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You Can Now Play A Video Game That Lets You Live The Iranian Revolution

Playing as Reza, an Iranian photojournalist, the player makes choices that help determine the fate of Iran.

Posted on April 6, 2016, at 12:06 p.m. ET

If you were a fan of the Carmen Sandiego series of computer games back in the day, you're going to love this. A new game called 1979 Revolution: Black Friday lets you play as Reza, an Iranian photojournalist who gets swept into the Iranian revolution.

iNK Studios

Like the Mass Effect series, Revolution has a "choose your own adventure"-style plot, with points throughout where you select just how Reza reacts, which in turn can influence characters' behaviors and the overarching story.

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For those who need a refresher, the story goes like this: The Shah of Iran, a U.S. ally, was facing mass protests against his rule in 1978 and in response launched massive crackdowns on people. The protesters coalesced into the 1979 revolution, which saw the Shah flee the country. In the aftermath, communists and Islamists battled over who would control the country. The Islamists won out, putting into place the government Iran still has to this day. (This is an extremely simplified version — you can read more about the days of the revolution here.)

But rather than holding a giant gun, Reza wields his camera in capturing the early days of the revolution in 1978, before things take a turn for the dangerous as the uprising spirals into new and unplanned territory.

"I think it's deep, deep in the foundation of journalism and photojournalism to try to create a truthful and honest depiction of what took place," director and creator Navid Khonsari told BuzzFeed News. "I've always questioned, 'How can you take that picture when something is happening, how can you report that?' And that was interesting to me. That brings up the morality of a character."
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"I think it's deep, deep in the foundation of journalism and photojournalism to try to create a truthful and honest depiction of what took place," director and creator Navid Khonsari told BuzzFeed News. "I've always questioned, 'How can you take that picture when something is happening, how can you report that?' And that was interesting to me. That brings up the morality of a character."

Throughout the game, there are also opportunities to actually use Reza's camera to capture scenes from the revolution, like this guy covered in photographs of victims of the Shah's brutality.

A straight play through of the game takes about two and a half hours — if you don't bother with any of the exploration points built into the story and don't go back to play through the many plotline branches.
iNK Stories

A straight play through of the game takes about two and a half hours — if you don't bother with any of the exploration points built into the story and don't go back to play through the many plotline branches.

The game also isn't afraid to face the darker parts of the revolution and its aftermath. In just the second chapter, you find yourself in the infamous Evin Prison in 1980, facing down a ruthless interrogator before the full story unfolds in flashback.

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"I think at the heart of it, as a storyteller, I've always wanted to tell about my experience and my understanding of the Iranian revolution," Khonsari told BuzzFeed News during an interview at iNK Stories' Brooklyn office.

Khonsari — whose family fled the Iranian revolution for Canada — is a veteran of the video game industry, having worked on the insanely popular Grand Theft Auto series and Red Dead Revolver, before shifting gears and producing documentaries with his wife, Vassiliki. But he'd come to conclusion that he wanted to frame a game around the Iran's history and cultural experiences "for no other reason than I find myself explaining in social situations even explaining what Iran is like like I'm talking about another planet."
Hayes Brown / BuzzFeed News

Khonsari — whose family fled the Iranian revolution for Canada — is a veteran of the video game industry, having worked on the insanely popular Grand Theft Auto series and Red Dead Revolver, before shifting gears and producing documentaries with his wife, Vassiliki. But he'd come to conclusion that he wanted to frame a game around the Iran's history and cultural experiences "for no other reason than I find myself explaining in social situations even explaining what Iran is like like I'm talking about another planet."

Historical accuracy was important to the creators, who conducted 40 interviews with people who lived through the revolution. Khonsari said many people who contributed photos and video wanted to remain anonymous for their own protection.

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Vassiliki Khonsari, who served as co-creator and executive producer on the game, even thinks they did a better job of representing the harshness of Evin Prison than the film Rosewater, based on Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari's time in the prison.

"I think more than what we drew as far as inspiration [from the film], we drew a cautionary tale," she said when asked about the film's impact on the game's development. "We felt the movie didn't accurately represent the brutality of what goes on in Evin, which we thought was sort of a dangerous representation, because it is one of the notorious prisons in Iran, so there was a sort of gravity that has to come with representing that space."

For those super interested in the actual history being laid out in the game, there's a "Stories" option that compares the pictures you take in-game with actual photos from the period.

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1979 Revolution: Black Friday is now available for download on Steam.

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