As a school-aged kid in the 1990s, I didn’t spend a lot of class time talking about Iran. The name Ayatollah Khomeini meant more to me as a reference to a joke from TheSimpsons than as an actual historical figure. As an adult, I became marginally more aware of Iran’s contemporary position within Middle East quagmires and U.S. international tensions, but my understanding of its recent history grew no more sophisticated. So when I sat down to play 1979 Revolution: Black Friday, I felt both curious and ignorant of the world I was entering. And, to developer iNK Stories’ significant credit, by the end of this first episode’s two-hour run, I had learned some things.
Educational games can get a bad rap—or, at least, they can be viewed as qualitatively different from (read: lamer than) games with no specific educational agenda. 1979 Revolution defies this arbitrary divide by creating an experience that is a near-equal blend of historical thriller and interactive exhibit of the 1979 Iranian revolution. The former aspect, which leans heavily on the formula laid out by Telltale Games over the past four years, is full of hits and misses that at times provide exciting and emotional storytelling, and at other times make for a confusing or contrived player experience. The educational portion, however, is a major success: a reminder of how closely this virtual world is grounded in historical fact, but also of how difficult it is to divine the “true” story when you’re in the middle of it.