I really have just about given up on decent female representation in these games. It’s not even that women aren’t in Assassin’s Creed III—we do get a few characters, and they are anything but poorly written. They’re just not in it very much, and I know the story could do better. However, now that Trump has signed legislation allowing DAPL to proceed once more, showing how little both he and other Americans care about Native American lands and the rights of the people on those lands, Assassin’s Creed III was remarkably on point when it came to issues of race. Given the current political climate, it delves into a much-needed conversation about the oppression of minorities, white privilege, and the bad things that happened to make our country what it is today.
Spoilers up ahead.
This time around Desmond explores the memories of two people. We start off with Haytham Kenway, some rich guy living in mid 1700s London whom everyone assumes to be an Assassin. He travels to Boston at his Order’s behest and starts recruiting people in America to the cause. His main mission is to find a First Civilization storehouse of some kind, and although he does find it, he doesn’t have the means to open it up. During his travels, he meets Kaniehtí:io—or just Ziio—a Kanien’kehá:ka woman, and the two end up helping each other out. Also along for the ride is Charles Lee, Haytham’s right-hand man. When Lee proves his dedication to the cause, Haytham initiates him into the Order, and we learn that they are not Assassins but Templars.
Our main character is actually Ziio and Haytham’s son, Ratonhnhaké:ton, nicknamed Connor. Ziio breaks off her relationship with Haytham before Connor’s born and raises him among the rest of her people. Unfortunately, being a Native American is never an easy thing with all of us white assholes running around. Connor bumps into Lee when he’s only four, gets assaulted by him, and after he wakes up from being choked, his village has been burned to the ground. Ziio dies during the attack.
This attack is the starting point for Connor, and wanting revenge on Lee is what drives him to become an Assassin. He seeks out the help of Achilles Davenport, a retired Master Assassin, and together they conspire to take down the American Templars.
Back in the present with Desmond, the characters only spend long enough in the past to figure out where a specific key for that First Civilization storehouse is. Inside, they can access a device that will stop the impending apocalypse—the downside to it using it, however, is that Juno, a member of the First Civilization, is somehow still alive, and although she naturally doesn’t want the world to end, she was sealed away for trying to conquer the planet in the past. Using the device will both release her and send so much energy through Desmond that he would die. In order to save the world, though, Desmond goes through with it, and now our main Avatar character who I just spent five games with is dead.
I loved this game, and it’s got a whole bunch of little touches here and there to make it feel so much more authentic. Language is one of them—in most games, the Animus just translates everything the characters say into English, but as Connor is bilingual, half his conversations are instead subtitled Mohawk, the language of the Kanien’kehá:ka people. His English has also been purposefully stilted to show his struggles with it, slowly becoming smother over time. As a giant fangirl of languages, I took great joy out of this one aspect alone. This was also a conscious decision on the part of Connor’s voice actor, Noah Watts, who’s a member of the Crow Nation, and who partly based his acting decisions on the portrayal of other Native Americans in fiction, such as Magua from Last of the Mohicans. While incorporating actors of color certainly helps in diversity, there were unfortunately no Kanien’kehá:ka people on the production team, which made Connor’s character more than a little difficult to write, according to character designer Jeff Simpson. Despite that, it’s easy to see the time and care that was put into Connor’s character.
I greatly enjoyed having a Native American protagonist, and it really opened my eyes to the reality of what it must be like living as a hated racial minority in this country. Considering what’s going on in America right now, the game is rather timely. Those of us who are familiar with Hamilton will recognize names like Charles Lee and Lafayette, but whereas Hamilton looks at American history through rose-tinted glasses and diversifies something completely white, Assassin’s Creed III goes in the opposite direction. Our founding fathers were racist pieces of shit who either owned slaves or didn’t think abolishing slavery was that big an issue. Washington, for instance, once said, “there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do to see a plan adopted for the abolition of [slavery].” Despite that, he owned slaves his entire life. Patrick Harris said, “I am drawn along by the general inconvenience of living without them.” So yeah, they deserve our disrespect just for that alone.
During the game, Connor ends up helping George Washington win the country’s independence, because he believes that being free from Britain is what’s best for his people. Unfortunately, it’s very clear that everyone is just using Connor. Samuel Adams also tries to justify having slaves, because he can’t deal with a slave’s problems as well as his own, and when Connor points out that their problems are not equal, Adams tries to gaslight him. We later learn, even more unfortunately, that Charles Lee is not the one responsible for burning down Connor’s village. He was there on Templar orders trying to save it. Washington gave that command, and while Connor’s an adult who’s already dedicated a good portion of his time to the revolution and winning battles, Washington gives yet another order for Connor’s people to be eradicated, because some of them helped the redcoats. Although Connor puts a stop to this, he doesn’t get a happy ending. His people are still driven from their land.
And for those of you who may be wondering, yes, George Washington actually did order their eradication in real life.
“The immediate objectives are the total destruction and devastation of their settlements and the capture of as many prisoners of every age and sex as possible. It will be essential to ruin their crops in the ground and prevent their planting more.”
Oddly enough, some of the only non-racist people in the game are Templars. But even then, they’re still not good people. William Johnson at one point tries to buy Kanien’kehá:ka lands in order to protect the Native people there, but when the Natives reject this form of protection—and why wouldn’t they?—Johnson tries to murder a few of them to scare the others into submission. Even Haytham, upon first meeting Ziio, assumes that she cannot speak English and tries to talk slowly to her like a child. Ziio mocks him for this and judges him hardcore for not being able to say her full name.
Assassin’s Creed III takes its time to show the hypocrisy of the American revolution. At the end of the game, when Connor’s people have been driven away, and the colonists are cheering about their newfound freedom, slaves are being sold at auction. Achilles, Connor’s Black mentor, even mentions once that while Connor is hated for being who he is, it’s still better than being Black.
There’s a lot of racial discourse to unpack in Assassin’s Creed III, and what’s nice is that the game doesn’t follow its predecessors by refusing to include women of color. Women most certainly should have played a bigger role in the narrative, and while Ziio’s death is unfortunate, her character was great. The game develops her within a short period of time, and it’s through her interactions with Haytham that we first get a sense of the tyranny her people face. The Homestead that Connor lives on with Achilles is also a diverse place. Not having the same racial prejudices as other people, Connor invites anyone who needs help to come live with them on Achilles’s lands. Two of them are Warren and Prudence, a free married Black couple Connor saves from British soldiers, and like all other residents on the Homestead, the game takes time to develop them and let us learn about their lives. Prudence’s big issue is that she’s always wanted to be a mother, but has trouble conceiving. When she finally does become pregnant, the birth almost kills her.
Another woman on the Homestead is Myriam, a huntress who chose to live in the wild, because she couldn’t bring herself to conform to traditional gender norms as society demands. Before discovering hunting, her options in life were to join a convent or a brothel. Another woman and her daughter move to the Homestead in order to escape domestic abuse—and Connor and their fellow Homesteaders are the only people who care enough to stand up for them. Assassin’s Creed III recognizes the different social problems and dangers women faced back in the 1700s and continue to face today, and through just a few short moments with Ziio and the Homesteaders, it explores those hardships in ways that are meaningful to the characters. The problem is that all these women are side characters and not essential to the main plotline.
I really did like Haytham’s character, and part of why he needed such a big role was because the story wanted to juxtapose his relationship with Connor with Desmond’s relationship with his abusive father, but that’s not really an excuse for women to not have roles more important to the narrative. At the very least, the story could have given us a female Templar or something. On the whole, I would say that thus far this game has done much better with women than any of the previous games, but when it falls flat, it falls flat. Just take a look at the multiplayer female Assassin character design.
Despite the issues I just went over, this game was a lot of fun to play, and having the American revolution told from the perspective of a non-white character, even though fictional, felt genuine in a way that our sanitized history books never did. If you have not played this game, I would definitely check out a playthrough of it here on YouTube.