Why Three Egyptologists Are Teaching History Through Assassin’s Creed Origins
Assassin’s Creed Origins’ rendition of Ptolemaic Egypt is one of the most accurate interactive representations of the period, so much so that Egyptologist Dr. Chris Naunton referred to it as “the best visualization of ancient Egypt.” Naunton’s remark came during the first episode of “Playing in the Past” a six-part series dedicated to looking at Egyptian history through the lens of Assassin’s Creed Origins. The series is broadcast on Twitch, where Naunton was joined by a PhD student at Southampton University, Gemma Renshaw, and associate professor of history at Missouri University of Science and Technology, Dr. Kate Sheppard .
Naunton began by comparing photos from his travels to vistas in the game before taking up the reins himself and moving throughout the world on his own. The world of Assassin’s Creed Origins was already the focus of the post-launch Discovery Tour by Assassin’s Creed – Ancient Egypt, which turns Ptolemaic Egypt into a living museum complete with guided tours. To find out what experts in the field think about Origins’ depiction of Egypt and why they decided to livestream their lectures, we spoke with Renshaw, Sheppard, and Naunton.
Where did the idea for “Playing in the Past” come from? What made you want to stream it to the public?
Chris Naunton: Last summer, I was writing a book for children about Cleopatra, which is going to be called “Cleopatra Tells All,” and I was at the stage where I needed to give the illustrator ideas for what I specifically wanted Alexandria to look like. I wanted to be able to send him stuff saying, “Look, this is what it looked like.”
So I was Googling for images of visualizations of Alexandria, and I knew that there was a guy called Jean-Claude Golvin, a French artist who had painted a load of reconstruction drawings of various places in the ancient world, including in Egypt and Alexandria, but I wasn't finding them.
How familiar were you with videogames before all of this?
CN: I had a Sega Master System II in the early ‘90s, but that was pretty much the last time I played a videogame, and I just thought this was not for me.
At what point did you decide to make this a formal series?
GR: After we did the September run, we decided that we would apply to Southampton University to see if they would give us any funding. That’s when we called it “Playing in the Past” and really ironed out the idea. Funding means that we can pay other experts to come and be a part of it.
Gemma, you’re a fan of the Assassin’s Creed franchise. Did it help you get interested in history at all?
I think I relate quite well to the people who are going to watch the stream, because they can ask me questions about Egypt and history, or they can be about the game, and I might know the answer to that too.
I loved not only the stories, but the database entries that were included going way back to Assassin’s Creed II. I really appreciated how they tried to include history and weave the story around the history in a way that was believable.
How does it feel to virtually explore a real-life location that you know so well?
KS: I think the only bad thing is that it really makes me want to be there. The thing that makes me emotional about it and love it so much are the little details. You just kind of breathe it in, and it's just like, “Ah, OK, I'm back, I'm here” and you can almost get that when you're playing the game, and that's what I love about it.
Chris, you mentioned the Temple of Hatshepsut. Is there anything in particular that really impressed you with regard to the historical representation? CN: For me, it’s the fact that it is very specifically this particular moment at the end of the Ptolemaic period, which is a very interesting time in terms of what Egypt would have looked like. That sort of level of detail is amazing.
There are the brand-new sort of late-Ptolemaic Roman-influenced buildings coming up, and then the people who are clearly foreigners, as well as that mixture of a more traditional Egyptians. You also have a newer kind of Hellenistic Egypt, or even just purely foreign Greek influence.
Mar 03, 2021 at 23:33