The huge fire that affected Notre Dame cathedral in Paris yesterday evening has finally been stopped by the effort of Paris fire brigade. While what has been saved and lost after the fire is still uncertain, and the inquiry about the possible causes of the fire has just started, the biggest discussion now is about how to rebuild / restore Notre Dame.
Historic architecture should be all about different layers from different ages, and Notre Dame has plenty of them. The main structure of the cathedral has been built for a century, starting in 1160 and ending officially in 1260, although it was modified many times after that. It was heavily damaged during the French Revolution, then later restored with the adding of the main spire which collapsed in the fire, being ironically the younger part of Notre Dame itself, dating back only to 1864.
How to rebuild the cathedral then? In the original form of 1260, or following the restoration of 1790, or the last one from 1864 that created the aspect which we all know? Or maybe creating something new, leaving a clear mark of the scar that the fire is anyway going to leave? A (plastic) glass ceiling maybe?
In this debate, I was attracted by two side-aspects, which have much to do with my favorite topic: video games.
Many players of Assassin’s Creed Unity, the episode of Ubisoft famous franchise set in Paris during the Revolution, decided to pay tribute to the burning cathedral posting their best memories, videos and screenshots of Notre Dame taken during their games.
In my memory this never happened before, so video games are now also a way to share memories about monuments and historical landscapes at risk of being lost (as our whole planet is, but this is another topic now).
Gamers worldwide shared their content on twitter using the hashtag #AssassinsCreedUnity and here you can read a list of tweets. I picked this one in particular:
“Assassins’s Creed: Unity’s virtual recreation of Notre Dame has just become an important piece of historical preservation. “
via #tumblr Industry Rule Number 4080 – totallygamerlife: https://t.co/tmco92pK0I #GamerNation #Gaming #VideoGames #AssassinsCreedUnity #NotreDame pic.twitter.com/J7X9NchRXZ— Joseph?Anthony? (@NotoriousJnX) 16 aprile 2019
It should not be surprising that this is happening with gameplay moments from the Ubisoft franchise, since they invested more than everybody else in documenting exactly monuments and landscapes where they set the different episodes: I still remember how moved I was while climbing the medieval towers of my beloved town of San Gimignano, where I spent so many lovely moments during high school trips and later on.
In 2014, when the game set in Paris was released, it was clear that the quality of historical landscape reconstructions was astonishing. The Verge interviewed Ubisoft visual artists about the huge amount of work they put in digitalizing all the images of Notre Dame, and you can read it here.
So another topic that attracted my attention, is the fact that now all these detailed digital and 3d mappings could be useful for deciding how and what to rebuild – but maybe the most accurate scan is still the one by the late scholar Andrew Tallon.
In Italy, my country, a non profit private group called Italian VIdeogame PROgram – IVIPRO that I love to promote every time I can, started mapping all uses of Italian landscapes and art cities in videogames, and also collecting possible new places and landscapes in need of some promotion, to be offered to game developers with as much detail and historical / cultural context as possible, in order to achieve more game titles using our rich heritage as a background or plot.
This is what local and national movie commissions do for movies and tv shows since a long time, but having it applied to videogames could open a new season of renovated interest towards places that maybe are not in the major league (and in Italy, this is particularly hard, having to compete with places such as Rome, Venice, Florence) but could still represent our cultural heritage in a very effective way… and nowadays, a possible impact on conservation and renovation of said places through their digital copies used for videogames, makes it all even more interesting.
Edit: Ubisoft pledged to donate 500K € to Notre Dame restoration and they made Assassin’s Creed: Unity free if you claim it on Uplay before April 25th.