Maxime Durant has spent a good part of his career working on the popular Assassin’s Creed series, but he’s not a computer programmer. He’s a historian who was tapped by game maker Ubisoft to ensure cultural and historical accuracy in the gaming world.
The result is an incredibly rich, detailed and authentic virtual world, which led Durant and Ubisoft to a clever idea: Why not use these worlds to educate students about history?
On Wednesday, Durand visited the Fab Lab at Kennedy High in Richmond to launch Discovery Tour: Ancient Greece, a new dedicated mode of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey that allows people to explore Ubisoft’s recreation of Ancient Greece “free of conflict, time pressure or gameplay constraints.”
“Players can roam freely or explore the world through guided tours made with the help of specialized historians that encourage players to learn more about its history and daily life, as it stood in 431 BC,” according to Ubisoft.
The update is free and available to anyone who owns the game.
The new partnership between Ubisoft and the West Contra Costa Unified School District will feature activities throughout the year involving the game project. Ubisoft provided several teachers with licenses to use in their classrooms.
“We’re really excited about this,” WCCUSD Superintendent Matthew Duffy said at Wednesday’s launch event. “You are going to get a really amazing opportunity to look at video game software and design, but not in the usual ways that you look at it.”
Duffy said the new educational gaming technology further enhaces the the 4,000 square foot Fab Lab at Kennedy High, a center of technology funded by a Chevron Richmond grant that allows students and local residents to innovate, design and produce pretty much anything using advanced technologies such as computers, 3D and laser printers, vinyl cutters and a mini mill.
During Wednesday’s launch of the Discovery Tour: Ancient Greece, Durant expressed the extent to which creative directors behind Ubisoft’s globally popular games strive to achieve historical and cultural accuracy.
“We work with historians, with technologists, archeologists, architects,” Durant said.
In the creation of Assassin’s Creed Origins, which also features a Discovery Tour option, an Egyptologist from UCLA helped “us understand how the cities work, their political systems,” the historian said.
The game makers go beyond academic experts, reaching out to members of communities to ensure accuracy.
“It’s not only about having historical information,” Durant said. “History is not only about the past, it’s also about the present, about the way people see and understand the past.”
Members of those communities even help write the game script to ensure accuracy in language and respect for culture and beliefs. The game makers go on site when possible as part of the research process.
Photos and reporting by Rafael Lima