France Takes Issue With 'Assassin's Creed'

Assassin's Creed: Unity
Ubisoft

Assassin's Creed: Unity, the newest release from video game giant Ubisoft, has some Frenchmen up in arms. The company says its game allows players to "experience the open world of 18th-century Paris.... Sabotage an execution. Protect an emperor. Assassinate a Templar agent." The game has over 5,000 characters, but just one has France irked: Maximilien de Robespierre.

French politician Jean-Luc Mélenchon expressed his distaste for the portrayal of Robespierre to The Independent, saying, "This is propaganda against the people. The people are [shown as] barbarians, as bloody savages. A man who was our liberator at one stage of the Revolution is portrayed as a monster."

Mélenchon also says Ubisoft has insulted his fellow countrymen: "They are insulting us to destroy what keeps us together as French people. This is a rewriting of history to glorify those who lost and to discredit the Republic, one and indivisible."

Alexis Corbière, secretary general of France's La Partie de la Gauche, agrees the game is problematic. "[The game] alleges wrongly that there were hundreds of thousands of deaths [in the Reign of Terror] and that whole streets were filled with blood."

The game is set during the French Revolution, and by the makers' own admission it exaggerates the course of history: The modern French flag is waved, and the modern national anthem is on the soundtrack (neither was adopted until after the revolution). Over 200 years after his death by guillotine, Robespierre is portrayed as one of the villains in the game.

Assassin's Creed: Unity shows Robespierre as "more of a mass murderer and less of a hero of the oppressed," notes videogame reporter Tim Colwill. He was a radical leader in the revolution, and his reign involved thousands of death sentences during the Terror. At one point in the game, Robespierre says "I detest this filthy world which is nothing but a carcass on which mankind feeds like worms.… I want to kill as many people as possible.… My genocidal crusade begins here and now."

While Ubisoft has taken historical liberties in the game, portraying Robespierre as a murderer is not entirely inaccurate. The producer of the game, Antoine Vimal du Monteil, told The Independent, "Assassin's Creed: Unity is a game for the mass public. It is not a history lesson."

Though French politicians have expressed anger over Robespierre's role in the game, this is highly unlikely to change. In a historic lawsuit on the portrayal of public figures in video games, Panama's former dictator Manuel Noriega sued Activision Blizzard, the maker of Call of Duty: Black Ops II. In the game, Noriega is described as one of the "bad guys." His lawsuit claimed Activision had fictionalized him as a "kidnapper, murderer and enemy of the state," though Noriega was found guilty of a variety of such crimes and is in a Panama prison. A judge dismissed the lawsuit on the grounds of free speech and the First Amendment.