I had gone on a spree.
The panic set in around 24 hours before I was due to board a flight to Athens. I’ve always wanted to explore the Greek capital, and I haven’t had a proper holiday since 2019.
The only problem was that I had promised to volunteer as a tour guide.
In an attempt to mitigate the budget overrun a bit, I suggested to the traveling party that I could rather read up on some of the attractions in the city centre. And so drop a thousand or two for hiring a guide.
When I presented the proposal, it was obvious that the traveling party did not believe that I would actually spend time on the history homework.
I wouldn’t have done that either.
I haven’t felt this kind of stress since the week before exams at university, for which I read far too little. Then the solution was obvious, but it was clearly not an option this time.
The travel insurance also had no clause for refunding tickets to avoid “what did I say” comments.
In my desperation I scoured Netflix, HBO, Disney and Amazon Prime for documentaries about Greek history. Without much luck. YouTube was more helpful, but I am a games journalist after all.
Could computer games save me from trouble?
READ ALSO: Our review of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey »
Interactivity is a very effective tool for quick learning.
There is also no shortage of games dating back to Greek antiquity. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to round up the very different God of War games again, but it struck me that Assassin’s Creed has also visited Greece.
Could it be something?
I haven’t played through an Assassin’s Creed game since Brotherhood, nor have I touched Odyssey. Ubisoft’s recipe for open worlds is dead-on, if you ask me. It was not very tempting the day before departure, and after a bit of Googling I saw that it would take me a while to get to Athens.
But. Ubisoft has developed its own learning experiences based on several of the latest games. Both the main game in recent years and the history experiences have been praised by historians for giving a unique insight into what life was like in ancient civilizations.
I at Gamer have never written messages about the Discovery Tour expansions for Assassin’s Creed, and I am therefore in a unique position to really put the game from Greece to the test.
Would an hour and a half in Discovery Tour: Ancient Greece make me a capable guide for a tour of the Acropolis?
READ ALSO: How precise is God of War’s use of Norse mythology »
The history teacher’s wet dream
Discovery Tour: Ancient Greece starts, appropriately enough, precisely at the Acropolis in Athens.
I am taken on a walk through the area by Aspasia, an acquaintance of Athens’ foremost statesman (and creator of the Parthenon) at the time, Pericles.
Discovery Tour first places you in the role of Kassandra, just like in Odyssey, but this time you are a tourist and a student of history, not an assassin.
The presentation alternates between film sequences where the camera hovers over the Acropolis, conversations with figures on the site and exploration on foot. At each point of interest, you can click in to dive into historical sources.
You also get to see what the city looks like today.
There is little doubt that I would put the history book away if I could experience this at school.
After about twenty minutes in the Acropolis, Aspasia challenges me with questions about what I have learned.
Discovery Tour’s tours are not only about places, but also politics, culture, religion and the daily life of the citizens.
I wander around ancient Greece for a while, and take the most relevant tours from Athens.
Two days later I am standing here myself. The blocks of stone in the fortifications and gates of the Acropolis, the Propylene, tower before me.
It’s crazy to think that humans could build this thousands of years ago.
Some British tourists are told to touch a marble column – directly under a sign stating that the same is not allowed.
I try my hand at some sentences for the traveling party about how the gates were built right after the Parthenon was finished, with a note that the work here ended because of the war against Sparta.
Just like Aspasia had taught me.
Thieves and dust
In the shadow of the Parthenon – now covered in scaffolding – I tell about how the iconic building was used thousands of years ago.
Dust and sand sting the skin like needles in the November wind. I’m trying to conjure up a picture in my head of how it looked inside from the game.
The colossal bronze statue of Athena, the vault that contained the entire wealth of the city.
A bit of aerial Googling has taught me that many of the sculptures from the Parthenon are in the British Museum, I say.
An Englishman ran away with them in the 19th century, apparently with permission from the Greeks, according to the Brits themselves. Greek authorities would very much like to have the objects back, but have so far not received help from the former colonial power.
I resist the temptation to take this in English within earshot of the Brit who has again been told off by a guide to go over a fence.
It is only down at the agora, the old marketplace and the lifeblood of ancient Athens, that my memory fails me.
Aspasia’s lessons don’t sit well enough, perhaps because I thought mostly about what to pack when I sprinted through the area with Kassandra.
The wind rustles in the leaves of olive trees along the path between old statues, ruins and weathered marble columns.
Here and now, for me, these are just some dusty piles of stones.
If I had had time for even a little more of the Discovery Tour, I would certainly have known what it was and got infinitely more out of strolling through the area.
Reading from an information poster (and there are few here) is quite a few notches further down the educational scale for me.
I always think that I should thoroughly read up on the history of the countries I travel to in advance. But I rarely do that.
Now I know – at least if I’m going to Egypt or England first – that Assassin’s Creed is the next stop.
This time I’m looking forward to the history lesson.