This will be part of an on-going, non-consecutive series highlighting my stumbling across LGBT characters in videogames, explicating their use as a character, and examining how their sexuality is treated. This particular post will contain spoilers for Assassin’s Creed.
Assassin’s Creed works on a basic premise which one can largely ignore: one investigates the targets given and learns about their activities in the city. This usually centers around what they do or an event that will take place; along the way the player learns the placement of soldiers, scholars with whom to blend, and the location to which one must head. Naturally, one learns a lot about the intended target, their goals, and their fears.
Much like any of the other targets, Abu’l Nuqoud, a corpulent and opulent merchant king of Damascus, represents the entirety of the Knights Templar and their eventual fate. In particular, among the heresies leveled against the organization were accusations of sodomy among the men in the order. While it is not because of Abu’l Nuqoud’s implied sexuality that he is assassinated, it serves as an impetus for the reasons why he seeks revenge on those who speak ill of him.
Implied sexuality, only, however. The game dances around the issue and never decides to plainly tell us that Nuqoud is man-loving. Instead, the player gets implications of having a peculiarity which leaves him with shame, and besmirches his name among people. This is vague enough that I merely raised an eyebrow and wondered if he had a particular deformity that people found abhorrent. It all confirmed for me during the last block of memory that is unlocked, however:
Around the 3.30 time mark in the above video, one sees Nuqoud, in a very tongue-in-cheek manner, caress one of his guards. It’s notable due to the fact that there is very little touch in the game that is not forceful: Altaïr uses touch to push or tackle people out of his way and you’ll see characters attacked, but an actual gentle touch? The only other such occurrences are after Altaïr has assassinated one of his victims and holds them in his hands as they pour out their lifeblood and philosophies. This is one of the only touches that communicates no violence to its recipient.
As for Nuqoud himself? While his homosexuality is implied and brought up as a scandal among his peers, it does not inform his entire being. If anything, Nuqoud’s flaws point to his more classist beliefs that the poor and uneducated are contributing to the ills of society. Therefore, his actions of poisoning those at his fête and having archers standing to shoot any still living speak as much to his belief of creating a world where his sexuality can be accepted as it does to his belief that there needs to be a rather high standard to which all humans are held.
His words during his death scene (also in the above clip) are also poignant, however:
“Look at me. My very nature is an affront to the people I rule. And these noble robes did little more than muffle their shouts of hate.”
“So this is about vengeance then?”
“No, not vengeance–my conscience. How could I finance a war in service to the same God that calls me an abomination.”
Like many of Altaïr’s victims, Nuqoud’s death brings up questions that propel the final confrontation of Altaïr’s own beliefs and order. Instead of just being a one-note villain, there is nuance available to his motives, there are reasons for his decisions, and there is a human who is making decisions based off his own desires, not just an ideal as grandiose as good and evil. If anything, good and evil really don’t exist in this game. He’s not just typecast as a villain, nor merely a victim.
As for his representation as a homosexual in the game itself? He is by no means a stereotype of the lisping, limp-wristed fairy (even if my contemporary eyes cringe at the sight of leopard print). Nor is he completely in denial of his sexuality or defined by his bedroom actions, even if the game is rather mum about it. Given the circumstances of the game, his touch is loaded with meaning, and while it is by no means two men kissing, I have a hard time envisioning any kissing scenes occurring in Assassin’s Creed; that touch serves as the most kind of the game (even if lascivious).
The one aspect that makes me raise an eyebrow is his level of nonviolence, as he’s the least hands-on character in the entire game. He initially runs from Altaïr, not engaging him in combat. While this is attributable to his class status and position as merchant, there is at least one other merchant, a scribe, and a doctor who do engage in combat. Not entirely sure how I feel about that portion, however.