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Looking toward the holiday season, video game makers are releasing new versions of several well-known adult games, among them, the latest edition of the popular "Assassin's Creed" series. As NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates reports, there's special interest in "AC III" because the protagonists and the actor who plays him are both Native American.
KAREN GRIGSBY BATES, BYLINE: Alex Hutchinson is the creative director of "Assassin's Creed III." He's been an avid gamer for fun and for work for years. But as he began thinking about the storyline for "AC III," which takes place during the Revolutionary War, he had an epiphany.
ALEX HUTCHINSON: You realize after a while that you play a lot of white young protagonists, male protagonists, usually. And I thought it would be really exciting and sort of progressive for a big game like ours to take on a minority, so someone who's an outsider, you know, a character as a Native American, who's pretty underrepresented in most media, let alone video games.
BATES: A healthy chunk of the gaming market is boys and young men, although a 2009 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts the average gamer's age in the U.S. at about 35. Many of the most popular games are labeled for mature audiences because of violence, sexual content and language. The M-rated "Assassin's Creed" series is popular. By 2011, almost 30 million units had been sold. And because the games are set several hundred years ago, there's a lot of close-up sword and knife work, with the attendant carnage. "AC III" is no exception. Here, a trailer tells players they can kill individually or hunt in groups.
(SOUNDBITE OF TRAILER)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: In wolf pack, enemies found throughout the map must be killed and eliminated before time runs out, or you yourself will perish.
BATES: This time, instead of Europe, Alex Hutchinson and his colleagues at Ubisoft, the Canadian company that produces "Assassin's Creed," placed the action in Colonial America during the Revolutionary War. That gave the team the chance to develop a Native American as the game's central character. They christened him Connor Kenway, but Hutchinson says there was one problem they hadn't anticipated.
HUTCHINSON: You realized that every Native American actor in America has been in "Twilight," so we had to really search to find someone who was a unique, strong voice who people wouldn't be familiar with.
BATES: Enter Noah Watts, a Native American actor who hadn't been in the "Twilight" cast. In the studio, soft-spoken Watts became one with Connor.
NOAH WATTS: His native name, his Mohawk name is Ratohnhaketon, which means life scratcher.
BATES: Connor is half-Mohawk and half-English.
(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO GAME, "ASSASSIN'S CREED III")
WATTS: (as Ratohnhaketon) I have known a world of peace and remarkable spirit. A world which was taken from me.
BATES: After his people were slaughtered and his village burned, Connor began a year's long quest for justice. Actor Watts is descended from the Crow and Blackfeet nations; both with languages very different from Mohawk. So to assume Connor's character, he had to learn to pronounce Mohawk convincingly.
WATTS: It's very difficult. The language is very beautiful. But honestly, that was one of the most difficult days.
BATES: A Mohawk consultant, Thomas Deer, was hired to coach Watts.
THOMAS DEER: (Foreign language spoken)
WATTS: (Foreign language spoken)
DEER: (Foreign language spoken)
BATES: As consultant, Deer also made sure the onscreen details of Connor's Mohawk life were correct, from how the village looked to what customs villagers observed. Making sure to correctly portray Mohawk life during the Colonial period was exhausting. But Noah Watts and the "Assassin's Creed III" team believe it was worth the effort to depict the authentic culture of a specific nation. Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.