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Assassin’s Creed Shadows CEO cuts through ‘woke’ controversy

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Video game developer Ubisoft’s latest installment in the popular Assassin’s Creed franchise, “Assassin’s Creed Shadows,” or simply Shadows, is set to release later this year and is already generating buzz — both positive and negative. The game transports players to feudal Japan during a time of political upheaval and perpetual warfare.

Shadows features a dual protagonist system, allowing players to experience the narrative from two unique perspectives. One of these protagonists is Yasuke, a historical figure who was an African samurai in the service of Oda Nobunaga. Yasuke’s inclusion has sparked controversy among some gamers who criticize Ubisoft for what they perceive as a “woke” agenda.

Yasuke’s inclusion as a protagonist in Shadows has drawn accusations of historical revisionism and pandering to progressive ideals, even though his existence as a Black samurai is well-documented.

Historical photo of Black samurai Yasuke for Assassin's Creed Shadows VG.
A historical artist rendering of Yasuke. (Photo provided via Africa Defense Forum)

Some gamers argue that Yasuke’s role should have gone to a Japanese character, citing a lack of representation of East Asian protagonists in major video game franchises. However, the other protagonist, Naoe, a Japanese female shinobi from remote mountains in the area, looks to create a tandem of multicultural representation.

Indianapolis resident Taurean Taylor, a member of the collective ‘Trapped in Anime’ that blends Black and Asian culture to their 1 million+ followers online, believes the backlash Ubisoft is getting from fans is absurd.

“Why is it that any time a Black main character is highlighted or celebrated in a game or movie, it is a problem?” Taylor asked. “I remember the controversy about ‘The Little Mermaid’ remake casting a Black lead. The ‘outrage’ seems very much the same.”

More: The dangers of ‘Gaming while Black’

Taylor is referring to the remake of the Disney film “The Little Mermaid” released last year that yielded similar ‘woke agenda’ claims from critics about the reimaging of the main character, Ariel.

However, Ubisoft has defended its decision, stating that Yasuke’s unique story offers a fresh perspective on a familiar historical setting. CEO of Ubisoft Yves Guillemot called the negative response from the community hostile.

“One thing I am concerned about right now is the malicious and personal online attacks that have been directed at some of our team members and partners,” Guillemot said. “I want to make it clear that we, at Ubisoft, condemn these hateful acts in the strongest possible terms, and I encourage the rest of the industry and players to denounce them, too.”

The company emphasizes that Shadows aims to explore the diversity of the samurai class and highlight the real-life experiences of individuals who defied societal expectations.

Lead developer Marc-Alexis Côté said they wanted the Assassin’s Creed series to explore feudal Japan. Côté also said that the information involving Yasuke “kept resurfacing” throughout their research.

Related: ‘Jesus Christ’ video game resurrects controversy

Yasuke (Assassin's Creed Shadows) statue
A statue samurai Yasuke. (Photo via Zambia Today)

Beyond the controversy, Assassin’s Creed Shadows promises to deliver an immersive and engaging experience. The game will feature a sprawling open world, stealth-based gameplay and intense combat sequences. Players can expect to explore iconic locations such as Kyoto and Osaka, encounter historical figures and engage in stealth-driven missions.

Yasuke’s unique skillset and background will likely add a new dimension to the gameplay. As an outsider in Japanese society, Yasuke will face challenges and prejudices shaping his voyage and relations with other characters.

Whether you’re excited about the prospect of playing as a Black samurai or skeptical about Ubisoft’s creative choices, Assassin’s Creed Shadows is poised to be one of the most talked-about games of 2024. Only time will tell if the game lives up to the hype and delivers an experience that resonates with players of all backgrounds.

“We just want to be portrayed in a positive light,” Taylor said. “That’s all.”

Assassin’s Creed Shadows is scheduled for release on Nov. 15 for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, Windows PCs and a few other platforms.

Contact multi-media & senior sports reporter Noral Parham III at 317-762-7846. Follow him on Twitter @3Noral.

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