Struggle for the Universe: Maneuvering the Narrative World of Assassin's Creed

Struggle for the Universe: Maneuvering the Narrative World of Assassin's Creed

Sjors Martens (Utrecht University, Utrecht, Netherlands)
DOI: 10.4018/IJGCMS.2016040102
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The Assassin's Creed franchise mainly consists of video games but has over the years created a narrative universe spanning different media. Seeing how the traversal from the individual installment Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag into the narrative universe of Assassin's Creed changes player engagement with the franchise allows one to understand audience interaction with different media products in a transmedia and convergent culture. Seen as a performed possible world, the individual installment is shown, through a three part gameplay analysis, to function as an unfinished commodity. This implies striking a balance between an individually satisfying experience and a plot-hole ridden incentive for further activity. When the individual installment incites traversal into a narrative universe, the player can construct the universe from installments through a hyperdiegetic, intermedia, or crossmedia engagement, depending on the reliance on medium specificity. Ultimately, this article provides a model for audience interaction in the transmedia age.
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In an era where blockbuster games thrive on what David Nieborg (2011) described as “franchising, the serialization of discrete game titles,” narrative closure seems all but a given (p. 39). This was illustrated when Ash Ismail, game director for the triple-A game Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (Ubisoft, 2013) said in an interview with Eurogamer that “we have an idea of where the end is, (…) we've given ourselves room to fit more in this arc. But there is an end” (“There is an End,” 2013). This caused confusion when in 2014 the franchise’s narrative lead, Darby McDevitt claimed in an interview with Eurogamer that “we don’t want to definitively end the universe [emphasis added], but we can have storylines that have endings” (McDevitt, 2014).

This confusion about endings illustrates a change in strategy in narrative design described by Henry Jenkins (2006) as “transmedia storytelling,” on which this article will reflect. Transmedia storytelling means that “artists create compelling environments that cannot be fully explored or exhausted within a single work or even a single medium” (Jenkins, 2006, p. 116). Each outing relating to these environments is also self-contained as to be enjoyed without having to delve through all the texts contributing to the environment (Jenkins, 2006). Part of the goal of these individual texts is to entertain the consumer, but also to allow immersion in a larger narrative world or universe as to ensure consumer loyalty (Jenkins, 2006). Immersion takes place in a universe more so than in a story world. The latter implies a coherent entity while the installments are less than clearly linked, more like planets grouped together through imaginary links. The systems of media products containing a transmedia story will therefore be dubbed narrative universes. The immersive possibilities of the universes imply that it should be possible for a player, viewer, reader, or user to traverse from one text into the larger universe. Despite many scholars looking at the political economy of transmedia storytelling and its empowering of participatory culture, the possible maneuvers of the user within the individual texts themselves remains under-researched. Therefore this article will assess how the traversal from the individual installment Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (ACIV) into the narrative universe constructed in the Assassin’s Creed (Ubisoft, 2007) (AC) franchise changes player engagement with it. By tracing this traversal from one text into a larger universe, the complex interplay between producers, audiences, and the text can be traced, allowing the construction of a theoretical model that aids in understanding the forms of engagement with this new narrative strategy.

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