The Top 7… Historical figures defamed by games

Some were good, some were bad, but none of them were this evil

You may know him as: The inventor of the light bulb, the phonograph and various other important 20th-century technologies, probably. Unlike a lot of the other people on this list, his place in history was already pretty firmly cemented in the minds of the public before videogames ever got around to demonizing him.

Above: Edison doing what he did best: posing for publicity photos

But in Assassin’s Creed II, he was: A whole lot of terrible things. Seriously, it’s a good thing that it’s legally impossible to libel the dead, or else ACII publisher Ubisoft would have been dragged into a bunch of nastylawsuits. While real-life perception of Edison has become increasingly negative in recent years, thanks to greater awareness of his efforts to undermine rival inventor Nikola Tesla and his creation of the electric chair as a publicity stunt, ACII takes him to a whole new low.

Above: And also surrounds him with weird numerical clues

As you solve ACII’s Glyph puzzles, you’ll uncover documents detailing the game’s secret history, in which seemingly every notable historical figure took part in the centuries-long war between Templars and Assassins. Some of these “reveal” that not only was Edison secretly a member of the diabolical Templar order, who quashed Tesla because he threatened the Templars’ stranglehold on humanity, but that he was complicit in the rise of the Nazi party.

As the game’s backstory goes, Edison was in possession of one of the mind-controlling “Pieces of Eden,” which he passed on to his real-life friend (and object of Nazi adoration) Henry Ford. Eventually, game-Ford tells game-Edison in a letter that he shipped the Piece to “H.” in Europe, that “war will begin as soon as he can take over,” and that “that kind of purge will be good for Europe.” That he knew about it well in advance also implies that Edison was pretty OK with the whole thing, which, whatever his other flaws, is pretty hard to swallow.

Above: Holy shit

Yes, we know it’s a work of fiction and not meant to be taken seriously. So’s everything else on this list. Bear with us, here.

1. Dante Alighieri

You may know him as: A Crusader so fierce he actually killed Death at the beginning of Dante’s Inferno, and then ran screaming into Hell to rescue his lost love Beatrice by slicing up thousands of demons. Also, if you followed the game’s plot to its end, you learned that not only did he accept sexual favors from prisoners in exchange for their freedom, but that he actually orchestrated the infamous slaughter of nearly 3,000 Muslim hostages at Acre, and then let his (kind of) innocent best friend take the blame.

But in real life, he was: Sure as hell not responsible for any of that garbage. The (very real) massacre at Acre is generally remembered as one of the more terrible events of the Third Crusade and Richard the Lionhearted’s alarmingly shitty reign, and to shift the burden onto Dante’s shoulders isn’t just unfair – it’s impossible.

Above: Oh, like you even care, you French prick

Dante’s Inferno, the game, takes a lot of liberties with Dante’s Inferno, the epic poem, but probably the biggest is making Dante himself a Crusader at all. The real Dante Alighieri wasn’t even born until around 1265, some 73 years after the Third Crusade ended. He was a soldier in Italy’s seemingly endless civil wars, and later a politician in his native city-state of Florence, but there doesn’t appear to be any record of him being a war criminal.

Above: He does look kind of evil, though

That’s not to say Dante didn’t have a criminal record, though. Thanks to his opposition of the so-called Black Guelphs – a political faction that wanted to give more power to the Pope – he was banished from Florence, under pain of death, until 2008. It was during his exile that he actually wrote Inferno (and, later, its follow-up canticas Purgatorio and Paradiso) as literary revenge against his enemies, many of whom are depicted as suffering in Hell (and a few of whom also show up in the game as damned souls). But that’s an awfully far cry from massacring prisoners of war. Historical fiction is cool, but laying blame for a real war crime at the feet of a fictionalized version of a real poet (who wasn’t even born yet) is a little much.

May 31, 2010

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After graduating from college in 2000 with a BA in journalism, I worked for five years as a copy editor, page designer and videogame-review columnist at a couple of mid-sized newspapers you've never heard of. My column eventually got me a freelancing gig with GMR magazine, which folded a few months later. I was hired on full-time by GamesRadar in late 2005, and have since been paid actual money to write silly articles about lovable blobs.
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