It can be argued that games are currently the most capable medium when it comes to simulating experiences. If I wanted to learn more about my old country’s past, I could read books; if I wanted to understand more about a person’s experience, perhaps I could read a novel or watch a film. I don’t think that there is anything quite like 1979 Revolution: Black Friday however, when it comes to exploring a specific turning point in a country’s recent history.
In 1979, the Shah of Iran was overthrown through the efforts of combined secular and religious forces; but the theocratic regime that followed was more brutal and oppressive than ever before. For ethnic Iranians of my generation, our only knowledge of this is what we read online, in history books, and the myriad stories and conflicting opinions of our parents, many of whom were oblivious children or naive young adults at the time. The experience of understanding what, for many of us, is the only reason we grew up in countries like the UK can only ever be secondhand.
Black Friday attempts to bridge this gap; serving as a kind of compromise between game and documentary. It’s an interactive narrative drama in much the same vein as the Telltale style; timed dialogue choices, supporting characters remembering what you say or do, tough moral decisions and more. You play as a young photojournalist covering the build up to the revolution, caught between different revolutionary factions and ideals. Themes of nonviolence, violence as a necessity, the importance of family, the conflict of ideologies, and blurred lines between the revolutionaries and the system they are fighting, are all explored. The game paints a clear picture of the moral greys and impossible situations of the period, often giving you decisions which will hurt at least one party no matter what.
Black Friday is also dripping with atmosphere which conveys the tensions, hopes and uncertainty of the time. The developers used real photographs, speeches, locations and key figures which became known around the world at the time, as well as constantly referencing old Iranian cultural artefacts, rockstars, tea etiquette, snacks and sandwiches, common Farsi figures of speech, and so on. The balance struck between cultural intimacy and casting a broad net of identity is quite impressive. Having visited Iran many times with parents who were born and raised there, and being able to understand the language, it was pleasant and satisfying how much of these little beats resonated with me. Regardless of media, I think we often see history as a detached and objective view of the past; this game is an example of how history can connect on a personal level, despite lacking the firsthand experience.
Having the ability to actually move around and interact with a virtual reproduction of the time period, rather than observing as a third party through a page or screen, gives a deeper and unique experience of the situation. Games are already on the path towards this and plenty of games are built around the core idea of “what if you got to play your way through this interesting circumstance”. But by taking a slower, more personal and documentary style approach to design, Black Friday creates an experience which is heartwarming to those previously disconnected from their past, and insightful to people who are looking to expand their understanding. Imagine a game which covers the 1989 Tiananmen Square student protests in the same style, or ‘The Troubles’ in Ireland in the late 20th century. Or, a game which covers one of the many histories that Black History Month is commemorating. The possibilities for creating games which shed light on contemporary history are endless.