Kassandra’s Odyssey

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter in a book

Abstract

The YouTube channel Honest Game Trailers quips in its trailer for Assassins’ Creed Odyssey that the major advancement of the game – at least compared to previous instalments – is that ‘this time they let you be a woman!’ The joke not only draws attention to the conspicuous absence of playable female protagonists in the historical settings of the Assassins’ Creed franchise, but it also highlights the lack of female representation in most AAA games. This chapter adopts the idea that the game lets players ‘be’ a woman in Classical Athens to think about issues of gender representation in historical video games from three angles. First, I am interested in what Assassins’ Creed Odyssey promises the player they will be able to do by choosing Kassandra to explore the game’s sprawling rendition of antiquity, including how this might be different to playing as the male protagonist Alexios. Second, I want to consider how this matches up with what the player can do; in other words, what structural, narratological, and historical limits are placed on Kassandra in-game. Third, I propose to analyse how these experiences match player receptions by analysing a dataset of reviews taken from social media and the gaming distribution service Steam.

Assassins’ Creed Odyssey follows in the footsteps of Mass Effect, a genre-defining sci-fi series that allowed players to choose whether to explore the gameworld through the eyes of a man or woman. Unlike Mass Effect, Assassins’ Creed Odyssey takes the more radical step of seemingly reinserting female experience back into the annals of historiography by offering players the choice to play as Kassandra. This choice is established outside the game in its extensive marketing materials, and so I will begin this chapter by exploring the way and the frequency that Kassandra appears in publicity screenshots. I will look at advance releases that announced her character, as well as paratexts such as the game’s opening credits, which references the fact it was developed by those with ‘various beliefs, sexual orientations, and gender identities,’ thus directing an appreciation of the way the female figure might by interpreted in the game’s mashed-up receptions of antiquity.

From frame to centre, I will draw on scholarship on the female figure in historical fiction – as well as my own playthrough of the game – to consider how Assassins’ Creed Odyssey depicts Kassandra, looking at what video games do similarly in terms of representation, but also what they can do differently, for example by focalising history tours through Kassandra. I ask whether the game advances debates about female representation, or whether it undermines them by facilitating a highly sexualised experience regardless of character choice, with both Alexios and Kassandra able to ‘do all the Non-Playable-Characters,’ as the Honest Game Trailer wryly notes.

With roughly two thirds of players choosing Alexios, I turn finally to reviews to determine what playing Kassandra means in a globalised gaming world, juxtaposing the above with receptions of Kassandra that range from disdain to gratitude for her ‘compelling character.’
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWomen in Classical Video Games
PublisherBloomsbury Academic
Chapter13
Number of pages23
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2022

Structured keywords

  • Centre for Material Texts
  • Institute of Greece, Rome, and the Classical Tradition

Keywords

  • Video Games
  • History
  • Classics
  • Classical Reception
  • Assassin's Creed Odyssey
  • Paratexts
  • Trailers
  • Gender
  • Representation

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