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I have a mild but long standing historical & philosophical fascination with Hasan ibn Sabbah, founder of the Hashshashin. A leader of the Ismailis, an Islamic sect, in the 11th century, the Ismaili proverb “Nothing is true, everything is permitted” is often attributed to him.

Needless to say when I first heard of the historical emphasis for Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed, loosely inspired by the Hashshashin, I was excited. Didn’t take longer than reading the first in depth preview (in EGM a while back, but there’s another detailed one on GamesRadar) for that excitement to wane.

Well, it became a more standard sort of excitement at least – seems like there’s plenty of fun looking gameplay in there. I just don’t think there’s going to be any sort of social commentary in there whatsoever, despite what some press outlets might want to think: they’ve got a WASP-y main character, silliness going on with the Knights Templar as well as other Dan Brown conspiracy style theories, and I’ll bet ya $20 there’s not even a mention of the Ismailis. 

So far, however innovative the crowd stealth gameplay may be, it seems like a missed opportunity. I recently read Alamut, by Slovene writer Vladimir Bartol. Historical fiction, it centers around Hasan ibn Sabbah, his soldiers, and they life they lead at their fabled castle, Alamut. It’s a fantastic book – all the requirements, epic historical situations, romance, tragedy, check. But it also does an amazing job of giving a perspective on what that life might have been like – what kind of man would go to any means necessary to secure his ideology upon the world, what kind of a man would train & convince men to give up their lives for him simply by his command? Any relevance to modern day figures we might know about? Osama bin what? Who? The book is a fascinating perspective into the sort of philosophy and mindset of a person who would go to those lengths.

The thing is, the book was written in 1938. Critically underappreciated in it’s time, this translation (published in 2004) quotes an entry from Bartol’s diary the day he finished it:

 “I had a feeling I was writing for a public that was going to live 50 years later.”

Hmm, you don’t say…

Wouldn’t that be a great thing to explore in game form? Never mind the usefulness of explaining the differing sects of Islam to a largely ignorant American public, just the philosophical aspects alone… I mean, ok, a game like Civilization lets you conquer the world, and you do sort of have an ideology associated with that, based on whatever government form you’ve chosen, but… What if that was in fact the sole point of the game? What lengths would you go to change the world, and the way people think about it? Would you sacrifice that ideology in order to do it?

Meanwhile, back in reality land, just after I finished writing the above, I came across this quote from an Ubi PR exec from a GameInformer interview

“We don’t think that there’s anything that’s in there that’s going to be of consequence.”

You don’t say…

One Response to Alamut

  • Akil Wilkerson says:

    I totally agree with you. The environment of gaming theme is not diverse enough. If at all possible I would like to ask a few questions through email.