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vanguard333

Celtic Representation in Video Games (An AC: Valhalla Rant)

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So, Assassin's Creed: Valhalla recently released, set in late 9th-Century England during the Viking invasions, and this game has managed to anger me in a way that I feel I need to get off my chest; hence this rant.

I should say right away that I haven't bought the game, as I'm of the opinion that a game with a historical setting should try to make that historical setting as authentic as possible, and all the trailers for the game screamed of what pop-culture thinks of Vikings rather than what Vikings actually were, so I expected nothing in terms of accuracy for this game. And yet this game somehow still managed to anger me. Most of the inaccuracies I heard about or noticed when watching clips of it were laughable rather than irritating, like one recurring Norse architecture in the game being a type of Norse church (in a time period when Vikings were still pagan). But then I heard about and saw how this game portrayed the Celts that were living in England at the time...

I enjoy studying Celtic History as I find the cultures that existed very fascinating, and I think it's a real shame that the Celts are rarely looked at in modern media, and when they are, it's usually wrong. So, Celts being portrayed badly is nothing new to me, but this... For context, in this time period, England was dominantly Anglo-Saxon, with the only Celtic region in what is today England being Cornwall (which isn't in the game). There were Celts in the rest of England, but they were a minority that was largely absorbed into the Anglo-Saxon communities, and there's written evidence that shows that they were treated as second-class citizens even during the Viking Invasions. They were also already Christianized; having been Christianized far earlier than even the Anglo-Saxons. 

So, how does the game portray these Celts? Living in the woods, wearing skulls and antlers on their heads, and practicing spooky fantasy druid pagan ritualistic stuff. What angers me is that, at that point, it's not just inaccurate; it goes beyond that well into the realm of stereotyping by basically being every Celtic stereotype pooled together.

For centuries, the surviving Celtic Nations (Ireland, Scotland, Wales, etc.) have been viewed by different nation-states as the backwater of Europe (and let's not even get into how these countries were treated by England specifically), and while there are specific stereotypes associated with each of them (Scotsmen being brave and/or cheap, Irish being leprechauns, Welsh being Wales), all Celtic Nations have been assigned this stereotype: backwards, druidic, etc. Obviously, it's not nearly so bad today, but bigotry is still there, and when a game like this that puts on a veil of history portrays them like this, it's sickening. It isn't helped by other unfortunate implications this game has on top of that: the protagonists (the Vikings) are literally colonizers, and their colonizing is glorified and sensationalized, while a group that was marginalized in that time period is represented entirely by stereotypes that still exist today. How can I not be appalled by that?

It gets even worse: they're planning a DLC where the player character gets to invade Ireland and I'm quoting the website: "Explore the haunted wilds and beautiful landscapes of Ireland as you battle a druidic cult known as the Children of Danu" and they've said in trailers that, "the highlight here is really for the players that are more interested in the Celtic, the Druids, and the darker tones that really add to the mysterious feeling of this expansion." What the **** are they talking about?! For one thing, there were no druids! Ireland had already been Catholic for 400 years! One of the most famous illustrated Bibles, the Book of Kells, was published in Ireland over a century before then! And what's all this nonsense about "darker tone" and "mysterious"? Equating "Celtic" to "dark tone and mysterious" just reeks of this stereotyping.

 

What do you guys think? Am I overreacting, or am I right to be concerned about the fact that the game basically represents Celts by a bunch of stereotypes?

Edited by vanguard333

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The only thing I need to know about Assassin's Creed to say "nope, I'm not touching that" is that the company behind that franchise, Ubisoft, was fairly recently found to sexually abuse and harass its employees. That alone makes me not buy their games on sheer principle (on top of all their scummy business practices, like making the game grindy to sell "time savers", among others).

That they would stereotype like this is honestly no surprise whatsoever.
Scumbags be scumbags.

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55 minutes ago, DragonFlames said:

The only thing I need to know about Assassin's Creed to say "nope, I'm not touching that" is that the company behind that franchise, Ubisoft, was fairly recently found to sexually abuse and harass its employees. That alone makes me not buy their games on sheer principle (on top of all their scummy business practices, like making the game grindy to sell "time savers", among others).

That they would stereotype like this is honestly no surprise whatsoever.
Scumbags be scumbags.

Yikes. Yeah; I agree that those are definitely also good reasons not to buy any Ubisoft games.

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1 minute ago, AnonymousSpeed said:

They're all dead dude chill

Um... the only sentence where I had the word "bigotry" in it was talking about the treatment of Celtic groups today, as in towards the ones that still exist. My point in that paragraph was about how the same stereotypes used in the game to represent groups that are indeed dead are the exact same stereotypes being used on related groups that are still alive today. Does that make sense? 

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Is it really worth it to get this pissed off over a game? I mean, I hate the plot of 3H, which is the main reason why I didn't buy it when it came out; but you don't see me writing a thread on how I think the plot was rushed.

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23 minutes ago, Armchair General said:

Is it really worth it to get this pissed off over a game? I mean, I hate the plot of 3H, which is the main reason why I didn't buy it when it came out; but you don't see me writing a thread on how I think the plot was rushed.

As I said, I found most of the historical inaccuracies simply laughable rather than irritating; this one got me angry because it wasn't just inaccuracy but was also stereotyping. Does that make sense?

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8 minutes ago, vanguard333 said:

As I said, I found most of the historical inaccuracies simply laughable rather than irritating; this one got me angry because it wasn't just inaccuracy but was also stereotyping. Does that make sense?

Yes, but do you genuinely expect for them to get everything right?

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5 minutes ago, Armchair General said:

Yes, but do you genuinely expect for them to get everything right?

No; I believe a game with a historical setting should try to get its setting as authentic as possible, but I do not expect it and I'm not angered when it gets stuff wrong. What angered me about this is that this inaccurate, stereotypical portrayal comes with a ton of bad implications. Do I really have to further clarify why I would be mad about something like stereotyping?

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I was a bit concerned with this in Valhalla after seeing the initial trailers/interviews. AC is no stranger to revisionism, but Valhalla is probably the most excessive it its perpetration among the series. From weaponry to armor to culture to architecture, the game misses the mark quite a bit.

One of my big problems is the complete lack of mention or representation of slaves (tbf, I'm not even half way through this very long game yet, so maybe this will happen?). Slaves were a huge part of society in this era, and to exclude the aspect entirely is pretty poor.

The game does get right the fact that the relationship between Saxons and Vikings was complicated, with each side having internal factions that would ally with like-minded folks on the other side.

I am enjoying the game overall and just trying to appreciate it for what it is: a theme park in 9th century England in which I can (sort of) roleplay a member of the Assassin's Brotherhood. 

Also, those of you shunning Ubisoft games on principle, I hope you do the same for other companies with anti-consumer and/or offensive policies. That would include Nintendo, Sony, Riot, and others. I'd also add that the team that built Valhalla is comprised of hundreds (or more) of individuals of varying professional levels and varying personal demographics and views - seems a bit unfair to discount their work because some executives were backwards morons.

Edited by Aegius_NaTL

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I never liked Assasins Creed for many reasons. Historical revisionism and grave inaccuracy were always paramount amongst these. I wouldn't have played the game anyway but hearing things like this still do irritate me. How the game managed to misrepresent both vikings and celts in a game set during this period is beyond me. I've seen pixar movies that caare more about history than this.

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Yeah, the Celts abandoned pagan religions well before the generally agreed starting point of the Medieval Period.  At first I think they had adopted their own Christian beliefs referred to as Insular Christianity, but eventually adopted Catholicism proper (though I'm far from an expert).  By the time of the Viking Invasions they definitely weren't these dark nature magic types they're often portrayed - most of them, just like anywhere else in Europe, worshipped Jesus Christ in some fashion.  Moreover by the time of the Viking Period they did have a nobility system that was more or less just as scattered as the rest of Europe's nobility systems.

While perhaps the disrespectful portrayal of Celts in particular isn't as problematic as, say, a bad portrayal of African cultures, it is troublesome for them to glorify colonialism in any capacity.  Colonialism and imperialism have, historically, always resulted in suffering.  People of the "uncivilized" cultures (seen as such by more powerful kingdoms like England or France) were enslaved, brutally conquered, and almost had their cultural identities completely stripped.  Many cultures were outright erased from the face of the Earth by brutish, savage English, French, and Roman imperialists that sought to homogenize the lands they conquered so that they would have no cause to stray from their firm grasp, and often we've been taught that this has been "good" because supposedly this all was necessary for a technologically advanced and "civilized" society and so by this logic we owe a debt of gratitude to these cruel imperials for creating such "great" nations.  That includes slavery - as an American I absolutely have heard that slavery was "necessary" to build our nation, and that even that the English were good guys even though we fought a war of independence to kick them out.  Oh yeah, and that President Washington didn't like slavery, which is BS since he had slaves of his own.

Speaking of, that's why I dislike the story in AC3.  Look, I do respect that they made the American revolutionaries out to be not as heroic as we often fantasize, but in contrast they made the Englishmen look like heroes instead who were looking out for the interests of Native Americans.  This is absolute BS; both the Spanish and the English were responsible for horrific atrocities committed against the indigenous peoples here, and they had no remorse whatsoever because these imperialists who were so obsessed with their pedegrees believed non-whites (particularly those of differing nationalities) were naturally inferior to pure stock English/Spanish people, especially if those English/Spanish were nobility.  And providing small pox blankets was not an accident - it was deliberate biological warfare.  Neither the English nor the Spanish imperialists ever cared about the wellbeing of indigenous people in this time.  Same with any other kingdom that colonized the Americas or virtually any other land.

I understand AC has always had historical revisionism.  I mean hell, the entire main struggle of every game revolves around a Crusades-era holy order which realistically was only secretive in the same vein as a lot of other zealous organizations were (Germanic tribunals from back when they had trials by Vehmic Courts, which were basically the ancient equivalent of white supremacist "militias" being given legal authority to do what they please), and how this long-since dissolved military arm of the Catholic Church was secretly behind everything bad that happened in history, except not really.  But there's a point where even if they're fully admitting it's not accurate it's still promoting a certain ideology.  And given how they can get political in all the wrong ways (but remember it's all coincidence, they definitely don't believe this stuff /sarcasm), it wouldn't surprise me if they were trying to promote the idea that colonialism was hip, trendy, and cool.

1 hour ago, Aegius_NaTL said:

Also, those of you shunning Ubisoft games on principle, I hope you do the same for other companies with anti-consumer and/or offensive policies. That would include Nintendo, Sony, Riot, and others. I'd also add that the team that built Valhalla is comprised of hundreds (or more) of individuals of varying professional levels and varying personal demographics and views - seems a bit unfair to discount their work because some executives were backwards morons.

Like with any of these kinds of things, the troubles are always the result of either directors, project managers, or executives who are either callous or incompetent (that's the key thing, because not everyone who holds these roles are bad - those that are good and care do great work for their companies and games, and make life easier for the rest of the employees).  Though Ubisoft has a... ahem, history in regards to bad portrayals of other cultures, so that's probably why they get flak a bit more.  Really, a lot of VG companies get away with a lot of BS because of lacking oversight and unions, which is a complicated subject (though it's still wrong, no doubt about that).

With that said, if you mean "shun" as in "don't buy their products", then you may as well become a luddite because most things you come upon have been created through the abuse and over-working of employees.  It is an unfortunate reality that we have to fix not through individual action but through collective activism.  And no, I don't mean "collective activism" as in mass boycotts, because gamers have proven they don't have the discipline to do that in large enough numbers to make an impact.  I mean speaking out, in a meaningful way, about this kind of stuff and trying to pressure companies and politicians to enact positive policy changes and criminalize those who've committed crimes such as sexual assault.

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1 hour ago, Aegius_NaTL said:

One of my big problems is the complete lack of mention or representation of slaves (tbf, I'm not even half way through this very long game yet, so maybe this will happen?). Slaves were a huge part of society in this era, and to exclude the aspect entirely is pretty poor.

Nope; from what I've heard, there are no slaves at all. The game also de-synchronizes the player character if they try to attack a civilian during a raid, even though we know full well that that did happen. I suspect that they're omitted because it would be hard for the player to feel great about raiding if it including enslaving people and attacking civilians. 

 

1 hour ago, Aegius_NaTL said:

Also, those of you shunning Ubisoft games on principle, I hope you do the same for other companies with anti-consumer and/or offensive policies. That would include Nintendo, Sony, Riot, and others. I'd also add that the team that built Valhalla is comprised of hundreds (or more) of individuals of varying professional levels and varying personal demographics and views - seems a bit unfair to discount their work because some executives were backwards morons.

Oh, I do. Whenever any these company does something scummy, I am quick to not buy the games that are products of those scummy practices. The one exception was Mario 3D All-Stars, and even there I do regret my purchase to some extent. Besides:

10 minutes ago, Ertrick36 said:

Like with any of these kinds of things, the troubles are always the result of either directors, project managers, or executives who are either callous or incompetent (that's the key thing, because not everyone who holds these roles are bad - those that are good and care do great work for their companies and games, and make life easier for the rest of the employees).  Though Ubisoft has a... ahem, history in regards to bad portrayals of other cultures, so that's probably why they get flak a bit more.  Really, a lot of VG companies get away with a lot of BS because of lacking oversight and unions, which is a complicated subject (though it's still wrong, no doubt about that).

With that said, if you mean "shun" as in "don't buy their products", then you may as well become a luddite because most things you come upon have been created through the abuse and over-working of employees.  It is an unfortunate reality that we have to fix not through individual action but through collective activism.  And no, I don't mean "collective activism" as in mass boycotts, because gamers have proven they don't have the discipline to do that in large enough numbers to make an impact.  I mean speaking out, in a meaningful way, about this kind of stuff and trying to pressure companies and politicians to enact positive policy changes and criminalize those who've committed crimes such as sexual assault.

This; just "not buying the games" isn't enough; speaking out is also important. 

Speaking of "callous or incompetent", Hanlon's Razor says never to assume something was done out of malice when it is adequately explained by incompetence, but don't rule out malice as a possibility either. 

 

14 minutes ago, Ertrick36 said:

Yeah, the Celts abandoned pagan religions well before the generally agreed starting point of the Medieval Period.  At first I think they had adopted their own Christian beliefs referred to as Insular Christianity, but eventually adopted Catholicism proper (though I'm far from an expert).  By the time of the Viking Invasions they definitely weren't these dark nature magic types they're often portrayed - most of them, just like anywhere else in Europe, worshipped Jesus Christ in some fashion.  Moreover by the time of the Viking Period they did have a nobility system that was more or less just as scattered as the rest of Europe's nobility systems.

Yeah; it is officially referred to as Celtic Christianity or Insular Christianity or something like that; I just said Catholic because there wasn't any religious divide among Christians in Western Europe, so one may as well just say Catholic. 

Yes, they had their own nobility systems... in Wales, Cornwall, Ireland, Scotland, and maybe some small pockets of England (I'm not the biggest expert). But as I said, in most of England, they were absorbed into the Anglo-Saxon societies and treated as second-class citizens. 

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5 hours ago, vanguard333 said:

Um... the only sentence where I had the word "bigotry" in it was talking about the treatment of Celtic groups today, as in towards the ones that still exist. My point in that paragraph was about how the same stereotypes used in the game to represent groups that are indeed dead are the exact same stereotypes being used on related groups that are still alive today. Does that make sense? 

Yeah but it's still stupid. No one thinks Irish people are druids, we think they're drunks.

Actual discrimination against people of Celtic ancestry is the sort of thing that hasn't existed since the 1930s*

*- I do not actually care if this statement is false

Edited by AnonymousSpeed

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This... Blew up quickly. And also doesn't surprise me. There will always be:

  1. Racism.
  2. Idiocy.
  3. Religious feuds.
  4. bias and stereotypes.
  5. Inequality.

It's a product of human nature. Big monkey beat little monkey, yeah? Survival of the fittest, dog eat dog, etc. The most important part: People are stupid, just in different ways, just as people are smart in different ways. Whether its 1,000 B.C. or 2050 A.D. But don't mind me. I'm not making excesses for anyone, just stating my opinion.

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54 minutes ago, vanguard333 said:

Yes, they had their own nobility systems... in Wales, Cornwall, Ireland, Scotland, and maybe some small pockets of England (I'm not the biggest expert). But as I said, in most of England, they were absorbed into the Anglo-Saxon societies and treated as second-class citizens. 

Yeah, I was more thinking of the Irish when talking about the nobility systems.  Well, Ireland and the few Celtic kingdoms of Scotland from that time period.

Actually, on a slightly less related topic, one of the campaign starting points of Crusader Kings 3 is 867, and you can play as either the Viking kings who are trying to colonize the land, any of the Anglo-Saxon nobles that were resisting the colonization, or virtually any other noble that existed in that time.  If you really wanted to you could try to unify Ireland and mount an invasion of England and Scotland in that game.  The game's not entirely accurate, but it is meant to basically allow you to change history or play out historical events the way you'd want to and it is definitely less egregious than Assassins Creed in terms of representing history.

21 minutes ago, L3xandr3 said:

This... Blew up quickly. And also doesn't surprise me. There will always be:

  1. Racism.
  2. Idiocy.
  3. Religious feuds.
  4. bias and stereotypes.
  5. Inequality.

It's a product of human nature. Big monkey beat little monkey, yeah? Survival of the fittest, dog eat dog, etc. The most important part: People are stupid, just in different ways, just as people are smart in different ways. Whether its 1,000 B.C. or 2050 A.D. But don't mind me. I'm not making excesses for anyone, just stating my opinion.

It's more about territory expansion than virtually any of those things.  Always has been, and still is.  Won't get into a tremendous rant about it because I could spend all day talking about how all of those rationalizations are just excuses to justify the desire of aristocrats to seize wealth and resources for themselves, but racism and religious feuding are not part of human nature, as there's nothing natural or spontaneous about either.

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8 minutes ago, Ertrick36 said:

It's more about territory expansion than virtually any of those things.  Always has been, and still is.  Won't get into a tremendous rant about it because I could spend all day talking about how all of those rationalizations are just excuses to justify the desire of aristocrats to seize wealth and resources for themselves, but racism and religious feuding are not part of human nature, as there's nothing natural or spontaneous about either.

Yeah, most evil stems from Greed. Greed for power, wealth, land, adoration, you name it, some people want it. Degrading others gives some people a high, while for others it's so they can get some sweet loot from unbelievers/inferiors/your next door neighbor. Mankind has always been like this, and always will be. That isn't to say there aren't good people out there. Not at all. All I'm saying on this is that mankind's very complicated.

But enough of the off topic, eh?

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