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A Broken Mirror Held to History’s Face On the Narrative Use of Computer Screens, Multi Screen Experiences, and a Transmedia Theoretical Console in the Popular Assassin’s Creed Series

Michel Ottens


This paper presents media theorist Nanna Verhoeff’s concept of the theoretical console, as a popular and overt form of transmedia narrative. The theoretical console is taken to be a transmedia assemblage that draws attention to itself, as comprising diverse and meaningful media objects, that can be connected in a shared narrative. My main examples of this concept here are those popular video games that spatially juxtapose several types of computer screens and computer uses, with a narrative emphasis. With extensive references to theory on screened media and on transmedia narratives, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is my main example case study. Specifically, this game and its series peers encourage historiographic contemplations, by assembling a theoretical console across several media forms. Other popular video games from that series provide variations of this same transmedia constellation, this “theoretical console”. In its transmedia constellation, with a second screen mobile phone app, and other complementary screen media, the fictionalized history of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag implicates elements from its actual reality, across various forms of engagement. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag presents a high fidelity historical fiction, to be comprehensively enacted. It mirrors the player’s use of differing computer screens diegetically within playable frame story sections. In addition, the complementary affordances of the mobile phone app, and integrated social media websites, all encourage its player to stay involved in this fictional world, even outside immediate play. With this, the game draws many activities into a single transmedial fiction constellation. Moreover, the game diegetically references online repositories for both its fictionalized history, and actual history. This use of computer screens, to form a transmedia constellation in the form of an overt theoretical console, is shown to complement this popular game’s hypermediative narrative of a fictional shadow war secretly driving actual human history, which then meaningfully posits how to theorize history in our everyday lives.


game studies, gestural excess, glaze, hypermediacy, technospaces, theoretical console, transmedia constellations

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.7358/ijtl-2019-003-otte

International Journal of Transmedia Literacy (IJTL)
Registered by Tribunale di Milano (22/10/2014 n. 328)
Online ISSN 2465-2261 - Print ISSN 2465-227X

Editor in Chief: Matteo Ciastellardi
Managing Editor: Giovanna Di Rosario
Managing Committee: Matteo Andreozzi, Stefano Calzati, Ugo Eccli, Cristina Miranda de Almeida.

Board Committee: Alan Albarran (University of North Texas, United States), Rogério Barbosa Da Silva (Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Brazil), Giovanni Baule (Politecnico di Milano, Italy), Laura Borràs Castanyer (Universitat de Barcelona, Spain), Derrick de Kerckhove (Politecnico di Milano, Italy), Henry Jenkins (University of Southern California, United States), Marsha Kinder (University of Southern California, United States), Raine Koskimaa (University of Jyväskylä, Finland), George Landow (Brown University, United States), Paul Levinson (Fordham University, United States), Asún López-Varela (Universidad Complutense, Spain), Lev Manovich (City University of New York, United States), Nick Montfort (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, United States), Marcos Novak (UCLA - University of California, Los Angeles, United States), Massimo Parodi (Università degli Studi di Milano, Italy), Bruce W. Powe (York University, Canada), Kate Pullinger (Bath Spa University, United Kingdom), Marie-Laure Ryan (Indipendent Scholar), Alexandra Saemmer (Université Paris 8, France), Carlos Scolari (Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Spain), Susana Tosca (IT University of Copenhagen, Denmark), Alessandro Zinna (Université Toulouse II, France)

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