I wouldn’t exist if not for the ugly historical fact of slavery.
Somewhere along my family tree, ancestors of mine were traded into bondage, most likely from somewhere in West Africa. And then other forebears wound up on the island of Ayiti—known today as Haiti—where slaves fought for their freedom in the 18th Century. I have no way of knowing what it felt like to be a slave or to fight my way out from someone else’s ownership. Those ideas have fascinated me for a long time, though. In 2013, a video game is going to offer me a glimpse of these time-lost realities.
“Is Haiti going to be in it?” That was the first thing I wanted to know after hearing that Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag was going to be set in the Caribbean. Before she died seven years ago, my mom used to regale me with stories of how the Haiti she left was a tropical island paradise. I never saw that Haiti and—because the island only ever shows up in the public consciousness during times of disaster— it rarely ever gets portrayed that way. And while I’ve known about Haiti’s slave revolt and 1804 establishment as the first black independent nation since I was a kid, its glorious past is hard to see when the country is so tragically poor and unlucky. I’ve been to Haiti three times, with the most recent visit a little less than two decades ago, and that past was hard for me to find in person, too.
"...I might be traipsing around an island where some Frenchman with my last name owns someone who looks like my father. And that might make me wince a little. "
But I’ll get to see an idealized version of it when Assassin’s Creed IV comes out later this year. When I saw ACIV last week during a preview event, game director Ashraf Ismail told me that there would be missions on the game’s virtual version of Haiti, though he couldn’t tell me specifics about what lead character Edward Kenway would be doing there. Still, I’d get to see representations of the island's shorelines and colonial-era architecture before they got eroded away by time and lack of resources.