I figured it would help if I started with a list of what this essay is about. I have a tendency to trace strange paths, so this part will be straightforward. This essay is about isolation. This essay is about mediated memories. This essay is about being gay. But more than anything, this essay is about the Assassin’s Creed franchise.
Assassin’s Creed is a long and languishing series of video games they’ve been making pretty much annually for about 14 years. There have been countless entries, including spin off games, comic books, and a recent movie. I’m absolutely obsessed with these games, and can’t help but bother my friends with all the facts that I know about them. But that’s modern day. We’ll get to that. The basic premise of each game is that you play as an assassin in a historical era, such as Jerusalem during the crusades, Paris during the French Revolution, or Boston during the American Revolution. You run around, often on the rooftops, and then jump down and kill important figures from that period. It’s stupid as fuck.
I don’t remember when I played the first Assassin’s Creed video game. If you’ve read my previous essay you’ll know I’m missing many memories from childhood. I do remember the second game though. I loved to run across the rooftops of Venice during the late 1400s, tracing strange paths. Well, not to be pedantic, but running around a simulation of Venice. That was very important to the people who made the game. There’s a meta layer to the story in which you play someone in the modern day entering a machine called The Animus. This lets you visit a digital recreation of Renaissance Italy. It’s a bizarre complication. This is what I was explaining to my friend the other day. But again, we’re not there yet. The modern day keeps butting in. The games call it the Bleeding Effect. Back to the past.
One of my favorite games in the franchise was the fourth one. In it you play a pirate, sailing the ocean. I stole that one. Just downloaded it. What are they gonna say? I played that game on the family computer, while I lived at home and dreamed of moving to Chicago. The computer couldn’t really handle it very well, and the Animus was chugging and panting and glitching a lot.
One of my big purchases after moving to Chicago was a computer, and after I got it I was able to start playing Assassin’s Creed Origins, one of the more recent titles. I began playing it on October 18th 2020. I know the exact date because I wrote it in my daily journal, a practice I began four years ago. My memory is weak, but I’m able to refer to the document to learn what I was doing. Any time before I started this practice is essentially prehistory. Hard to make out. I spent the next few months alone, sitting in my apartment unemployed and playing Assassin’s Creed. Just like the good old days. Except this time I was especially struck by the idea of the Animus.
I was playing as Bayek, a protector of Egypt. Although, not to be pedantic, but I was actually playing a researcher named Layla, in the modern day, who entered the Animus in order to play as Bayek. That layer was what stuck out to me, as a newly out trans woman. It’s the layer I skipped before, to get to the good stuff. But now it was the whole point. I was a woman in my apartment, on a computer, playing a woman, on a computer, playing a man. I think of all the time I spent, in my prehistory, as a woman playing a man on the computer.
I’m now playing through Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, set in Ancient Greece. The islands stretch before me, and I complete repetitive missions and slowly level up. I sail from Paros to Naxos to Delos. I’m level 43 right now, and when I reach level 46 I’ll finally be strong enough to sail to my main goal. The Isle of Lesbos. Soon.