Yesterday at the 2018 Games for Change Festival, Maxime Durand, Franchise Historian of Assassin’s Creed at Ubisoft Montreal, and Marc-Andre Ethier, a professor of teaching methodology at Universite de Montreal, gave an impressive keynote presentation on the development of Assassin’s Creed Origins Discovery Tour and its use as an educational tool.
Durand began with a quick overview of the series for those less familiar with the series, starting with the brand mission: “Make history everyone’s playground.” He then launched into how they “(re)create” worlds: through the various types of research required (books, documentaries, etc.), the work with professionals that was required for this specific game (Egyptologists and linguists for the Greek language), and community experts (it was taken to mean that these were people who may not have a professionally certified background in a subject, but are passionate and knowledgeable about it nonetheless).
Perhaps most interestingly, there was a short discussion on where they had to make decisions to stray away from historical accuracy in the original Assassins Creed Origins and other games that preceded it in the series. A major change was in the location of important cities and other areas: everything got squished together a bit for the sake of player engagement. It removed long stretches of travelling in emptiness.
Durand also discussed the need to invoke emotions and how that meant that truth and emotions had to be blended to some extent. This is sometimes described as “emotional truth” in literary circles; it refers to how every fact in a memoir or similar nonfiction piece may not be completely accurate due to the infallibility of memory or for other reasons, but it can be forgiven (within reason) for the sake of the story you are trying to share. It can be a sticky area, and of course Durand was quick to point out that true, complete historical accuracy in anything would be impossible for anyone in any field.
He also described how he and others had a growing interest in the people in the background of the game, just living their everyday lives. There was an urge to “make it accessible for anyone interested in ancient Egypt with no pressure of fight or narrative.” Which then raised the question of what would different people and groups want? Would a historian want something different than a grade school teacher? Would a fan want something different than those two groups? And how would it work in different countries, between cultural divides?
Marc-Andre Ethier then took the stage to discuss how the game actually worked as a learning tool for students in high school. He wanted to see if Discovery Tour would be more beneficial than traditional lectures and textbooks.
This was tested with a group of 300+ students between 12 and 17. Each sample group was made up of 40 kids, which received a post-test and a pre-test on Ptolemic Egypt. Between these two tests, 20 kids were taught about Egypt in the traditional way, 20 got to use Discovery Tour as their learning tool.
The end results favored traditional teaching–but the gap between the scores on the post-test were incredibly close; within 5%. Age and gender differences between samples didn’t seem to affect the overall results markedly.
Ethier seemed interested in pursuing this line of thinking further, noting responses from children such as the comment that it was easier to understand what information would be “important,” when guided by the teacher. He mentioned the possibility of a teacher-driven Discovery Tour experience for the best of both worlds, though they’re still looking into what teachers would need to know and have in their classrooms to teach in such a style effectively.
The keynote presentation ended with a short demo of Discovery Tour that took a player character-turned Julius Caesar-turned Egyptian girl to the fabled Library of Alexandria to interact with some aspects of the informational tour. It’s “fully playable” and Caesar was even directed to write a letter. Durand and Ethier joked that a player could even break from the tour and bake bread just for the heck of it, if they felt like it.
At this time, there was no word on whether the newest game in the series, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, will have a similar education-focused DLC aspect, though it seems unlikely that this idea will be abandoned any time soon.
For more information on other events offered at Games For Change, check out its programming schedule and our other related articles below. We’ll be here all three days, so continue checking n3rdabl3 for more Games For Change updates!