“Assassin’s Creed Mirage” Breaks Free of Orientalism

“Assassin’s Creed Mirage” showcases the vibrancy of SWANA cultures and their languages, breaking away from Orientalist stereotypes seen in many Western depictions to offer a more accurate and respectful portrayal of the region.

Digital representation of Basim Ibn Ishaq, protagonist of "Assassin's Creed Mirage," with a blad sticking out of his sleeve
"Mirage" is a gentle reset of the "Assassin's Creed" series, returning to its roots in terms of both mechanics and Muslim culture.

Last week, Ubisoft released “Assassin’s Creed Mirage” (2023), the 13th major installment in the Assassin's Creed video game series. The game is set in ninth century Baghdad, where the player follows Basim Ibn Ishaq, an assassin who is fighting against the Knights Templar for peace and liberty. And within just a week of its release, “Assassin’s Creed Mirage” is already being lauded as an unabashed celebration of Arab culture and the Golden Age of Islam.

It’s not news that Western media has a long and storied history of portraying the countries and people of Southwest Asian and North Africa (SWANA) through the dangerous lens of Orientalism, and video games are no exception to that. Even the Assassin’s Creed franchise has struggled with this in the past. While there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to undo the Orientalism that perpetuates Western media, "Assassin's Creed Mirage" has done an exceptional job representing Arabs, Muslims and SWANA people in general. This has primarily been done by Ubisoft involving Arab creative talent both in front of and behind the scenes of the game. The resulting “Assassin’s Creed Mirage” showcases the vibrancy of SWANA cultures and their languages, breaking away from Orientalist stereotypes seen in many Western depictions to offer a more accurate and respectful portrayal of the region.

Mirage represents a refreshing change in the “Assassin's Creed” franchise. It doesn't entirely reboot the series but offers a gentle reset, focusing on both gameplay mechanics and embracing Muslim culture. As the game narrows its scope to a single city, players are encouraged to explore its distinct districts, each reflecting different aspects of society. The game authentically incorporates Arabic and Muslim phrases and attire, making it feel lived-in, well-researched and relatable. The voice acting in both English and Arabic is commendable — in fact, “Mirage” is the first entry in the “Assassin’s Creed” series to offer players worldwide the option to switch all dialogue to Arabic — which adds to the game's authenticity and engagement with its SWANA setting.

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“Assassin’s Creed Mirage” enjoys a certain cultural richness, evident in the casual use of Arabic, Farsi and other languages spoken in the background. The game features many Brown faces, complete with the full variety of skin tones apparent in the region in a showcase of representation that is often denied to SWANA gamers. And representation aside, the game's design and visuals have been praised for their beauty and variety, with a focus on the architecture, landscapes and vivid colors indicative of the region. Even the political intrigue of the game’s plot can be commended for its depth, avoiding vilifying the Arab population to instead center on the power struggle between the assassins and templars. The characters populating “Assassin’s Creed Mirage” feel fully formed— the game’s main character, Basim, is a relatable and well-developed protagonist, and generally, the diversity of characters in the game reflects the historical importance of the Silk Road and the cultural exchange it facilitated.

Perhaps the most groundbreaking part of “Assassin's Creed Mirage” is its accurate portrayal of the Athan, possibly for the first time in Western media. The call to prayer can be heard several times throughout the day as the player traverses the city. The game’s art director, Jean-Luc Sala, put importance on the Athan being a focal part of the setting, saying it needed “to be a real one, not like a kind of distant sound.” Notably, video game developer Rami Ismail suggests that this could be the first time the Athan has been depicted fully and accurately in a Western entertainment franchise. 

"Assassin's Creed Mirage" sets a positive example for future Western media by involving SWANA representation in both the cast and crew. With any luck, the positive representation in the latest “Assassin’s Creed” installment will encourage more games, films and TV shows to follow suit, providing better and more respectful portrayals of the region and its people.

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