Tuesday 6 November, 2018
I started playing 1979 Revolution: Black Friday tonight, and have been conflicted with what I have played thus far. I got as far as exploring the protests in the streets that turned to violence. Unfortunately, from a technical perspective, the game is a bit of a mess. Non-player characters frequently walk through objects and the player character, the controls are stiff and unresponsive, graphics and performance, at least on the Switch, are far from ideal, and animations are frequently clunky and break immersion, which is particularly problematic during important scenes such as the torture of the main character losing some of its impact to clunky presentation that takes you out of the moment. Even the English voice acting, which is fairly important in a story driven game with so much dialogue, is mostly uninterested at best and downright bad at worst, though it is a nice touch that the native language is still occasionally thrown in there, which helps add a sense of authenticity. That said, the game has still managed engage me, mostly through its concept and subject matter, but I feel that has some issues too.
The game is set during the real Iranian Revolution, and many of its characters are inspired by real people. This is where I run into my first moral dilemma with the game. The game rides a fine line between historical fiction and documentary style education game. The purpose of the game seems to be to educate players about the Iranian Revolution and the nature of revolution. However, it attempts to do so through a fictional narrative, trying to strike a tricky balance between the too. On the one hand, it seems to me that when a game is being made specifically to educate people about a specific historical event, especially one so recent which should have plenty of information and witnesses to pull from, that the game is obligated to tell the series of events as accurately as possible. On the other hand, by telling a fictional narrative, the game is able to implement choice and ask the player what kind of revolutionary they want to be and to weigh all the different options. Challenging the player with these aspects of being involved in a revolution makes sense for trying to explain such an event to the player.
Furthermore, the game does make sure to include plenty of real facts about the Iranian Revolution. Every time the player takes a photo, which is a central part of the gameplay as you play as a photojournalist who gets caught up in the revolution, the game offers to tell the player more about this picture. Doing so will give a text description of why the event of objects you are photographing are significant to the Iranian Revolution, with most pictures having a real-world equivalent they are being drawn from to show the accuracy on display. However, the technical issues with the game unfortunately return here, as some of the text descriptions are cut off early by the page, leaving the player unable to read the rest of the description, even if it picks up later on with a part clearly missing on the next page. Furthermore, the journal where all of this is stored seems to be broken, with at least several stories almost always missing whenever I pull it up with seemingly no rhyme or reason as to which ones are missing or way. Even menu navigation in general is clunky and unintuitive and the lack of a prompt to open the journal whenever you collect a story outside of taking a picture is frustrating.
Overall, 1979 Revolution: Black Friday has managed to pique my interest despite its many technical issues, and I think that they are trying to find the best balance between meaningful character choice to try and simulate being involved in such a historical event with real facts and education, but the contrast is definitely still off putting, with some moments more than others. The game kind of winds up feeling of two halves as a result of this. My hope is that as I continue to play the game the balance will start to feel more necessary and less jarring. This game has really made me think about where ethical representation of historical events, particularly ones so recent which can be portrayed relatively accurately, exists for videogames and I am looking forward to playing more and seeing how it continues to deal with such a tension in ideas.