Language and Locale in Assassin’s Creed 2

Assassin’s Creed 2 (AC2) is a curious monster. I’m sure the first in the franchise was even stranger due to its Oriental(ist) focus, but I haven’t had the chance to play it (although El Nasr et al. 2008 give an interesting take on it). As such, I’ll keep my comments primarily to the second title in the franchise, which focuses on late 15th Century Italy.

AC2 takes place in the present where the player embodies a character, Desmond, who was previously held prisoner by the Templars (an organization trying to take over the world), but is freed in the opening scene by Lucy, and now works alongside the Assassins (who oppose the Templars and supposedly have throughout history). The cities in which this all takes place are not named overtly, but are within Italy according to fan delvers. Regardless of the specifics, a global north location is assumed due to the general skin color if nothing else. However, the majority of play takes place in a VR set up called the Animus 2.0 where Desmond embodies the Italian Ezio Auditore de Firenze, who encounters dozens of historical personages in his journey for familial vengeance.

You (the player) embody Desmond (a roamer from an unknown place called “The Farm”) who embodies Ezio (an Italian from Florence) as well as Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad (who is never given a more exact place of origin other than “The Middle East”). The nationalities are near tripled in the game between Desmond, Ezio and Altaïr, and the locales are multilple between the player’s own locale, 21st century Desmond and 15th century Ezio’s locales in various places in Italy (particularly Florence, Venice, and Rome), and 12th century Altaïr’s locale in various places in the now Syria and Israel area (including Masyaf, Acre, Jerusalem and Damascus). Suffice to say, there is no single locale within the game.

While there is a multiplicity of locales within the game, there is a limitation of localizations. When I started up the application for the first time I registered for a US/English account (and this may have created limitations), and upon launch the game’s graphical user interface (GUI) was English. Again, I will need to check alternate possibilities of switching the basic interface language, but for now I wish to discuss the option that remained despite the original determination. Within the option menu I am given the option of English and Italian spoken dialogue. Choosing one or the other makes all of the spoken dialogue in that language, but the GUI remains in English.

While this seems a simple audio switch so far, there is a crucial difference between the English and Italian language options. The Itlaian makes everything in Italian, but the English actually plays between English and Italian languages: certain elements of the characters’ dialogue remains in Italian, and are given a parenthetical English translation in the subtitles after the standard subtitles. Two examples are below:

The above image has the standard English. The characters words are given subtitles for both ease of understanding and to aid the Deaf player community. This is standard dialogue between the characters and happens often during cutscenes and other interactions.

In contrast, the second image shows Italian, Latin and translated English. In the seecne the player has assassinated a main antagonist character and there is a moment between them (the lack of female targets and main characters encourages a homosocial reading by the by). They converse, and then Ezio gives the target last rites as the target dies. The last rites are always in Italian with the Latin “requiescat in pace” at the end; the foreign enunciation remains foreign. Similarly, curses like ‘bastardi,’ and salutations like ‘a presto’ and ‘salute,’ and other colorful terms are often kept in Italian (shown below).

The English maintains a duality of language that forces the player to engage with a certain (albeit limited) foreign experience. This duality is erased within the Italian audio track as the spoken oscillation between English and Italian is removed and replaced with a constant Italian (granted, this Italian makes sense diegetically, but then what happened with the Arabic of the first title?). As a globalized narrative between Assassins and Templars the story necessitates mixture, and as it was made by Montreal based Ubisoft linguistic mixture is not surprising due to the Quebec French and Canadian English situation. However, the question becomes what happens to it as it travels to other languages and locales? Is the linguistic mixture removed within the other localizations? A quick search on YouTube reveals that the Spanish localization uses a variation of “pujar” in Spanish in the first 10 minute segment where there is a short scene of Ezio being born. The nurse says “spingi” (push) in the North American English version that I played. The mixture has been simplified.

The story is about global machinations and mixture, and one of the ways this is made apparent to the player is through the linguistic mixture. Sadly, this mixture disappears with localization. Is the task of localization to maintain a look and feel including politics and difference, or is it limited to entertainment at any cost? When a text is not limited to a single locale can a localization reduce it to a single locale?


  • El Nasr, Magy, Maha Al-Saati, Simon Niedenthal, and David Milam. “Assassin’s Creed: A Multi-Cultural Read.” Loading 2, no. 3 (2008).
  • Ubisoft Montreal. Assassin’s Creed II [Macintosh]. Ubisoft.

remix culture

Something that I have so far given short shrift to in my analyses has been art and music. Yes, that’s two things, but bear with me and their unity will make a certain sort of sense.

I started my investigations (although that’s a bit of a pompous word) by looking at representation of gender over time, I then moved to stories across borders and through time, next I started looking at texts over borders, and more recently still I’ve started looking at repetition over time and more generally repetition in media. In this progression I’ve moved from art to myths to cinema to gaming. In this progression I have definitely moved away from the realm of ‘art’ with little desire to go back. In fact, I think I’ve had a bit of a fear of going back. That really shouldn’t be the case and need to do something about it. One of the things I’ve been doing is inserting references to art or music work that I’ve never really fully considered. This is because I know it’s important, but also because I’ve been lazy and taking advantage of footnotes. One such rather constant reference has been Cory Arcangel.

Yesterday Alex told me that I needed to consider Cory’s iPod work, unpublished and unreleased on the net, but very much a demake. From five years ago. I happened, through incredible luck, to meet Cory today at Eyebeam and got to a) be informed of Grand Theftendo, a demake from 2004, b) see/experience the iPod (a great demake), and c) be schooled in the 8 bit midi music arena that more than likely started what I am have been calling the demake. It doesn’t map on perfectly, but it certainly has important similarities.

So, now I have to incorporate the idea of artwork and artistic switches into the logics of the remake and demake. Thankfully, I also have a greater understanding of how I plan on doing that as well as how I plan on rewriting the paper.

translation and the remake

My MA thesis argued that the Hollywood remake was a form of imperialistic, domesticating translation that mirrored the dominant literary translation style and hid the foreign other. I still believe this.

However, I’ve been thinking more and more about all of the things that slowly steeped into my brain from the words and lectures of my advisor. She works on memory, pleasure, history, time, repetition et cetera. As my work has been leaning more and more toward the area that I was hesitant to hit before (gaming), I’m thinking more and more about remakes and demakes and the logics (cultural, economic, political) at work in those forms and how they are both similar to and different from the logics at work with cinematic remakes. Particularly, I’m mixing the primary idea of translation with that of time.

One of the problems that I ran into with my thesis is the differences between remakes (typological) as they relate to different temporal distances. Which is to say, the meaning/logics in play with a remake is different both the further away it is from the “original” as well as depending on the relationship it has with the “original.” With my thesis I focused almost entirely on a particular form of relationship both to limit the depth of the analysis and to enable a stronger support for my own reading. Obviously, when one compared the remake that moves a film from foreign cinematic tradition to local one (リング to The Ring) my argument held, but when one mixed up those that held different logics (typology) such as earlier time to present (Psycho to Psycho) or versions of a story (Robin Hood to Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) the situation became muddled.

While I still believe that there is a certain translational logic that aligns with work done on imperialistic translation styles (eg: Venuti), I am now far enough from the work to be able to recognize and awknowledge the problems with the argument. I realize that even the title of this blog recognizes the transition even if I did not at the moment.

I don’t know where this will lead at the moment, but hopefully the work will lead to interesting conclusions. For now, I can definitely say that I’m looking more into ideas of memory/repetition/pleasure as an offset to themes of translation. This does not mean that I’m abandoning the concept of translation. Far from it, I still believe translation is an incredibly useful term for understanding how texts move between places, but I’ve realized that I can no longer ignore the agency/subjectivity at play causing those texts to move. In order to approach those concepts I need to look elsewhere if I am to avoid the simple false consciousness dead end premature conclusion. While there are certainly systemic aspects determining the form and content of texts as well as the method of movement there is also very real action being taken shaking up the system: fansubs, metatitles and demakes are all born in/as some form of agency/resistance.