Adventure Corner: 1979 Revolution: Black Friday
Welcome to Adventure Corner, a column where members of the RPGamer staff can give their thoughts, impressions, and pseudo-reviews for various adventure titles that don’t come under our usual coverage. Adventure Corner is aimed at delivering opinions on a wide range of titles including visual novels, point-and-click adventures, investigative mysteries, and so forth.
In this edition of the column, Joshua delves into the Iranian revolution as depicted in the Telltale-inspired 1979 Revolution: Black Friday.
1979 Revolution: Black Friday
While games are often portrayed as being a superficial medium, a place for people to escape the troubles of the real world by slaying a dragon and saving a princess, there are aspects of video games that connect a player to a work in a unique way compared to a book or movie. When players are making the choices in a narrative, it puts them in the middle of a story and can create a stronger emotional connection than more passive forms of art can manage. While many designers don’t use this potential to full effect to tackle weighty subjects, iNK Stories’ 1979 Revolution: Black Friday takes the tried-and-true Telltale formula to explore the events of the Iranian revolution through the eyes of the people that lived it.
Opening in 1980 after the titular revolution, players see the main character, a photojournalist named Ali, has been driven underground by the new Islamic regime. As his cover is blown, he is captured by the police and thrown into Evin Prison, a notorious, real-life institution used by the former Shah — the self-appointed and western-backed King of Iran — as a place to detain and torture political threats to the regime. While the new leaders of Iran may have denounced the abuses of the Shah, now in power they are repeating his most vile tactics and even availing themselves of the same prison to conduct enhanced interrogations of their enemies.
The narrative in 1979 Revolution bounces back and forth between the prison and flashbacks to the revolution. Ali’s interrogator is trying to get information concerning the current activities of secular revolutionaries by reexamining decisions made during the revolution against the Shah. The player gets to decide how much to cooperate in the interrogation — stonewalling the interrogator can lead to a quick death — as well as how involved to become in the revolution as they experience the events via flashback.
The gameplay will be familiar to anyone that has occasioned upon a Telltale game over the past decade or so. 1979 Revolution wears the inspiration on its sleeve, right down to the “Babak will remember that” after key decisions are made. It is a shame that the areas to explore are quite small and for a game that stars a photojournalist, there is less photography than expected. It creates a fairly passive, linear experience, even by Telltale standards, only occasionally interrupted by an action sequence or a protest to photograph.
But this linearity never becomes an issue because the narrative is so powerful. What makes the story so interesting is the way 1979 Revolution depicts the different stratums of Iranian society. The dedicated members of the revolution — be they Islamic, secular, or Communist — are juxtaposed with average middle-class Iranians just trying to survive the tumultuous times. There were instances when events depicted in 1979 Revolution enraged me to the point where I wished I could pick up a rock and throw it at the soldiers. Nonetheless, because the ending of this story is a fait accompli, it’s hard to condemn the people who worked with the Shah as they were just trying to survive. It’s a situation where there are no simple choices and staying true to the spirit of the revolution can come at the cost of your loved ones. These are life and death decisions and as such, they are some of the more fraught ones I’ve come across in gaming.
Coming into 1979 Revolution, I had a basic knowledge of the Islamic Revolution that gripped Iran, but this game managed to flesh out my understanding of the experience and made my heart ache for the people involved. The events are based on real experiences and that makes the player’s decisions have more impact when they cost people’s lives. 1979 Revolution also does a great job of sprinkling in information about Iranian society and culture that manages to teach about events naturally without devolving into lecturing the player. While the game isn’t a technical marvel, 1979 Revolution is a fascinating exploration of the way a revolution can eat its own children; reading and listening to the proclamations of Ayatollah Khomeini denouncing the actions of the Shah and yet experiencing a regime that commits the same atrocities. I’m not sure that a game has ever clarified my understanding of a historical event and culture like this before. For anyone interested in seeing the Telltale format used to explore serious subject matter, 1979 Revolution: Black Friday will be an incredibly satisfying, if emotionally draining, experience.