Game vs Textbook: The ArchEd Tool Only Non-Architects Are Talking About

[1] The Athenian Acropolis recreated in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey.

Any architecture student can describe the importance attributed to architectural history in their education, the lessons of the past are dissected in theory courses with the aim of better informing contemporary practice. Millennia of architectural practice around the world reveal intricacies of design that continue to shape modern design. Think to the resonance of Islamic Mashrabiya with modern geometric curtain wall screens tasked with managing natural light in high rise constructions. These detail intricacies offer as much to modern practice as do lessons of spatial arrangement and hierarchy often described by historic sites.

[2 and 3] Academically sourced imagery of the Theatre of Dionysus, Athens.

A student’s interpretation of these sites habitually adheres to a traditional formula of academic writings, scanned plans, grainy black and white photographs and often centuries old artistic interpretations. It is becoming increasingly true that these sites are most vividly realised outside the architectural discipline, with analysis of these realisations also being explored by non-architects. The medium being referred to, of course, is video games.

[4 and 5] Academically sourced imagery of The Parthenon, Athens.

Consider the Athenian Acropolis, finding a committed architecture student unfamiliar with the site would be a challenge. Using the UWA library search tools, academic imagery can be sourced through Bridgeman Education. Immediately reminiscent of an architectural history lecture, the grainy photos and artists engravings describe the modern condition of the site and attempt to illustrate their place in history.

[6] The Theatre of Dionysus as realised in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey.

Now step into the shoes of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s protagonist, walk the steps of the Theatre of Dionysus, observe the rows of marble thrones before the stage and its shaded canopies atop the tiered seating. Climb the Acropolis to see how the vegetation speaks to textile adornments of the Parthenon, take a moment to appreciate the attention given to ornament within the temple’s entablature. The recreation’s studied and intricate realisation of the textile language, colour palette, relationship to site, its clear visualisation of social hierarchy and sense of place demonstrate valuable lessons at a glance. One could be forgiven for wondering where the most value is offered to students of architectural history, which tools have earned their place in the lecture hall.

[7] The Parthenon as realised in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey.

When authentically executed, with the help of architectural consultancy, these realisations offer a far more experiential opportunity to interpret the scope of historic architecture than traditional education tools. So comparing them to their real-life counterparts was the natural journalistic approach, but the duty of exploring these comparisons has been adopted by the wrong industry. Hosted on game focused platforms like IGN, ynSection and Gamepur, video studies explore the success of video game environments to capture historic architecture in an interactive medium[1][2][3].

[8] In-game vs real-life comparison of the Flatiron Building in Spider-Man PS4.

The Assassin’s Creed series exploration of sites like Venice and Athens, Forza’s United Kingdom, and Spider-Man of The Division’s Manhattan have all garnered editorial acclaim, but the displays and conversations lack an architectural perspective. A game journalist may view Spider-Man’s warping of the footprint of the Flatiron Building as a necessary step in facilitating the map design, but an architecture journalist may be more critical of the decision, given its significance to architectural and engineering accomplishments. That’s not to say it’s not an impressive accomplishment, given the scope of the endeavour to recreate such large areas of Manhattan, but widely held conversations of architecture are deserving of architectural input. This disconnect represents a shortcoming of the architecture education community in neglecting a new source of research and of architectural journalists in leaving the critique of this architectural tool in the hands of non-architects.


[1] IGN. “Assassin’s Creed Odyssey: Real-Life vs In-Game Greece.” Accessed April 10, 2019.

[2] “GAME vs REAL-LIFE (New York City) | Spider-Man PS4.” Filmed November 6, 2018. YouTube Video, 3:28. Posted by “ynSection,” November 2016.

[3] Shaikh, Sehran. “The Division Game vs real Manhattan Comparison Video Shows Massive Did A Spectacular Job.” Gamepur, June 2, 2016. Accessed April 10, 2019.

Image References

[1] Diorama. “Rebuilding Athens [Assassin’s Creed Odyssey].” Accessed April 11, 2019.

[2] Jakob van Falke. The Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus, Athens, Ancient Greece, 1878, engraving. Bridgeman Education. Accessed April 11, 2019.

[3] James Austen. The Theatre of Dionysus, Athens, photograph. Bridgeman Education. Accessed April 11, 2019.

[4] English School. Exterior of the Parthenon at Athens in the Time of its Builders, 1907, engraving. Bridgeman Education. Accessed April 11, 2019.

[5] Everett Collection. THE PARTHENON, Athens, Greece, 1963, photograph. Bridgeman Education. Accessed April 11, 2019.

[6] IGN. “Assassin’s Creed Odyssey: Real-Life vs In-Game Greece.” Accessed April 10, 2019.

[7] Kouremenos, Timos. “Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s Stunning Recreation of Ancient Athens.” Greece Is, August 30, 2018. Accessed April 11, 2019.

[8] “GAME vs REAL-LIFE (New York City) | Spider-Man PS4.” Filmed November 6, 2018. YouTube Video, 3:28. Posted by “ynSection,” November 2016.

Ryan Williams

I am a Master of Architecture student with a passion for visualisation, science fiction design and the unrealised.