Assassin's Creed Odyssey in Inclusivity
Written by Ayden Thow, DaBR Journalist
On October 5, 2018, the latest entry in the long-running Assassin's Creed franchise dropped. Set in ancient Greece, it introduced a myriad of new features to the series. Two of the most notable were the inclusion of two gender options for the protagonist as well as being able to romance certain NPCs regardless of their or your gender. After playing the majority of the game, it seemed to me that Ubisoft’s newly woke wings were made of wax and they didn't get too far off the ground. While I was initially disappointed, a shift in my perspective allowed me to see something arguably more empowering than just LGBT inclusion on its own.
Being an ancient history buff and fan of stealth games a la Metal Gear Solid, for me the release of the first Assassin’s Creed was a revelation when it was released in 2007. While I still hold fond memories of the earlier entries, my feelings waned with each subsequent game and it became more of an obligation to keep up with the franchise rather than earnest interest. Things were different with the release of Odyssey though. With the setting now in 300 BCE Greece, it toted a pantheon of references to Greek culture and mythology that I grew up mystified by, as well as potential LGBT experiences not seen before in such a storied series. For the first time in years, I knew I had to play it.
Following its shift towards a role-playing format in Assassin’s Creed: Origins, dialog choices were introduced and created the option to flirt and have romantic fade-to-blacks with NPCs. The additional twist was also allowing the player to choose between a male and female protagonist and players could now be gay—or bisexual—if they so choose. I so chose.
It is worth noting that I did not go into this expecting a virtual Call Me by Your Name. Alas, multiple games have attempted to be inclusive through adding LGBT themes, such as Dragon Age and Mass Effect. However, AAA titles often fall short of games such as Life Is Strange when it comes to inclusive narratives. Given that Odyssey’s time setting is understood to have played host to far more fluid perceptions of gender and sexuality, my faith was still high for this game.
After traversing the entire Grecian archipelago and the beds of many Greek gentlemen, I could not help but feel slightly disappointed with the overall experience. The game itself was thoroughly enjoyable, but the romances felt anticlimactic, almost superficial; homosexual relations were nearly identical to heterosexual ones. What's more, none of the other characters seemed interested in who you pined after. Even with Alkibiades, one of or the main supporting character who interacted with other NPCs, no one batted an eye at his voracious hedonism beyond the fact that it interfered with their desire for him to help with their work.
Where were the double takes, the raised eyebrows? Was who you romanced entirely inconsequential? It wasn’t until completing a markedly moving side story with a Spartan soldier named Theletas that I began to process what I was experiencing. It was not that no one cared; it was that no one minded. Who you choose to romance is entirely inconsequential, as long as you're happy.
I believe this did not occur to me at first as it was an entirely foreign experience for me. While I am lucky to have supportive friends and family, I have never been in a situation where literally no one minded, where my sexual orientation was perfectly normal. In Odyssey, I had the freedom to run around without fear of persecution on account of “my” orientation. With this realization, it felt as if a weight had been lifted from my life in the game. I had subconsciously been anticipating some reprisal for my choices, but this wasn’t coming. I could fly to the sun without burning.
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While it was not the LGBT experience I was anticipating upon starting up Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, I received a taste of sexual freedom instead. If the player allows themselves to immerse deeply in their odyssey, they can feel what it is like when no one minds who you marry or cares who you court. Not only is this simply empowering to imagine as a thought exercise, interacting with a world where homosexuality is normal can help normalize it for all players, regardless of their orientation.
I often want to ask people who raise their eyebrows at my orientation: How does my preference for partners impact you? As far as I can tell, it doesn’t; it does not and should not matter who I date. Feelings are feelings, people are people, and love is love. This is the freedom Odyssey gives players; it gives players an example of what society looks like when people are not judged by who they bed.
While this is a valuable lesson in agency and empathy for cis-gendered players, it is important to contextualize this. Odyssey featured white-presenting, cis-gendered protagonists. Imagine the impact a similar AAA title could have if it featured a trans or non-white main character; imagine navigating the world in such a person's shoes. I think an experience like that would not only be eye-opening for any player, but also help humanize and build empathy for people who are often ostracized.
Study after study has found that the most effective way to combat prejudice is to have the subject meet the “othered” person. After interacting, it typically doesn't take long for the two parties to find something to relate to. While it may be challenging for some to physically meet a person who has been marginalized, it stands to reason that this can still be accomplished virtually. If the number of people who play Call of Duty every day played a game as a trans person and were presented with some of their obstacles, they're going to learn about what that person experiences and begin relating to them whether they realize it or not.
Games like Assassin's Creed Odyssey can be seen as an intriguing stepping stone for players and developers alike and I hope future installments take this ancient lesson of freedom to heart.
Ayden Thow is a volunteer content writer for DaBR and is among a diverse group of staff and volunteers