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The Historically Inaccurate George Washington in The Council

The Historically Inaccurate George Washington in The CouncilEXPAND
Screencap from The Council

I gave The Council another try after Jim Sterling reviewed the game positively, comparing it to old White Wolf tabletop RPGs like Werewolf: The Apocalypse, which I used to enjoy a lot as a young goth. For those who haven’t had a chance to play it, it’s a narrative game in the vein of Telltale’s The Walking Dead or Quantic Dream’s Detroit: Become Human. The episodic adventure has a young man named Louis de Richet visiting a mysterious island to find his missing mother, a member of a secret Illuminati-style cabal. On the island historical figures like Napoleon Bonaparte and an agent of Queen Charlotte of England meet to decide the fate of the world.

We’re up to Episode 3 in the releases, and the game has definitely grown on me since Sterling got me to look at it with new eyes. I still think the voice acting is fairly cheesy, but it’s bearable. The strange, progressive skill system that allows you to use the dialogue tree as an evolving skill set is actually pretty genius, if a little counterintuitive. It’s somewhat glitchy, and the subtitles have typos, but the story is compelling, and the game makes the best use of small spaces I’ve seen since Blackwood Crossing. I recommend it as a way to pass the time, at least until Life is Strange 2 comes out.

One of the main historical personages in the game is George Washington. The father of our country is a main character, and for the most part well-portrayed. However, being a presidential history buff, I noticed several things wrong with the president worth pointing out.

And before anyone says anything in the comments: yes, I’m aware of the disclaimer about historical accuracy. I even restarted the game so I could get a picture and copy down the text. It reads:

This is probably a work of fiction…

Inspired by historical events and characters. Events in this game, even those based on historical characters, are entirely fictional.

So, I got that, but let’s examine Washington as portrayed in The Council closer anyway.

There’s a joke made by Sir Gregory Holm in the first episode that if Duchess Emily Hillsborrow keeps speaking with George Washington she will lose her British accent. Washington, like all the founding fathers, was born a British citizen. Hillborrow’s posh accent is more or less correct. The aristocracy had begun using the Received Pronunciation around the time of the American Revolution as an affectation of status. However, Washington would not have the vaguely American southern accent in the game voice actor Christian Erickson uses. He’d sound more like Christopher Eccleston in Doctor Who.

His height is another thing bothering me. Washington was tall, especially by 18th century standards. At 6’2” he is tied with Arthur, Franklin D. Roosevelt, George H.W. Bush and Clinton as our fifth tallest president (Fun fact: Trump, despite his dumpy, quail-like build is actually the third-tallest after Lincoln and Lyndon Johnson). Washington should tower over the other guests, but seems to not be noticeably bigger than Napoleon, who was 5’6” at most.

Washington also mentions that Lord William Mortimer, the owner of the island and head of the titular council, funded his re-election campaign. The game accurately says he hadn’t wanted to run for a second term, but in real life it was a financial crisis in America caused by unscrupulous speculators that changed his mind. He was afraid that the country he helped create was going to collapse.

Still, he deliberately refused to accept the nomination for a second term as a political move. At this point Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton had begun a violent political feud that helped birth the two-party system. Washington was desperate for the two men to get along, so he played hard to get. Both Jefferson and Hamilton wanted to see him have a second term for the good of the country, so they (mostly) behaved. At the last possible moment, a month before the Electoral College was to vote, Washington relented and announced he would be available for election, which he won unanimously once again. There was never a campaign for Mortimer to fund.

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Elizabeth Adams is a major character in the game. She was the stillborn daughter of John Adams. but in The Council she appears alive on Mortimer’s island, her family having faked her death and spirited her away for occult reasons.

Washington refers to her as the daughter of his “friend the vice president,” and says he was present at her funeral. Calling Washington and Adams friends is a stretch. The buddy cop dynamic of the president and vice-president is a very recent invention mostly pioneered by Dick Cheney and Joe Biden. Adams respected Washington’s potential enough to nominate him to lead the army at the Second Continental Congress, but his opinion of Washington quickly turned to scorn and jealousy. The fact that Washington relegated Adams to a do-nothing role, where he mostly just picked fights in the Senate, didn’t help. Adams did remain a loyal lieutenant to the administration to the end, though, casting many tie-breaker votes on behalf of his boss.

In any case, Washington could not have attended Elizabeth's funeral even for the sake of decorum. She was born and buried in July of 1777. At that time the Adams family was in Massachusetts, while Washington was busy running the New York theater of the Revolutionary War. trying to make a guess as to the movements of the British. The idea that he would abandon his command to travel to Massachusetts for the funeral of a stillborn child, a quite common occurrence in the 18th century, is nonsense.

Absolutely none of this is a reason to skip The Council. I’ve gotten thoroughly addicted to it. If you’re a history buff, though, best be ready to grind your teeth a bit when it comes to America's first president. Try to focus on the beautiful sets, art history lessons and Lovecraftian mystery aspects instead.

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