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Standing in the room where the creators of my country drafted a declaration of Independence was surreal. I could feel the history in my bones while I stood in awe. This powerful feeling subdued my cynical outlook on history. Then, as the tour guide spoke, I realized I had already felt this feeling before while playing Assassin's Creed III.
This was my first visit to Independence Hall. The fact that I would be taking a tour of the building only days after buying and playing ACIII is pure coincidence. I already knew the layout of the building, which, for the most part, is accurate within the game. This experience made me realize that the virtual and the actual do have an emotional connection.
As part of ACIII’s narrative, protagonist Connor pops into Independence Hall. Connor witnesses George Washington accepting command of the Continental Army, and he sees the drafting of the Declaration of Independence. These events sent a cold chill down my spine. I realized that I was witnessing the creation of my country. Even though it happened in a video game, the event still profoundly affected me. All of a sudden, I had the patriotic urge to join the cause against the British.
I studied history in college, especially the Early American Republic, but all the books I had read for school and the documentaries I watched for fun never made me feel like the latest release in Ubisoft’s time-bending assassination saga did. In academics, I always sensed a separation from history. I knew I was only reading. But while I watched Connor participate in the Continental Congress, I felt like I had a part in this amazing undertaking. Hearing Ben Franklin spit out one of his famous one-liners seemed almost real, almost human.
By no means am I saying that this piece of digital fiction should be taken seriously from a historical point of view, but ACIII puts players in a position to experience something authentic. While I played, I stood in the same room with these mythical men. I have always loved the Assassin's Creed storyline and have appreciated the history and locales of all the installments. But this latest release is special because the setting isn't foreign for once. It takes place in the city that I live in. And the cities in Assassin’s Creed III sell the emotional connection to the player.
Assassin's Creed II featured the beautiful architecture of Renaissance Italy, something that Colonial America cannot compete with. For the third entry, Ubisoft gave us lively and colorful environments to explore instead of beautiful buildings to climb. The streets of Boston and New York are filled with life. You see craftsmen building ships, carpenters sawing, and orphans begging for a few coins. These settings help enrich the events of the American Revolution and the overall conspiracy of the Templars.
While stalking your prey in Boston, you pass by the people you need to save. The developers could have just recreated the scenes within Independence Hall, but that isn't enough. You are allowed to experience the cities and atmosphere of the American Revolution, and you get to interact with characters and not just see them. With that in mind, Washington accepting command of the Continental Army becomes more immersive and more emotional.
Video games can indeed extract emotion from players. Assassin's Creed III proved this to me while I stood in Independence Hall, the building where my forefathers signed the Declaration of Independence.
The game gave me a new connection to history.