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Machiavelli’s Creed

December 8, 2010
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Niccolò Machiavelli in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood

I am a huge fan of the Assassin’s Creed series and got the newest installment the day it came out. Imagine my surprise when Machievelli appeared before my very eyes. While Machievelli was in Assassin’s Creed: II, he has a much bigger role of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. In this game, his character is unveiled.

I have repeatedly enjoyed how Assassin’s Creed encorperates real settings, but the creators do not claim an accurate portayal. At the beginning of the each game, they always add the disclaimer: “Inspired by historical events and characters, this work of fiction was designed, developed and produced by a multicultural team of various religious faiths and beliefs”.

As I went through the game, I began to wonder whether Machiavelli would agree with this depiction. Machiavelli’s true views are a continual source of debate, as his opinions in “The Prince” directly contradict writings that preceed or follow it.

Some elements of his personality, in particular, stood out to me:

1) Machievelli is an assassin.

For some reason, it’s funny for me to imagine political theorists with weapons. But, who knows? If we consider “The Prince” a satire and consider Machiavelli’s works that suggest his favoritism towards towards republics, then perhaps Machievelli would become an assassin in order to bring about change. If we consider “The Prince” reflective of his true point of view, then Machievelli would be a Templar, in support of monarchies.

2) Machievelli is the leader of Florence’s mercenaries.

In The Prince, Machiavelli critisizes the use of mercenaries, calling them unreliable. However, it is possible that mercenaries are meant to represent the Florentine militia that Machiavelli commanded in real life. And in the “Bonfire of the Vanities”, Machievelli does indeed complain about mercenaries.

3) Machiavelli has an image of being devious.

I think it’s interesting that, in the game, he is suspected of being a traitor to the assassins while, after writing “The Prince”, he is suspected of being a traitor to monarchies. Some may consider writing “The Prince”, Machiavelli was trying to be conspiratorial or he was actually trying to get into the monarch’s good books (no pun intended). In “The Prince”, Machiavelli’s detached analysis of previous monarch’s mistakes and his saying “the ends justify the means” certainly make Machiavelli seem ruthless.

However, we cannot conclusively… conclude that Machiavelli is indeed as Machiavellian as he seems.

Ultimately, I do not think we should learn our political theory from video games but it is pretty cool when you can relate what your learning to something that you think is fun. But, of course, learning is fun too.

4 Comments
  1. mbhilton permalink
    December 8, 2010 9:21 AM

    I am also a huge fan of the Assassin’s Creed series but I have not yet played Brotherhood. Normally I’d complain about the spoiler, but given the context I’m actually more interested in what you have to say in the rest of it. I like how you compared his portrayal in the game to the more common conception of him from his readings as it provides an immediate comparison between the different views. One thing about the last comment though, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with taking our political theory from games or other sources of entertainment as the creators generally put a lot of thought into it. Who’s to say that a story developer can’t be a good politician?

    • arichnerjr permalink
      December 8, 2010 7:39 PM

      I would say it depends on the intended audience and genre of the video game. If it’s an action game intended for teenagers, I would guess that any accurate allusion to political theory would be incidental or as a result of random whims of the developers. A strategy game (especially “grand strategy,” e.g. Europa Universalis) intended for an older audience would be much more likely to include purposeful connections to political theories as necessary for the gameplay itself. Assassin’s Creed may be great and include whimsical references to Machiavelli, but you have to remember that the primary purpose for such games is entertainment, not education.

  2. yequan permalink
    December 8, 2010 10:34 PM

    Haha, I am a great Assassin fun too. It is very exciting to see Machiavelli in video game. Apparently, the game makers do not know history that well LOL. I do not think Machiavelli is a certain Machiavellian, because he writes “The Prince” for stating his analysis and arguing what a lord should do. To me, Machiavelli is more likely to be a scholar. Whether Machiavelli is a cruel and ruthless person is hard to predict only based on “The Prince”. I remember some one post a article “Is Machiavelli a Machiavellian”, that’s a pretty interesting and enlightening one.

  3. justinrostker permalink
    December 9, 2010 11:17 AM

    I have never played the assassin creed series but I found this post interesting as I do enjoy video games. I also agree it is funny to imagine theorists with weapons, but also it is funny how political theorists, thinkers, are put into an action based game. Most of the people we have studied seemed to just throw their ideas out there, but not many acted on it. Therefore, i find it interesting for Machiavelli to be put into a game and some of his ideas intertwined within the game.

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