A common sentiment that I’ve found is the idea that we’d all be better off if there wasn’t religion. This view believes that religion is the cause of much of the evil and conflict in the world. You see this sentiment appear in video games too. Too often if there is a religious order they are usually intentionally or unintentionally part of the problem. Assassin’s Creed II seems to follow this at first glance, but I think that there is more going on with it than that. Dealing with a theme like this will mean that I will be dealing with spoilers to Assassin’s Creed II. The game is four years old at this point, so I won’t be spoiling anything from a new game, but if you’re like me and behind on your games, this serves as a warning.
As I said, at first glance Assassin’s Creed II looks like it echos the complaints against religion. The Templars who are the antagonists of both the first and second game are associated with the Catholic Church. This is clearer in the first game as the Templars are associated with the religious order of the Knights Templar. Assassin’s Creed II picks this up as a number of the men involved in the plot that killed your father and brothers are established in the Catholic Church. Involved in the conspiracy is an archbishop, a monk, a friar (in downloadable content for the game), and even the Pope himself (he actually becomes the Pope after being the mastermind behind the plot, but still you seriously have to fight the Pope in this game).
With this kind of evidence it could be clear that Assassin’s Creed has a dim view of religion and would chime in that religion is the root of all the conflict and evil in the world. Hold onto that judgment for a bit though. In a conversation that takes place while fighting Rodrigo Borgia, the man who became the Pope, Ezio (your character), basically asks how Rodrigo could do what he’s done when it goes against the teaching of the Bible. The Pope simply says that he doesn’t believe in God or the Bible and that it was all just a show to be able to achieve power. You see, actual religious belief had very little to do with the whole thing. It was the mask to be worn so that one could achieve goals and gain power and control.
Now this may not get religion off the hook for many people. After all many believe that religion is a sham and just used to control people, Assassin’s Creed doesn’t really help that. The question that may be needed is, what about the people who are actually believers in a religion, are they to be written off because some who wield power are just playing the system and wanting as much control as possible? This is a question that isn’t important in the world of Assassin’s Creed because Ezio finds out the truth of human creation, he meets a recording of Minerva, a member of a more advanced civilization that created the human beings. So ultimately religion isn’t really true in Assassin’s Creed so it isn’t a game that promotes religion, but it isn’t necessarily out to blame religion for all the evil or conflict in the world either.
What leads me to say that? Well how about the fact that in the modern day story line the Templars have abandoned any sort of religious affiliation. They are instead connected to what is probably the largest power structure in modern day, a multi-national corporation, Abstergo Industries. I think this leans towards the idea that the Templars are more interested in power and control and will use any system it can to gain it. So while the Catholic Church was strong and wielded a fair degree of power, that was infiltrated and propped up by Templars. When it became less powerful, it was then abandoned. Once that structure was abandoned a new power structure had to be developed.
So why is this important at all? Maybe it isn’t, but I think it is important because power and control are not just facets of religion, despite so many people insisting it is. Assassin’s Creed II just gave me an illustration of this truth and made me think about the topic a little bit. The truth is our history is littered with conflict over a number of different reasons. I would be lying if religion wasn’t one of them, but it is not the only one. Many other things have been used to gain power and control over others. Many other items have been a cause of conflict. Land, money, politics, nationalism, ethnic superiority, resources, all of these have been used to claim power and control.
Honestly, more often than not it is hard to isolate just one of these as the only reason for conflict. Even events like the Crusades are so mired in religious, political, and nationalistic issues it is hard to isolate just one issue that was the cause of them all. It is just more complicated than that. There will always be people out there who want power and control over others. Some have used and will continue to use religion as a means to do that. Others will use wealth, nationalism, politics or some other way to gain power or control over others.
I could probably go further with this, but I think that is enough. Do you think this makes sense? Agree? Disagree? I’d like to hear what you think. Thoughts from anyone who’s played the game? Thoughts on drawing themes like this from games?