In France, Playing with 'The Great Revolution' Is No Game

By Bilefsky, Dan | International New York Times, November 20, 2014 | Go to article overview

In France, Playing with 'The Great Revolution' Is No Game


Bilefsky, Dan, International New York Times


Some in France are attacking Assassin's Creed: Unity over its historical inaccuracy and political slant.

Perhaps only in France could a video game provoke an earnest philosophical debate over the decadence of the monarchy, the moral costs of democracy, the rise of the far right and the meaning of the state.

The French are fulminating not over excessive violence in the game, Assassin's Creed: Unity, as people might be in the United States, but over its historical inaccuracy and political slant. Critics on the left say the game undercuts a cherished narrative of the French Revolution -- the miserable masses rising up against a decadent nobility.

Set in a meticulously rendered three-dimensional Paris during the French Revolution in 1789 and released last week, the game is part of a popular series whose themes have included the Crusades and the American Revolution, selling nearly 80 million copies since the first game was rolled out in 2007.

In the latest incarnation, the hooded hero is Arno Victor Dorian. A young Frenchman whose father was assassinated at Versailles, he takes no small measure of glee as he leaps across the rooftops of Paris, and the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, mercilessly killing members of the nobility and other rivals with his "phantom blade" or pistol.

Critics of the game, led by the firebrand left-wing politician and onetime presidential contender Jean-Luc Melenchon, have lambasted it as "propaganda" that portrays the French masses as bloodthirsty murderers, while the high-living Queen Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI are depicted sympathetically.

At a time of economic and political doldrums, when the far-right National Front is on the political ascent and the Socialist president, Francois Hollande, is deeply unpopular, Mr. Melenchon warned on France Info radio that the game threatened to fan "hatred of the republic," which he said was widespread on the far right today.

The video game reflected a strain of self-hatred in France that he suggested was perilous for national identity. "Smearing the great Revolution is dirty work that aims to instill the French with even more self-loathing and talk of decline," Mr. …

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