When Paris’ Cathedral of Notre-Dame caught fire, the world held its collective breath. The spire fell, and the wooden roof was reduced to ash, but the holy relics were saved, and the interior preserved from the worst ravages of fire. Now more than $1 billion (€960m) has been raised to restore Notre-Dame, and a video game may prove to be the structure’s saving grace.
Ironically, the franchise to which this particular title belongs, ‘Assassin’s Creed’, is traditionally known for its anti-Christian sentiment.
The saga of ‘Assassin’s Creed’ charts a centuries-long struggle between two rival organisations, the Templars and the Assassins. The Templars seek to bring peace to the world through absolute control. The Assassins, with whom gamers are meant to sympathise, believe, by contrast, that “nothing is true, everything is permitted”.
That’s obviously a credo wholly incompatible with Catholic theology. So, it’s no surprise that the Assassins are often depicted in conflict with the Church.
In 2014, Ubisoft released ‘Assassin’s Creed: Unity’, which sees the two factions struggling for power during the French Revolution. From the start, ‘Unity’ received immense praise for its accuracy in depicting 1700s Paris – and especially, the detail in its depiction of the renowned cathedral.
Publishing giant Ubisoft is headquartered in Paris and has generously donated over $500,000 (€450,000) and pledged its virtual rendition of Notre-Dame and its research from ‘Assassin’s Creed: Unity’ to the restoration team. In addition, it made the game free to PC players for a week.
The video game is not completely faithful to the Notre Dame of the period, however. Some of the cathedral’s art is protected under copyright, and so could not be shown.
The years spent on Notre-Dame are visible as gamers scale the great building. Production coordinator Maxime Durand aptly said in an interview with Fast Company that “history in our games is not just a setting or empty buildings on a Hollywood back lot”.