Because they’re a fun way to escape reality, in a much more participatory fashion than say, TV or movies. That’s the easy and obvious answer. What isn’t so easy to define is why do I play particular video games? …Because my gaming habits are kind of all over the place.
Let’s explore, shall we?
Let me start off by stating that I have never played, nor do I have any real interest in playing the first Assassin’s Creed game. What drew me to the second one had less to do with the overall concept (though I must admit once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty fun to climb walls, run across rooftops, and assassinate guards for no particular reason), and more to do with its setting.
Set in early Renaissance Italy, Assassin’s Creed II follows the story of Ezio as he avenges his father’s death, and learns the ways of the Assassin…oh, and becomes chums with Leonardo da Vinci, and flies experimental flying contraptions (and who wouldn’t get a kick out of that?).
The very best part of the game (what really drew me to it) was the amazing attention to detail of every aspect of the scenery. Yes. The scenery. Locations that I have been to and experienced first hand. The set and landscape of this game was so well done, it was like re-visiting Florence and Venice….and climbing all over them, and seeing them from angles I could never fathom in reality. It was extremely cool.
When I was in Florence, one of the best ways to orient yourself was to find a patch of sky, and look for the Duomo…if you could see it, you knew roughly where you were. This proved a useful tactic in the game, as well…only because you mostly traveled on rooftops, it was much easier to do.
But it wasn’t just the Duomo they got right. They got everything right. The meandering streets, the colours of the buildings and the rooftops, and the overall lack of green space north of the Arno. It was eerily accurate. Every brick, every clay tile, every tiny little detail.
In Venice, there seemed to be slightly more emphasis on the canals, and a little less on the ornamentation of some of the more spectacular buildings…I admit a little disappointment that the Triumphal Quadriga (or the horses of St. Mark) didn’t make it onto the basilica in the game (they were installed on the façade of the basilica in 1254, and only removed by Napoleon in 1797…they should have been there, no?).
But they sure got the canals right. What I particularly liked was the sense that everything was much newer in the game (you know…several hundred years newer)…for instance the Rialto Bridge was made of wood, rather than stone (a shame, really, because it would have been fun to find the spot where I ate “The Best Fish Ever” on its steps).
Generally, you really got the sense that the city built on top of a lagoon wasn’t showing as many signs of damp, cracking, and erosion from the water, as it does today…so there was a sense of stepping back in time to a very potentially real depiction of the city when it was booming, and was still Europe’s gateway to the East.
Lesson learned? I’ll play a video game if it has a connection to something I’ve experienced. In the case of Assassin’s Creed II, that connection was brought about by its realistic depiction of locations that I’d visited and where I created some fantastic memories.
[ The above stills from Assassin's Creed II were gathered on a number of gaming sites, but were among the initial releases made by the games' producers, Ubisoft...on a side note, the game was produced locally, in Montreal (yay!) ]0