to a short narration of a historical fact and you can view a relevant artefact. There is an abundance of information to unravel. The Ancient Egypt tour includes 75 tours, of various epochs, locations, and topics.

Is it accurate?

The game is accurate in instances that we have historical knowledge over what happened. In instances where the historical accounts are incomplete or contrasting, the mythological or artistic element takes over. The tour acknowledges this fact in ‘Behind the Scenes’ stations, where it is explained which parts of the game are historical fiction, and which parts are accurate. Some adjustments had to be made to support the gameplay as well, for example there are many statues and monuments to make navigation easier. Overall, the creators describe it as ‘not an accurate, but an authentic experience’.

Is it informative?

The player absorbs historical details just by exploring the city, such as

  • The people: demographics, the proportions of the population regarding age and gender
  • clothes of the time
  • the presence of horses and other animals in the streets
  • a variety of shops and work stations with products of the time
  • the materials used for the roads and buildings
  • the architecture.

Historians, experts, and universities worked together to provide these details. Moreover, the tour provides a series small lessons that the users can hear when they visit the respective place.

Abstract time period

The simulation of the city does not reflect a specific date, which means that some parts may be of an earlier and some of a later date. That falls under the issue of our historical knowledge, as mentioned above. Since we do not have complete city plans for the ancient world, the researchers combined in the same city plan the bits of information that are available, even if they are asynchronous.

Listening to Dead Languages

An astonishing aspect in Discovery Tours is that the player hears ancient languages spoken by actors. This is a truly unique experience. To produce the sound of Ancient Egyptian, a team of linguists, Egyptologists, and dialogue coaches worked together. The dialogues are fictional and based on Egyptian Grammar.

Things change in Ptolemaic Alexandria, where walking around the player hears Ancient Greek dialogues. The language and grammar is Ancient Greek, and Greek actors were chosen for the narration, providing a modern Greek pronunciation.  Some of the dialogues I overheard from my surroundings while exploring the city were jokes about mother-in-laws, gossiping about someone’s clothes, and comments on yesterday’s wrestling game. For half an hour, Ancient Greek came to life.

Keep in mind

Video games as a way to teach History are not meant to replace reading, they are meant to inspire students to actually read. As such, Discovery Tours of Assassin's Creed are a perfect tool to attract the interest of the students about the explored time and place, and arouse curiosity to learn more.

You can buy it here. Make sure to check the system requirements first.

“Ready to Reach Out”: discussing the digitisation of cultural heritage at the NL EU Presidency in Amsterdam

On 29 June 2016, EuroClio Programme Director Steven Stegers had the opportunity to moderate a subsession during “Ready to reach out: Conference on Digitisation of Cultural Heritage”, a two day-conference that was held for the occasion of the presidency of the Netherlands of the European Union during the first half year of 2016. The conference took place in the building of the Netherlands EU Presidency in Amsterdam.

The conference was attended by 250 international participants from sectors as digitisation, culture and heritage, educators and representatives from the tourism sector, EU institutions and EU member states and was organised by the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. The central topic of the conference was connecting cultural heritage collections and serving wider audiences.

During the subsession that focused on “Making it Visible within Cultural Education”, Steven posed the central question of what can be done to make more and better use of digital heritage in education. There is a lot of digital material available from an increasing amount of cultural institutes throughout Europe, but the material does not reach the students in the classroom. In his opening remarks, Steven stated that it is crucial that high-quality material is selected and made available for educators. The next step is that tools are made available: tools that are free to use and easily understandable for educators. With this, the potential of students rising above possessing knowledge through acquiring competencies increases.

During the rest of the session, attention was given to the questions how ICT can improve the teaching and learning of history, why archives make students think, how cultural institutions can work together, and how the various archives can be combined in one portal. Practical examples and explanations were given by the various speakers.

For a full report on the conference, have a look at the “Ready to Reach Out” report. All parts of the conference are explained and you can read more about the session about visibility in cultural education in the report. EuroClio would like to thank the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science for offering the opportunity to discuss with such a varied audience the possibilities, shortcomings and challenges of digitisation of cultural heritage.

“Connecting”, “Prioritising” and “Sequencing” main concepts for new online tools for Historiana

During the 2nd core team meeting of the “Innovating History Education for All” project, Webtic (the web developers of Historiana) and the core team members set the priorities for the development of new online tools. Nique Sanders and Paul Jongsma of Webtic presented the five sketches that they made after the previous meeting. The core team members described how they would use these tools in practice describing every step in the learning process on post-it notes. The choice to further develop the sketches for the concepts “connecting”, “prioritising” and “sequencing” is based on their desirability, feasibility and level of innovation. As a next step, Webtic will present sketches of the whole workflow to the core team. For more information please contact steven@euroclio.eu.