Video games are not a frequently discussed topic at the Judgment of Paris. Unfortunately, a medium with so much potential as a vehicle for philosophical ideas is rarely utilised in order to propel notions of aesthetic restoration and Old World beauty. But there are exceptions to every rule.
Last year, a much-hyped video game titled Assassin’s Creed 2
was released to wide critical acclaim and commercial success. The game is action-adventure based, with a plotline revolving around a young nobleman’s quest for revenge following the murder of his family by political conspirators.
It may sound like average game fare, but there is a twist. Assassin’s Creed 2
is set during the Italian Renaissance, spanning twenty-two years from 1476 to 1503, and it is situated in beautiful locations throughout Italy such as Florence and Venice.
While there are historical video games aplenty, surely none are as enthralling, accurate, or detailed as Assassin’s Creed 2.
Modern-day technology has allowed the game to render the environments of 15th-century Florence and Venice with astonishing clarity.
The following screenshot of the game’s depiction of Venice is reminiscent of an image posted in a thread on last year’s forum:
Landmarks such as Saint Mark’s Basilica are presented with spellbinding architectural detail:
Imagine the thrill that one experiences while virtually running across the rooftops of 15th-century Venice, soaring across the canal, and racing through the quaint streets, or riding on horseback through the untamed Tuscan countryside. Short of time-travelling back to 1476, this is as good as it gets.
The game’s historical content goes deeper than the stunning scenery and Renaissance architecture. A ‘database’ feature provides players with fascinating and historically rich information about almost every aspect of the world that they encounter. The history of the aforementioned landmarks is relayed with perfect accuracy. Lives of historical figures are fictionalised into the game's characters, such as corrupt pope Rodrigo Borgia, patron of the Renaissance Lorenzo de Medici, and even the great philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli. A wealth of information concerning all these and more is accessible to players as they encounter lifelike, virtual examples during the game.
A young Leonardo da Vinci plays a major role in the plot, as the best friend of the protagonist. Many a female gamer has fallen for the charms of this exuberant, lively and engaging character, who is based as closely as possible on the real-life da Vinci. In one mission, the protagonist even pilots Leonardo’s prototype flying machine over Venice and into Saint Mark’s Basilica.
Leonardo’s inclusion in this game has doubtlessly inspired a strong interest in all things da Vinci in gamers otherwise unexposed to such artistic genius.
These elements of the game have much to do with the Judgment of Paris’ overarching goal of aesthetic restoration, but not much to do with plus-size beauty itself. Alas, despite the present author’s hopes prior to the game’s release, we are treated to no stunning full-figured enchantresses amongst the roster of characters. A fictional equivalent of Simonetta Vespucci, whose perfect Renaissance beauty inspired artists such as Botticelli, features in the game, but unfortunately she bears absolutely no resemblance to the real-life Simonetta.
As one plays further, however, it becomes apparent that there is an element of full-figured femininity in Assassin’s Creed 2. It is not shown through a character, but rather through the very masterpieces of Renaissance art that immortalised plus-size beauty for all time.
The protagonist owns a stunning villa in the Tuscan countryside. The player can access, embellish and ‘rebuild’ this villa as the game progresses, and one of the features that the player can spend money on is the art gallery. The player can virtually purchase and display some of the finest works of the Italian Renaissance. And, of course, a much-favoured artistic subject during this period was the depiction of beautiful women.
Paintings that the player can purchase and display include Botticelli’s masterpiece The Birth of Venus:
Leonardo da Vinci’s Leda and the Swan:
Giorgione’s Sleeping Venus:
And Titian’s Venus Anadyomene:- - - -
The fact that these great historical depictions of plus-size beauty are available to be collected and viewed in Assassin’s Creed 2 holds considerable significance.
A significant portion of the game’s audience is comprised of teenage boys. After all, what 16- or 17-year-old wouldn’t want to play a game that features assassins, action, violence, and revenge? It just so happens that the ‘cool’ action-based gameplay is packaged with a stunning depiction of Renaissance Italy, and the means to access historical portrayals of plus-size beauty.
Picture the average teenage gamer who either does not care for, or has never had the chance to be exposed to great works of Renaissance art. He sits down to play his favourite violent video game, and suddenly, in his efforts to complete the game and show off his virtual ‘trophies’ to his friends, he is confronted by Botticelli’s Venus standing before him in all her glory. What thoughts run through his mind at the sight of such undeniably full-figured beauty? It is likely that he has never seen such an artwork before, let alone in the context of his favourite video game. It is equally likely that he has never been exposed to a curvy beauty in such an unashamedly proud and glamorous presentation.
Or, imagine a female gamer who may be suffering from low-self esteem as a result of the thin-supremacist propaganda by which she is constantly surrounded. When she encounters such a glorious celebration of curvaceous beauty, what does this do to the way that she regards her own body, or the way that she interprets the absence of such figures in the media?
This youthful exposure to Renaissance ideals could have profoundly positive implications. Gamers who are otherwise cut off from historical depictions of beauty could have the seeds of size-celebration planted in the minds simply by viewing such masterpieces of the female form.
The game achieves a similar effect through its stunning, detailed and accurate depictions of Renaissance architecture. The links between architecture and fashion have been explored previously on this forum. While experiencing the ornate beauty of the game’s vast environment, it would be almost impossible for players not to feel a longing to bring such beauty back into today’s cold, modern world of steel and concrete.
What’s more, Assassin’s Creed 2 confirms the potential usefulness of video games as a medium for aesthetic restoration. As shown in the 2007 video game BioShock, which presents a story based entirely on the Objectivist philosophy of Ayn Rand, video games can be a fantastic medium for political and philosophical discourse. Unfortunately, the plotline of Assassin’s Creed 2 does not create an Old World equivalent of BioShock by furthering a philosophy that is beneficial to the goals of the Judgment of Paris. However, there is no doubt that video games could be used to great effect in countering the corrupting forces of Post-Modernism and bringing alternate lines of thought into public consciousness.
Not only does Assassin’s Creed 2 succeed as an engaging display of Old World aesthetics and plus-size beauty, but it also gives us a taste of what the video-game industry could offer in terms of aesthetic restoration and size celebration. Perhaps one day, when this restoration occurs, every video game on the market will be as compelling as those few which already defy the status quo and follow the timeless ideal.
(Click screenshots to view larger.)