Prince of Persia and Assassin’s Creed: Cases of Orientalism in video games

What are the first that come to mind when you think of the Middle East? Vast, empty deserts? Exotic women in extravagant dresses? Grand, majestic palaces? All of these ‘perceptions’ of the Middle East stem from the way the Middle East is depict in the media, whether it’s film or video games. In this post, I will be specifically addressing the claims of Orientalism in the popular video-game series’ “Prince of Persia” and “Assassins’ Creed”.

The popular video game series “Prince of Persia” first originated in 1989 and was created by a Yale student by the name of Jordan Mecher. Since then, the game has spawned numerous sequels and reboots and has even been adapted into a big-budget Hollywood film starring Jake Gyllenhaal. The original game revolved around an un-named Prince, who has to overcome a series of puzzles and obstacles to rescue a Princess from the nefarious Jaffar. Interestingly enough, many elements of the game were borrowed by the 1993 Disney hit “Aladdin”. However, the video-game series has been claimed by some to be a stereotypical depiction of the Middle East. Šisler (2008, pp.207) argues that the imagery featured in the game “is particularly dominant in reference to the ‘Middle East’”. However, Šisler (2008, pp.207) also goes on to say that the fore mentioned elements “are typical for common medieval fantasy settings”. Having played Prince of Persia several times, I agree with Šisler’s argument that many elements in the game are orientalist. The mysterious nature of the prince, the exotic appearance of the princess and the vast, desert landscape all epitomize the West’s fetishized perception of the ‘Other’.

Original 1989 cover for "Prince of Persia"

“Assassin’s Creed” is another immensely popular video game series which has been claimed to be orientalist. Originating in 2007, the game sees the player take control of an assassin in ancient times, with each game based on a different time period. The series also borrows features from the fore mentioned “Prince of Persia” series and features a similar style. The orientalist elements in the first “Assassin’s Creed” are not hard to spot. The sandy-buildings, the mysterious protagonist and exotic women all feature in the game’s depiction of the Arab-Islamic culture. Yet, the question which Komel (2014) attempts to address is whether the orientalism in the game is used positively. Komel (2014) argues that it is, by stating that “in Assassin’s Creed we find at work a certain self-orientalistic sub –version that meditates a positive identification” Komel (2014, pg. 72). Whether this is the case is irrelevant, as what it is important from that statement is that the claims made for the game being orientalist are warranted.

Image from Ubisoft's 2007 hit "Assassin's Creed"

References

McLaughlin, R., Collura, S., & Buchanan, L. 2010, ‘IGN Presents: The History of Prince of Persia’, IGN, 18th May, viewed 28th March 2015, http://au.ign.com/articles/2010/05/18/ign-presents-the-history-of-prince-of-persia

Komel, M 2014, ‘Orientalism in Assassin’s Creed: Self-Orientalizing the Assassins from Forerunners of Modern Terrorism Into Occidentalized Heroes’, Terojia in Praksa, vol. 51, no. 1, pp. 72- 90.

Šisler, V 2008, ‘ Digital Arabs: Representation in Video Games’, European Journal of Cultural Studies, vol. 11, no. 2, pp. 203-22

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