My first article in the “Reality Virtually” series, taking a look at the impact of media on our perception of the world.
Pirates fascinate us. They searched for treasure, raided the rich ships of empires, and did plenty of terrible things. Kids dress up with a patch over one eye and we conjure up images of a parrot on a shoulder and a guttural “Argh!” But there is more to the historical phenomenon of pirates. And of the empires from which they deviated.
Later this year Assassin’s Creed launches as a movie based on a series of popular video games. Playing one of their latest games, I found myself momentarily transported back to the 18th century Caribbean world of pirates and sugar trade behind the screen of Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag.
From where I write, I look out across the sea, imagining the ships leaving these rocky shores headed for the pristine beaches of the Caribbean islands. I myself visited the Colombian coastline of the Islas de Rosario and continue to wonder what people from this town experienced as they traveled afar and what people in the Caribbean experienced as the seafarers arrived.
One aspect of the game, and indeed of true history, is the slave trade. One of the many horrors of past empires was the steady flow of enslaved humanity from the coast of nations like Equatorial Guinea on the west of Africa to the Caribbean. I remember visiting a cave on the island and capital city of Malabo. We had enjoyed a fish lunch with a local friend and been warmly welcomed into his home perched atop a creatively conglomerated group of small houses. Later that day we stood in front of a 6 square foot cave where centuries before slaves had been held before being put on a ship.
The unfathomable pain and disgrace of the slave trade began in cities and towns like these as people where shipped across the world amidst unthinkable conditions. It would be wonderful to think that these horrors were things of the past, just a historical element to a video game. But today there are millions of men and women enslaved around the world. Will the organisations helping to free people from modern-day slavery be enough?
Video games are not only entertaining they also transmit information to us in the matrix of the storyline. A well made video game can be just as or even more powerful than a movie, especially as it interacts virtually with our life reality. I have been to the places of the slave trade. Interacting with the historical content of 18th century pirates and empires greedily seeking their fortunes in Assassin’s Creed draws parallels with the reality in which I live–a world with more subtle greed, theft and slavery. If we look for it, our face-to-face experiences with the world around us blend with the pixels we digest. So as we fight in the complex virtual world of greed and politics in Assassin’s Creed, we can also fight the real modern evils that reduce our fellow human beings to the status of slaves, speaking out against corporate greed and theft.