**Feb. 8, 2016 Update**
Following some confusion regarding an Ubisoft Germany employee’s response to a fan question about Jacob’s sexuality, the official Assassin’s Creed Tumblr weighed in on the debate and simply said, “Jacob Frye is bisexual. This is canon. The end.” (Fair warning: some of the sentiments expressed early in the post can be read as bi-phobic or homophobic, but you can read the official Tumblr’s addition by scrolling to the bottom.)
Since this is a content and fan outreach source specific to the Assassin’s Creed franchise, we can now safely say that Jacob has been confirmed to be bisexual. This makes him one of only a handful of LGBTQ playable protagonists in AAA gaming.
Before Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate came out, I didn’t know how I was going to feel about it, but I was pretty sure I was going to hate Jacob Frye.
Looking at the trailer, Jacob seems angry, hyper-masculine, violent, and overall the kind of male character I have a hard time liking. Not only did he appear impossibly dissimilar from my own life experiences, he felt like nothing new. Games had done this before. Assassin’s Creed had done this before.
The marketing for Evie Frye (Jacob’s sister and playable protagonist) was pretty low-key leading up to the game’s release. But I knew who my favorite was going to be and who my least favorite was going to be. While sitting in my friends’ living room, I expressed some memorable contempt while saying that I wished I could play the whole game as Evie.
It was no surprise that I loved Evie. She’s competent, fun to play, her story is compelling, and she gets just as many humor beats as Jacob does. I’m very pleased that the fandom response to her has been almost universally positive. The franchise has needed some new blood for a while, and Evie felt like a big step in the right direction, not just for Assassin’s Creed, but for games in general.
As for Jacob? Well, no one warned me about the shocking turn his character would take.
Jacob and Roth
A bit over halfway through the game, I still felt like there was something missing from Jacob’s story. A friend told me he was excited to hear my opinion on Sequence 8. All right, I thought, I’ll bite.
The story mission begins with Jacob being invited to parlay with rival gang leader and theatre proprietor, Maxwell Roth. During their introductory exchange, Roth pours Jacob a drink, and he accepts. When Roth says that what he gets out of this allegiance is, “The chance to have a little fun with the bravest man in London,” something amazing happens.
Jacob’s guard comes crashing down like London Bridge. He looks away and smiles. I read it as bashful, almost insecure, and that insecurity stands out dramatically for a character who, until this point, we’ve only seen haphazardly clod his way through life. The cut scene ends with both Roth and Jacob grinning boyishly at each other. Roth wants Jacob to like him, and Jacob does.
The two of them begin a trial partnership, going on missions together and bringing havoc to Templar enterprises in the city. While driving carriages to different mission locations, Roth and Jacob have a series of conversations. They start out fairly benignly, but throughout Sequence 8, Roth calls Jacob, “my dear” and “my darling.” He drops these terms of endearment casually, and Jacob not only doesn’t act bothered, his fondness for Roth only grows with each new mission. Jacob is even the one to ask about Lewis, who has since been confirmed to be Roth’s ex-boyfriend. Why he was inquiring is not known, but it’s yet another moment that stood out to me.
After that, things start going downhill. Roth ends up running into the aspect of the iconic Creed that Jacob actually values—the directive not to spill innocent blood. Jacob turns on Roth at a crucial moment, and Roth is enraged.
I could go into detail on the mission where Jacob has to kill Roth, but I’d rather talk about how it ends. As he lays dying, Maxwell Roth reaches up, grabs Jacob, and kisses him.
Jacob seems to feel a lot of things in that moment. Even though he pushes Roth away—he’s surprised, hurt, even confused, but what I don’t see on his face is disgust.
Subtext vs Text
LGBTQ consumers of media are no strangers to subtext. For LGBTQ people watching a show, movie, or playing a game, a sideways smile, glance, an intimate fight scene, an inquiry, or an innuendo-laden joke can instantly turn a character into a queer icon. We’re often aware that we’re different from an early age, and many of us share a narrative of seeking desperately for a word or idea that can help us understand that difference.
In a media landscape where our stories are still absent or sensationalized, it can be isolating, and finding those moments—or even characters who are canonically queer—can make all the difference for our understanding of ourselves.
This tradition of subtext comes from a long history of our stories being suppressed. This coding was, after all, meant to be invisible if you weren’t looking for it.
Sequence 8 made Jacob click for me. Suddenly, Syndicate wasn’t just a game with a fantastic lady protagonist, it was now a game with a character who seemed heavily coded as queer. It took someone who seemed impossible for me to relate to, and made him make sense. I was thrilled.
Then this interview with lead writer Jeffrey Yohalem was released, in which Yohalam says, “The kiss between Maxwell and Jacob is not for laughs. Maxwell is in love with Jacob and Jacob may have reciprocated.”
Another interview published here on remeshed quotes a further description of the same topics. “This is the perfect person that Jacob would hang out with if he wanted to piss off his father. At the same time, by the end of the sequence he realizes what his father was trying to teach him. There’s also this incredibly strong attraction, obviously.”
Not only did the interview confirm Roth’s feelings for Jacob were romantic, Yohalem later says that “the kiss was not entirely one-sided”. He also confirms that Lewis (the gentleman we remember Jacob asking about) is Roth’s ex-boyfriend.
For many LGBTQ players, this validation was a big deal. Although Yohalem avoids applying a label to Jacob, and he emphasizes ambiguity, the language he’s using hits home for many of us. We see something very familiar there, and something very meaningful.
What we now know is this: Jacob Frye is, according to these interviews, capable of reciprocating explicitly romantic feelings for another man. While even this means nothing definite, it opens up a wider collection of options for how players may consider Jacob in relation to their own lives.
Now, critics of this reading are quick to point out that Jacob eventually has a child, and that that child eventually parents his granddaughter, Lydia Frye. I counter that still is not a negative result. We know nothing about any of Jacob’s potential dedicated partnerships, if he even has any. We don’t even know if he has a daughter, a son, or how many children he has.
Men who identify as bisexual may certainly end up partnering with a woman and having children, and many gay men spend years in heterosexual couplings (again, quite possibly having children) before coming out. Of course, on the flip side, men who identify as straight are often still capable of experiencing incidental same-gender attraction.
At the end of the day, when it comes to Jacob’s sexual orientation, the answer is: we just don’t know.
Why Does it Matter?
But let’s take a moment to assume Jacob is gay or bisexual and look at how that would make the story different.
Who is Jacob Frye on the surface? He’s a young, snarky Assassin who is pushing back against both the memory of his father and the rigid Creed he was trained under. What was so horribly oppressive about his relationship with his father that drove such a deep wedge? What happens to this narrative when we insert the idea of Jacob as a queer man?
Jacob is no longer pushing back against a society that should value him; he’s rebelling against a society where it is unsafe for him to be himself. While capitol offenses are daily activities for the Assassins, growing up with that knowledge can result in everything from distrust of authority to even deep fear and self-loathing. The allure of becoming a gang leader, when the law seems so fundamentally hostile to his very existence, also begins to make sense.
Jacob’s not just a rebel now. He’s an odd duck, someone who was misunderstood by his father on much deeper and more fundamental levels than the way he approaches his job. Said father’s directions that his children forego their feelings for the sake of the Brotherhood of Assassins has a greater impact when considering a young, queer Victorian man who might already be feeling things he doesn’t understand but probably wants to. A lot of the things that seem unnecessarily Oedipal about Jacob’s relationship with his father start to become more unique character features.
This also gives more meaning to Jacob’s desire to empower others. His allies include orphans, a transgender man, and the presumably low-income members of his street gang. Later in his life, he is even shown to be an ally to sex workers and teaches them how to protect themselves. These are people who would experience a similarly unsafe environment in mainstream society that Jacob would as a queer man.
This doesn’t just give truth to Jacob’s line about uniting disenfranchised outcasts; it gives him a personal stake in it.
Thinking of Jacob as queer also gives LGBTQ players a rare opportunity. Jacob may be contentious, but he cares for his sister. He may be a killer, but he’s an Assassin, a franchise hero joining a long and noble tradition. Jacob is a passionate youth who grows into a caring, authoritative older man. This sort of transformation is practically unheard of, and the thought that this was intentional is deeply inspiring for me as a bisexual woman and a writer.
For LGBTQ gamers, the idea that Jacob Frye could be gay or bisexual is monumental. A major queer character like Jacob—trusting, clumsy, brave, trying—might help us imagine a world where our existence is not optional, and one where we may be flawed without being defective.
The Next Leap
While subtext is important, it can lead to confusion and erasure.
The popularity of same-sex romances in games such as Dragon Age: Inquisition and Fallout 4 imply that the gaming community isn’t just open to queer themes, they’re actively embracing games that feature them. An openly LGBTQ protagonist in a major action franchise would represent even more progress.
As pleased as I am with Jacob’s narrative, for all its ambiguity, I hope that more may be revealed about his capacity for same-gender attraction in the future. I truly believe the Assassin’s Creed franchise and the gaming community is ready for that leap–especially when they’ve practically already made it.