Tanja Sihvonen

Tanja Sihvonen is professor of Communication Studies at the University of Vaasa, Finland. She is specialized in digital media, games, and participatory cultures on the internet. Her most recent work considers astroturfing, monsters, and cryptogames.

Narrative Transformations and Cultural Appropriation. Placemaking in Assassin’s Creed: Origins Discovery Tour Mode

FROG 2020 – Short Talk

Mona Khattab (Communication Studies, University of Vaasa)
Sabine Harrer (Game Design Department Gotland, Uppsala University, Sweden)

Assassin’s Creed (Ubisoft, 2007-) is an action-adventure stealth video game franchise that lets its player delve into history, from Renaissance-era Florence to Victorian London. In this presentation, we aim at understanding the purpose of placemaking as a technology for virtual and identity tourism. More particularly, we will perform a close-reading of the ‘discovery tour mode’ function in Assassin’s Creed: Origins (henceforth: ACO, 2018), a game that takes place in Ancient Egypt. We argue that due to its quasi-touristic staging of an ancient civilisation, the discovery tour mode is a particularly potent feature in exploring how games render history palatable for an implied white Western audience. What makes the discovery tour mode specifically interesting is the focus that ACO has on the perceived othering and cultural appropriation of classical civilizations. Othering is a tool frequently employed in games seeking to immerse players into ‘exotic’ places constructed from imperial cartographic memory. The presentation unpacks this phenomenon in three sections that analyse placemaking in ACO through three different-level narrative viewpoints. The first of these examines the depiction of Egypt through which the real historical and geographical location is reimagined as a game environment. This section focuses on the transcultural representation of Egypt as the exoticized Other in the representational context of the global south. The second section highlights the centrality of the main character in the game narrative and the structure of the game. The third section addresses the intersectionality of narrativity and cultural representation as immersive, spatially organized experiences and studies these in the theoretical frame of placemaking and the game’s potential for virtual and identity tourism. This talk combines textual analysis of game objects and environments to autoethnographic observation and geographical understanding of real-world locations turned into reappropriated game places. The conclusion highlights the intersectionality of cultural and narratological trajectories within the framework of placemaking, leading to an assessment of the potential of creating virtual tours of historically and geographically non-Western locations.


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