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Polychronia – negotiating the popular representation of a common past in Assassin's Creed

Journal article
Authors Jonathan Westin
Ragnar Hedlund
Published in Journal of Gaming & Virtual Worlds
Volume 8
Issue 1
Pages 3-120
ISSN 1757-191X
Publication year 2016
Published at Department of Conservation
Pages 3-120
Language en
Keywords representation, Assassin's Creed, archaeology, Rome, cultural heritage, digital media
Subject categories Learning, Archaeology, classical, Classical Archaeology and Ancient History, Cultural Studies

Abstract

Several of the most successful large scale digital simulations in recent years are found in the immensely popular game series Assassin's Creed, developed by Ubisoft. A variety of monuments and places figure prominently throughout the series, but at different levels of detail and accuracy. While not presenting a thoroughly imagined representation of any time period or place, these recreations emphasize the epistemological impact of particular visual modes when communicating the past, representing the collective idea of a place or time, rather than archaeological or historical facts. The time and spaces presented in the game series give us an opportunity to study how representations of the past can be assembled to be recognizable to a wide audience. This, in turn, gives us insight into the mechanics of cultural memory. In order to analyze these mechanics we analyze the representation of the city of Rome created for Assassin´s Creed 2: Brotherhood, the third main installment of the series. Not only has Rome been the subject of several centuries of archaeological reconstructions, but due to the countless popular representations available, the city holds a strong position in the public consciousness. In Ubisoft’s version of Rome, the archaeological record and popular imagination meet, are combined, and sometimes collide. We argue that Rome as we encounter it here amounts to a concept which we call ”polychronia”, a place where several timelines exist simultaneously in an organized manner to appeal to a common understanding. As a polychonia, the representation of Rome is made more recognizable to the recipient than a representation solely reflecting expert knowledge.

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