For all of its potential as a medium, video games tend to stick to fictional worlds and events. Sure, there are tons of historic games, but almost all are focused around war. And human history has so many fascinating stories to tell that could make compelling game experiences. 1979 Revolution: Black Friday is such a game.
Set in the days leading up to the Iranian Revolution, the player is placed in the role of Reza Shirazi, a photographer who finds himself in the middle of allegiances and movements as he is tasked with deciding where he will stand in the scope of things.
The game is framed as a series of flashback as Reza is interrogated in prison for his involvement in the revolution. This could be a contrived event, but through compelling camera placement and editing, these sequences are tense, exciting, and nerve-wracking.
The game is similar to TellTale Games seasons where you walk through landscapes and then engage in conversations that can change the course of events in the future. The game manages to streamline some of TellTale Games infamous jankiness by cutting out a lot of the unnecessary bits of downtime and focusing on the dialogue and photography.
The photography is a core part of the game as it sets up scenes quite similar to real events and shows the player is shown real photos from Michel Setboun that are similar to the ones the player takes. It’s a simple mechanic, but it gives a tangible feeling of authenticity to the game.
Where the game becomes compelling is in how it explores different themes throughout its playtime. The photography angle explores whether or not the player should remain a bystander and simply document events or if he or she should intervene into the events and become a part of the revolution.
The player is given the option of whether or not to protest peacefully or resort to more violent approaches. Different characters you encounter have different feelings on this and which side you take will affect your relationships with certain characters.
The game also places the player in a bind between a responsibility to one’s family and a duty to one’s people. Reza’s brother is a member of the police force and tries to convince him to stay away from the troublemakers causing the government all these problems.
And the framing device then gives the player the opportunity to reflect on his or her decisions and how he or she justifies such acts. Or you can simply refuse to respond to any of the interrogations.
Video games need more titles like this, ones that are willing to explore historical narratives on their own merits instead of simply a means to contextualize violence. 1979 Revolution: Black Friday is a masterful example of how to use the medium to place players in a historical place and time and ask them to face the same moral dilemmas and problems of its subject. It’s a way to build empathy in the medium instead of making more war games.
© 2016 James Blake Ewing