Can Assassin’s Creed Unity Be Used in the Reconstruction of Notre-Dame Cathedral?
Numerous sources state that the video game “Assassin’s Creed Unity” will be used in the reconstruction effort of Notre-Dame cathedral, the famous Paris landmark ravaged by fire on April 15th, 2019. But, in spite of Ubisoft’s 3-D recreation of the monument within its game, based on the artist Caroline Miousse’s work of over 5000 hours spread on one year to reproduce the architecture and details, one of the most precise visual work of this company, such a venue is simply impossible.
According to Cédric Gachaud, CEO of Life3D, the company who was modelizing the cathedral for renovation purposes at the moment of the blaze, Ubisoft’s recreation is game-based, not detail-based. Where Life3D aimed for millimetric precision with the use of laser scanners to give engineers and architects a workable database, a game-based recreation will tend to invoke artistic freedom to rearrange “reality” as the programmers see fit, to better give the players a game-flow that will fit the scenario. 3D gaming uses interpenetrating polygons, without proper interior structure. Programmers reproduce empty volumes. But in order to recreate the burned-out roof, for example, artisans will have to rely not only on surface documentation, on its visible parts, but also on the frame’s internal structure.
Assassin’s Creed Non-Historic Bias
One of the non-historic details Assassin’s Creed Unity created is the presence of the spire. It had been in fact torn down by a storm in 1786, only to reappear during the 19th century. Also, during the French Revolution, the cathedral was used as a military warehouse. So this reproduction is not historically faithful. Although inspired by history, game developers adapted it to gaming reality. Caroline Miousse never set foot inside the cathedral. She basically researched photographs and architectural plans stored at France’s Bibliothèque Nationale, visiting Notre-Dame only after the game’s launch.
The gaming approach to historical reality is biased, in the sense that history helps to build legitimacy and a vague reference to the past, whereas gaming favors surface to deep thought, façade to depth. Especially since it addresses its products to history-wise neophyte players. And, of course, such games as Assassin’s Creed aren’t only addressed to North American and European audiences. They are products for a World-wide audience, not too versed in the historical preciseness of the times evoked.
But to achieve a certain degree of realism, experts were involved. Caroline Miousse, on the visual side, and also the noted collaboration of prestigious historians such as Jean-Clément Martin (expert on the French Revolution) and Laurent Turcot (a specialist in 18th century France and the French Revolution). They wrote encyclopedic notes appearing throughout the game, even though more often than not those are bypassed by players who want to safeguard game fluidity. A game of this amplitude, as complex as it is, will never surpass a history book. It is a simplified vision, a piece of visual/virtual reality, recreated along the lines of a scenario drawn to satisfy the yearnings of a worldwide consumer base and address the interests of a wider non-eurocentric world culture. As such, it can serve as an awakening to delve deeper into History, as a ludic introduction; or it could just satisfy the need for fun, but within a detail-oriented framework that can propel gamers to another time, another place, another universe.
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