Assassin’s Creed Shadows producer responds To backlash over Yasuke

'Assassin's Creed' Stage Greeting In Tokyo
'Assassin's Creed' Stage Greeting In Tokyo / Jun Sato/GettyImages

When Ubisoft unveiled Assassin’s Creed Shadows in May, the inclusion of Yasuke, a Black samurai co-lead and real-world historical figure, sparked backlash. Critics argued it was a historical inaccuracy, claiming Yasuke was not a true samurai. However, many of the criticisms were racially motivated, opposing the idea of a Black protagonist in a game set in feudal Japan. Ubisoft producer Marc-Alexis Côté recently addressed this backlash in an interview with Game File, defending Yasuke's inclusion and criticizing responses like that of Twitter owner Elon Musk.

Musk responded to the controversy by tweeting, “DEI kills art,” implying that the game's diversity-focused direction compromised its artistic integrity. Côté, in his interview, described his initial emotional response to Musk's comment and his decision to refrain from replying directly. “That tweet generated emotions,” Côté said. “The first thing I wanted to do was go back on X—that I had deleted—and just tweet back. I have a mindfulness app on my phone. And I did a bit of mindfulness to try to explore the emotions that this tweet created. For me, Elon, it’s sad, he’s just feeding hatred. I had a lot of three-word replies that came to mind.”

Côté explained that engaging with Musk would not be productive and would not help convey Ubisoft’s perspective. Instead, he emphasized Yasuke's integral role in the game's historical fiction. Yasuke, who frequently appeared in the team's research on feudal Japan, has a mysterious history that fits well within Assassin’s Creed’s narrative style. Côté assured that the game justifies Yasuke's presence within its first 12 minutes.

“What Elon says is not the game that we’re building,” Côté stated. “People will have to play the game for themselves. And if, within the first 11 minutes and 47 seconds, they are not convinced of what we’re doing, we can have the discussion. [...] I was reviewing the game very recently, and I was like, ‘The answer is there!’ I just hope and wish that people can keep an open mind about this and see the game for what it is. It’s an Assassin’s Creed game, and I believe the best one we’ve ever built.”

The controversy surrounding Yasuke's inclusion in Assassin's Creed Shadows highlights several significant issues in the gaming industry, from representation to market dynamics and public discourse.

The inclusion of Yasuke as a Black samurai in a game set in feudal Japan is a notable step towards increased diversity in video game characters. Historically, video games have often lacked diverse representation, leading to calls for more inclusive storytelling. Yasuke's role in Assassin’s Creed Shadows can be seen as a response to these calls, offering a more varied and inclusive portrayal of historical figures.

However, the backlash, especially the racially charged comments, underscores the resistance that often accompanies efforts to diversify media. This situation emphasizes the ongoing challenge for developers who strive to create inclusive content while facing pushback from segments of the audience.

Assassin’s Creed is known for blending historical accuracy with creative fiction. The debate over Yasuke’s historical accuracy touches on the broader issue of how much creative liberty developers can take when adapting historical events and figures. While some players seek strict historical adherence, others appreciate the fictional elements that enhance storytelling. This balance between accuracy and creativity is a recurring theme in the industry, influencing how future historical games might be developed.

Marc-Alexis Côté's response to Elon Musk's criticism highlights how industry leaders engage with public discourse. Côté's measured approach, opting for mindfulness and reflection rather than a direct confrontation, sets an example for handling public criticism. It shows that developers can stand by their creative decisions while encouraging open-mindedness and thoughtful dialogue.

Controversies like this can significantly impact a game’s market performance. On one hand, the backlash might deter some potential buyers. On the other hand, the publicity could attract more attention and drive sales from supporters of diversity and those curious about the game. How Assassin’s Creed Shadows performs commercially may influence future decisions by Ubisoft and other developers regarding character representation and narrative choices.

The inclusion of Yasuke in Assassin’s Creed Shadows has stirred important discussions about diversity, historical accuracy, and public engagement in the gaming industry. As the game launches, its reception will likely serve as a case study for how the industry navigates these complex issues moving forward.

The reaction to Yasuke’s inclusion also demonstrates how different segments of the gaming community can have vastly differing opinions on representation and diversity. Industry leaders must navigate these waters carefully, balancing the desire for inclusivity with the need to maintain historical authenticity where applicable. This situation with Assassin’s Creed Shadows is a learning opportunity for developers and publishers on the importance of thoughtful representation and the potential backlash it can generate.

Ubisoft’s handling of this controversy will likely be watched closely by other developers and publishers. The company’s commitment to Yasuke’s character despite the backlash sets a precedent for how the industry might support diverse representation in the face of public criticism. If Assassin’s Creed Shadows proves successful, it may encourage other developers to take similar risks, knowing that there is both a market and an audience for more inclusive narratives.

The involvement of high-profile individuals like Elon Musk in the debate brings another layer of complexity. Social media platforms amplify voices and opinions, sometimes disproportionately influencing public perception. This incident illustrates how powerful social media commentary can be in shaping discussions around video games. Developers may need to consider strategies for managing social media fallout and engaging constructively with critics.

The inclusion of diverse historical figures in mainstream games like Assassin’s Creed contributes to broader cultural conversations about representation and historical narratives. By introducing players to characters like Yasuke, games can educate and expand understanding of diverse historical experiences. This can have a ripple effect, encouraging other media forms to explore and celebrate diverse stories.

The backlash and subsequent discussions surrounding Yasuke in Assassin’s Creed Shadows highlight critical issues within the gaming industry related to representation, historical accuracy, and public discourse. How Ubisoft and the wider industry respond to these challenges will shape the future landscape of video game development and the portrayal of diverse characters. As the industry evolves, the lessons learned from this controversy will be essential in guiding future efforts toward inclusive and engaging storytelling.