Independence Day is a celebration of all things American, and so OnlySP is shining a spotlight on three different interpretations of the nation to be found within gaming.
The Neutral – Assassin’s Creed III
By DJ Arruda
With Assassin’s Creed III, Ubisoft sought to tell the story of American Independence through the lens of Ratonhnhaké:ton (better known by his adopted name Connor Kenway), a member of the Mohawk tribe who would rock the colonies on his journey to becoming Master Assassin of the Colonial Brotherhood. While the historical fiction of the series has always been grounded in facts supplemented by the shadow war between Assassins and Templars, taking on the story of the American Revolution allows for a visceral retelling of a well-known story, the details of which have been lost in the names of battles and the Founding Fathers.
With Connor as a protagonist, the studio examines colonial actions against Native Americans alongside the path to independence for the colonies, allowing for a story that offers a uniquely engaging look at the historical events that are the reason for the celebration of July 4. From the beginnings of unrest with the Boston Massacre to the Boston Tea Party and the start of the war proper, Connor’s presence throughout these events provides a critical and earnest reaction to the gaining of independence. Even the minutiae of the Continental Congress does not escape this thorough chronicle of America’s origins, which ultimately gives as complete a story as any in fiction about how the country came to be.
Now, being of a series with “assassin” in the title, violence aplenty becomes the true means of progressing. While no-one should be surprised that much blood was shed in achieving independence, having an Assassin’s presence at these key points highlights the cost of freedom. While many debates can be had today on violence in America, keep in mind that violence has always been a part of the country since the very founding. Overall, Assassin’s Creed III is a history lesson that captures the bloody details kept out of the legendary American holiday.
The Negative – Bioshock Infinite
By Damien Lawardorn
With a name drawn from the annals of U.S. history, Bioshock Infinite’s floating city of Columbia makes a powerful claim to be viewed as a microcosm of American society, and the reflection is an unflattering one. Like Jack Ryan before him, Booker DeWitt steps into a fantastical city where the embrace of idealism has led to collapse. While Rapture descended into a nigh-apocalyptic haven of madness, however, Columbia’s fall is less immediately obvious because the symptoms hide beneath a glossy surface. Bioshock Infinite offers a scathing indictment of the ideal of American exceptionalism by exposing the moral decay that accompanies a collective belief in unquestionable superiority.
Despite its idyllic appearance as a paradise among the clouds, Columbia is a city-state rife with racism, xenophobia, violence, overseen by zealous dictator in the form of Father Comstock. Although Bioshock Infinite is primarily a critique of the contemporary setting of 1912, many of the themes raised across the course of the game remain relevant today—not just in America, but across the entire world. A fear of the Other continues to power opposition to ethnic minorities and those of alternative genders and sexualities, while terrorist violence continues to flare. Furthermore, Bioshock Infinite is profoundly pessimistic, suggesting self-immolation as the clearest path to ending dictatorship and freeing the downtrodden masses from the yoke of a tyrannical master. Even the great American spirit of industry is lampooned, with the technology that keeps Columbia afloat stolen rather than developed internally. The city festers within its affluence and righteousness.
As a reflection of 1912, the game is an interesting thinkpiece on the state of America at the time. As a reflection of 2017, however, the title takes on a more sinister bent, suggesting that while some strides have been made in overcoming inequality and discrimination, the world has not moved far. Yet despite Bioshock Infinite’s negative portrayal of some elements of American society, the game remains a powerful testament to the ideal of entrepreneurship that began with the Founding Fathers and continues to push the nation forward and keep it at the forefront of the world’s superpowers. Independence lies at the heart of the game, evident in both Father Comstock’s miraculous city and in Booker’s steadfast refusal to accept determinism, and this theme is a powerful reflection of everything celebrated on July 4.
The Positive – Red Dead Redemption
By Marley Hannan
Writing as an Australian, I feel the game that sums up Independence Day and what it means to be American best is, for some reason, Red Dead Redemption.
For those unfamiliar with the game, Red Dead Redemption is the quintessential cowboy game and, for many people, a cowboy is the most iconic American thing there is. The game focuses on John Marston, one of the coolest cowboys out, as he tries to redeem himself for a life of criminality and wrongdoing, that, while morally unjustifiable, is guaranteed to be badass given that the story is likely the basis of Red Dead Redemption 2. Marston aims to achieve said redemption working for the Sheriff’s department and is tasked with hunting down and killing the members of his former gang to earn himself a pardon. While far from a job Marston enjoys, bounty hunting is the coolest job people could possibly have in that day and age, given that horse urine collector was a job in Canada until the 1930s.
Americans should remind themselves of that. If you are stuck in some dead-end job, working in an office or a Cinnabon somewhere, just remind yourself that you are a goddamn American. Every other country knows you are a part of the most awesome nation in the world. The dorkiest person you know is way cooler than ten New Zealanders, so be proud and happy for them. Maybe also be thankful that you do not have to collect horse urine for Canadians.
Returning to the topic at hand, Red Dead Redemption is also about helping other people, even if the things they ask you to do is deeply odd. The experience of being an American is helping your fellow human being, even if they want to make love to their horse or, worse, are Nigel West Dickens. To some extent, you do these jobs to help yourself. You help others for the cash, the XP, and the cool outfits, but you also do it to solve problems, making the place you live somewhat better for you having been there.
Ultimately, Red Dead Redemption is a fantastic game that can and should be played all year round, but especially on Independence Day. After all, July 4 is a great day for sitting inside, avoiding fireworks, crowds of people, and the rest of the hubbub.