“The Tyranny of Washington,” for those who have not already heard, is a DLC package that will be available for Assassin’s Creed III. It will present an alternate ending to the game where our beloved first president will instead become our first King and a hated tyrant. Taking a brief look at the character of Washington and the historical facts will show why this is a really bad idea. For those that have not checked them out already, be sure to read about Assassin’s Creed 3 Season Pass Includes George Washington as King, The Evolution of Assassin’s Creed, and Assassin’s Creed 3 Liberation: What We Know.
The “Nicola Affair” may be the root of Ubisoft’s idea for a King George Washington. What really happened was that a colonel in the Continental Army, named Lewis Nicola, wrote to Washington suggesting that he use his popular influence and command of the army to stage a coup against congress and make himself king. Washington immediately responded by writing back, “…you could not have found a person to whom your schemes are more disagreeable.” He then told Nicola to “…banish these thoughts from your mind & never communicate, as from yourself, or anyone else, a sentiment of the like nature.” Washington was staunchly dedicated to the idea of a democratic republic and opposed the idea of a king. Surprisingly, however, many of his contemporaries did not share the same sentiments.
While it may be surprising or even disturbing for people today to learn that many of American’s older leaders wanted a powerful monarch at the head of our country, it is important to remember the context of the times. The most successful governments were all monarchies, and in the face of widespread debt and uncertainty after a long and painful war, a king would have offered stability and direction.
Given these facts, it is easy to understand why Ubisoft might want to explore an alternate reality where America elected a king. However, what is hard to understand is why they picked Washington. Despite being the only man ever to be unanimously elected into office, he refused to serve more than two terms, keeping to his republican principles. “History is our playground – and AC teams have always loved playing with historical facts and their consequences as a way to better understand a time period,” Sebastien Puel, Ubisoft’s Executive Producer, tried to explain of the choice. The problem with this DLC is that it does not provide a better way to understand the time period. It misrepresents a major historical figure while simply pandering to the democratic sympathies of contemporary Americans. Even if a king was elected in the U.S., and especially if it was Washington, he would not have necessarily been a tyrant. In all likelihood his position would have been based on the British Constitutional Monarch, who exists today as a nice old lady who enjoys parachuting out of helicopters.
If Ubisoft really wanted to explore this idea of an American king as a way to “better understand a time period,” they should have chosen a more plausible character. Benedict Arnold, who was almost as great a hero as Washington, could have been the perfect option. After being mistreated by his superiors and feeling wronged, Arnold attempted to help the British infiltrate West Point and seize the fort there, which could well have ended the war. What if Arnold succeeded in doing so, but also obtained an Apple of Eden? He would have been in a great position to let the British and Washington destroy each other, and then use the Apple and the Templars to secure a seat of power, ultimately becoming king. Using Arnold instead of Washington would provide an opportunity to examine why a great American hero ended up committing treason, and would give players someone who they would not mind stabbing to death.
Historical quandaries aside, the precedent that this DLC may set is troubling. What makes Assassin’s Creed (AC) so great is the fact that playing it is a lot like reading a good book. The games are page-turners, and they keep your attention by using real history to make the story come alive. This element brings a level of intelligence that is often missing in other games, and it really makes the AC series special. The idea behind “The Tyranny of George Washington” departs from all of this. One writer from The Escapist excitedly hopes that the success of this DLC campaign will encourage Ubisoft to develop more alternate history campaigns and predicts one “in which Connor teams up with Teddy Roosevelt to defeat Mecha-Hitler. In space.” If the next installment of Assassin’s Creed features a 200-year-old Connor and a 100-year-old Teddy Roosevelt battling a robot dictator on Mars, fans of the series’ realism will cry. The DLC really just seems like it will be a package of cheap thrills simply meant to raise a little more revenue.