Published October 30, 2012
McLEAN, Virginia – George Washington, Ben Franklin and other heroes of the American Revolution take center stage in one of the biggest video game releases of the year.
The latest edition of the popular Assassin's Creed franchise is set in the Revolutionary War. While wars are common settings for video games, it is rare for a game to be set in the 18th century.
In some ways, Assassin's Creed III is meticulous with historical accuracy. Great attention was paid to research to recreate the cities of New York and Boston on a one-third scale. History professors were brought in as consultants.
In other ways, the game takes liberties. It integrates the Revolutionary War into the overarching story of Assassin's Creed, in which the secret society of the Knights Templar fills the role as the game's overarching villain.
Game creators were reluctant to reveal too many details before the game's release Tuesday. Review copies were not available in advance.
The game's creative director, Alex Hutchinson, said the ability to explore a historical era that has been largely left untouched by the gaming world was one of the most exciting aspects of the project.
As for Washington himself, Hutchinson said he wanted the game to portray the fact that for the man who would become the nation's first president, it was far from certain that America would win the war.
Francois Furstenberg, a history professor at the University of Montreal, who has written about the iconography that surrounds Washington, served as a consultant and said he was interested less in making sure names and dates were perfect, but more in the game's overarching narrative. He said the game's creators shared his desire to depict the war in a nuanced way that avoided portraying one side as the good guys.
"Anything that complicates the narrative is a good thing," he said.
The game's protagonist -- Connor, half American Indian, Half British and not aligned with either side -- served as a good vehicle for exploring the era in a way that avoids patriotic cliches, Hutchinson said.
The game's international fan base also demands an even-handed approach to the revolution, said Hutchinson, who is frequently questioned by skeptical fans who worry the game will be too pro-American.
Not to worry, said Hutchinson, who jokes that he's an Australian living in Canada making a game about the American Revolution for a French software company.
Even where it sought to be realistic, the game's creators took a few liberties. Washington, for instance, is first introduced as a young officer serving under General Braddock in the French and Indian war. The game makers took great care to show the youthful Washington accurately, as a redhead. Looking at the finished product, though, they felt they ought to add a touch of gray to Washington's hair, to more closely match the iconic image of Washington held by the public.
"We did not know how odd it is to see a red-headed George Washington," Hutchinson said. "It was one of those instances where the fiction felt more right than the real version."
At George Washington's Mount Vernon estate, curators are happy that the game will introduce so many kids to Washington and the Founding Fathers and hopefully get them thinking about history.
"I would love for people to focus on exactly the incredible choice Washington made to relinquish power," said Carol Cadou, senior curator at Mount Vernon, even if the vehicle for prompting that discussion is a game that contorts and creates an alternate reality.
The Mount Vernon estate has focused in recent years on piercing the stodgy image of Washington on the dollar bill and sought to emphasize his military daring and action-hero aspects of his life story.
Mount Vernon even looked at producing its own educational video game featuring Washington, but ultimately concluded that such a game would be "a little more violent than we had the appetite for."