Chaos erupts in the middle of a peaceful demonstration, and luckily you are there to document everything with your photo camera. It is the late 1970’s, and thousands have gathered in the streets of Iran, but the Shah’s men have stormed the stage in attempt to shut down the protest in a show of force. After snapping some pictures of police in riot gear scuffling with organizers and waving their rifles, your cousin Ali approaches you with a stone in his hand. He tells you that revolutionaries must retaliate against the violence of oppressors, and encourages you to throw the rock at the soldiers on stage. Your friend Babak urges you not to throw the stone, insisting that nonviolence is the only to bring about true liberation. At this moment in the game, you are given the choice: do you confront violence with violence and save the people you care about, or do you withhold throwing the stone in order to make a resilient statement about peace?
There are numerous difficult choices to make in the game 1979 Revolution: Black Friday, a narrative adventure game by iNK Studios. The “interactive drama” was initially released on Steam and mobile devices in 2016, and is now available on all consoles as of August 2018. Writer and director Navid Khonsari grew up in Iran during the revolution depicted in the game, and intended to create a digital narrative that showcases the many conflicts Iranian people experienced during the tumultuous period. The control scheme is nearly identical to the episodic Telltale adventure games, such as The Walking Dead and A Game of Thrones, etc. While saying one game borrows heavily from another is typically a negative claim, I believe it is positive that the creators told the story of the Iran revolution in a way that’s familiar to players.
There are elements about 1979 Revolution: Black Friday that could be criticized, but to fair, they are the same critiques you might have about any contemporary adventure game: over reliance on quicktime events; lack of visual polish; aimless wandering sequences (though not as bad as in Telltale games, if you ask me). I did have some minor frustrations with the game: once during a wandering sequence Babak blocked me against a counter and I had to restart the chapter. There was also a couple times that I died because of a choice I made in the game and was prompted to restart, which wasn’t a big deal but felt like a cheap redo. I wished the creators had followed the Quantic Dream philosophy and made me live with my decision, but the restart only annoyed me momentarily.
On the flipside, there are many positive things to say about 1979 Revolution: Black Friday. The writing is fantastic, written by the team of Khonsari and Brian Wood (who wrote the comic series DMZ and Northlanders). The veteran writers integrate the story of Iran into the adventure storytelling form well: while the point-and-click portions of Telltale games are typically a chore, these sections shine in 1979 Revolution because the artifacts are often movie posters from the era, political graffiti, speeches condemning The Shah, and old family photos of late 70’s Iran. The voice acting is also stellar, showcasing notable Iranian actors like Navid Negahban and Bobby Naderi, who have no trouble capturing the dramatic flourish of a country in turmoil. The orchestral score is also impressive, making 1979 Revolution: Black Friday an immersive cinematic experience.
My favorite part about 1979 Revolution: Black Friday is learning to appreciate the various factions of the era fighting for a free Iran. In school I learned a little about the Shah and Ayatollah Khomeini, but I had never heard of some of the other leaders vying for power. I was fascinated how different ideological groups interacted with one another—many of Khomeini’s supporters love Disco and American fashion, while the communist and anarchist factions tended to criticize all forms of Western influence on Iran. While I admittedly don’t know enough about Iranian history to decide whether any of the portrayals in the game are unfair, I did feel like I walked away learning about a conflict that is rarely given any attention in American history classrooms.
1979 Revolution: Black Friday was created as a result of a Kickstarter in 2015, and though Khonsari spoke optimistically about a sequel two years ago, there has been little mention about a second chapter recently. Considering the game ends on an intense cliffhanger, my hope is that gamers interested in history and social justice will support this game, and encourage iNK Studios to tell more of this gripping story, but time will tell. Pick up 1979 Revolution: Black Friday and learn something about a historical event and country many Americans have little to no idea about.