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Thesis defences

PhD Oral Exam - Andrei Zanescu, Communication

Blockbuster Resonance in Games: How Assassin's Creed and Magic: The Gathering Simulate Classical Antiquity

Date & time
Tuesday, March 28, 2023
10:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

This event is free


School of Graduate Studies


Daniela Ferrer


Engineering, Computer Science and Visual Arts Integrated Complex
1515 St. Catherine W.
Room EV 11.705

Wheel chair accessible


When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.

Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.


Over the past two decades, AAA game studios have refined corporate strategies for the adaptation of real-world cultures in analog and digital game technologies, as commodities met with enormous success. Among these, Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed and Wizards of the Coast’s Magic: The Gathering series have burgeoned from novel experimental projects into multi-decade franchises that constitute their brand backbone. Each franchise provides audiences with regular, unique, instalments simulating specific cultures, while also celebrating technological innovation. Further, the industrial strategies of each company have led to the formation of what this project theorizes as blockbuster resonance: a corporate strategy based on closely matching the perceived expectations of core audiences, overdetermined by motifs present in broader cultural trends and legacy media successes, articulated through technical maximalism and persistent marketing.

Prior scholarship on Assassin’s Creed has focused on individual installments’ stakes, while research on Magic: The Gathering has centered on the audience formations around the game, to great effect. However, this dissertation argues that each company’s franchises development unfolds over a decades-long span, where articulated resonance is instantiated at a macro level and requires the analysis of multiple titles to understand how resonance is sought and deployed. That level deals with the development of a technical structure of simulation. Therefore, this project also circumscribes resonant simulation, an applied simulation form simulation (in a cultural studies sense), arising from adherence to blockbuster logics, which reconstitutes cultures through references to legacy media and entrenched institutions.

To discuss the twin concepts of blockbuster resonance and resonant simulation, this project centers four case studies as mirrors inside and in-between each franchise: Assassin’s Creed: Origins, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, Amonkhet and Theros: Beyond Death. These examples examine the reconfiguration of Egyptianness and Greekness: iconic simulations of Ancient Egypt and Classical Greece, themselves often juxtaposed in imperialist manners across legacy media, classical history, and museum exhibition, and here through photorealistic and systematic renditions popular culture references. The purpose of this juxtaposition is to demonstrate how each culture is simulated anew, according to the resonance present in today’s popular media, along orientalist or exceptionalist lines, for the enjoyment of modern Western audiences.

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