Edinburgh University’s Dr Glaire Anderson is an expert on Islamic art and architecture and a newly-certified video game guru.

She began exploring how video games could be used to teach history in 2011, after her son told her to look into the Assassin's Creed video game series.

“I did, and I loved how they were visualising medieval Islamic monuments and urban environments.”

Now, she’s completed a partnership with game developer Ubisoft to create an immersive virtual environment in Assassin’s Creed Mirage, the latest instalment in the blockbuster video game series

She and her students delivered lectures, proofread in-game text, and provided expert insights into Islamic art and architecture.

This helped game designers create ‘History of Baghdad,’ an interactive feature that lets players dive deeper into the history represented in-game.

The Herald: A still from the gameA still from the game (Image: Ubisoft)

Fact, fiction and a little in-between

Since the original Assassin’s Creed was released in 2007, each game has attempted to recreate the architecture and culture of its historical setting as faithfully as possible.

Assassin’s Creed Mirage will transport players to ninth-century Baghdad, thanks in large part to contributions from Dr Anderson and her fellow historians.

“The History of Baghdad” will give players more information on the 66 major historical sites they can discover.

Each is designed to provide a glimpse of the art and science, beliefs and daily life, government, court life and economy of ninth-century Abbasid Baghdad.

For Dr Anderson, this project was the realisation of an academic experiment that began with that conversation with her son back in 2011.

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“The impact on my work has been dramatic. Collaborating with Ubisoft has allowed me to bring my work out of the university and share it with a broader audience of people of all ages who play video games.

“I respect what Ubisoft have achieved and how they are helping people engage with history.”

‘Extraordinary impact’

In 2011, Dr Anderson began using game engines to help students visualise and explore historical art and architecture.

After her son introduced her to Assassin’s Creed, she played a number of games in the series, many of which feature elements of Islamic culture across multiple time periods.

She reached out to Ubisoft’s head of world-building in 2021, and Edinburgh Innovations, the university’s commercialisation service, helped her land the Mirage contract.

The Herald:

Dr Anderson and two postgraduate researchers joined the university’s Digital Lab for Islamic Visual Culture and Collections, with support from the Economic and Social Research Council and the Barakat Trust.

She said that the Assassin’s Creed project represents a new horizon for teaching history.

“I've taught approximately three or four thousand university students in the US and the UK about the architecture, art, and history of the caliphal period over the course of my career.

“That's ordinary impact.

“Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed games have introduced millions of players of all ages around the globe to medieval Islamic art, architecture, and history.

“That's extraordinary impact.”

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The history behind the story

Stéphane Boudon, creative director for Assassin’s Creed Mirage at Ubisoft Bordeaux, said Dr Anderson and her students were instrumental in the project.

They gave lectures to Ubisoft staff and reviewed texts written by in-house historians and developers.

Thierry Noël, head of Ubisoft’s humanities and inspiration department, said the project support the game’s mission of “tackling preconceptions and clichés” often associated with the subject matter.

“Assassin’s Creed always strives to be a gateway for players to discover more about the fascinating historical setting and eras it explores.

“Our collaboration with esteemed partners and experts to bring this feature to life in Assassin's Creed Mirage further highlights the commitment to authenticity and accuracy that is a hallmark of the series.”

Assassin’s Creed Mirage will launch worldwide on October 12, 2023.