Welcome to I’m Still Talking About… My 2016 end of the year feature where I find ten games that defined the indie game scene for me this year.  These aren’t the best games of 2016, they’re not the must-plays, they are the games that have refused to leave my thoughts, the games that got under my skin.  For better or worse, these are the games I’m still talking about.

First things first, 1979 The Revolution: Black Friday is a needlessly convoluted titled.  It’s a title that sounds like Black Friday is supposed to be the first episode in a series.  It’s true, the game first started out as an episodic series, being initially introduced as 1979: The Game, but since it was condensed into a single entry, the name is a little…well, it sounds a little too video game-y.  I just don’t think we need this many colons in titles

But let’s get to the stuff that matters.  As I wrote in my article about video games and history, games often tend to shove players into a power fantasy where they have the supernatural ability to save or destroy entire nations.  Games like Mass Effect makes player responsible for the changing of governments, the power struggles of the galaxy, and the ultimate saving of the universe.  It’s very rare that games allow a voyeurism into a strange time and simply let you exist in the space.  For instance, instead of focusing on being the Dragonborn in Skyrim, what would it be like to just be an average citizen caught up in the political of the region, unable to change the course of history but forced to bare witness.

This is what I loved about 1979 The Revolution.  The game rarely tries to shove players to the front of the action.  You’re never delivering the powerful speeches against the government or working to snuff out the uprising that would change Iran forever.  In Black Friday, you’re just a journalist, an everyday person trying to cope with thing beyond your control.  This is what history, and life, feels like to average individual, and while that might not make for the most interesting game when set in a contemporary setting, it becomes far more unique when you’re experiencing something like the Iranian Revolution.

Is it really THAT good?

Like I said when writing about Oxenfree, it’s been a really good year for adventure games.  I’ve had all sorts of wonderful stories and excellent characters to write about as I reflect on the past year, and like the last game I re-examined, That Dragon, Cancer, 1979 The Revolution feels like a very personal game.  There’s clearly a vision and a unique voice that’s being heard while playing.  The game’s narrative feel immediate, the stakes feel higher than almost any other game this year.

Both game benefit from having a small team with a unified vision, something that just isn’t possible in studios that boast upwards of 200 employees.  These small games allow a team to work hand-in-hand with each other to comes up with something that doesn’t always feel perfect, but often feels special.

That being said, it’s true that Black Friday has moments that don’t always come together as cleanly as developer iNK Stories had clearly hoped they would.  Sometimes the action in the game feels choppy or scenes are jarring, but the biggest misstep is how certain elements are designed to be game-ified.  You can feel the narrative pushing against the moments that are spent puzzling together shoved-in adventure puzzles that lack the coherent design of an industry veteran like Telltale.

I understand why these moments are in the game.  If iNK Stories had removed the puzzles, 1979 wouldn’t have been as varied in it’s gameplay, possibly it would have lost some of its game-y-ness, but I still think there is a better answer than what the developers came up with.  

Okay, that sounds alright.  But what is the real reason I should play this game?

The world of Black Friday is extremely well-built and colored with shades of grey that present both sides of the Revolution.  While the subject of the game reverberated through America in its 1980 Presidential election, modern-day Middle East presence, and Cold War tactics, it’s rarely taught here in the States.  Learning about the context of the revolution is interesting on its own, but iNK Stories goes deeper by adding layers to the game’s characters and embattled factions.

But again, the true wonder of 1979 The Revolution is how it manages to take such a large-scale event and boil it down to personal struggles.  Each choice had less to do with politics and more to do with relationships that are constructed throughout the narrative.  When you let one of the characters down, it is a painful experience and when bad things happen to those close to you, the pain becomes even more acute.  There’s so much humanity built into each conversation, it’s hard not to get swept up in what iNK Stories is selling.

A few years ago, something like Black Friday would have sounded overly ambitious.  We would have dismissed the game as an educational game or assumed it lacked the depth to truly explore such a complex idea.  But when all’s said and done, iNK Stories pull it off.  They don’t cheat and use some heavy handed allegory to make their point, they tell an honest piece of history.

So you’d recommend it to anyone?

Last year it felt like I had to curb a lot of my recommendations to certain crowds, but it’s been nice this year to recommend so many games to a larger audience.  1979 The Revolution: Black Friday is totally another one of those games.  This is a title that can teach us all, not just about the Iranian Revolution, but about the complexities of history and the little people who often get crushed under the heels of monumental change, people that get written off as statistics.  It’s important to remember that every death has a story behind it, every life is affected by the decisions of others, whether those people are King and Commanders or just friends and family.

About The Author

The Glorious Predecessor

As I write this, I am listening to Striking Matches and eating a blueberry muffin. The music is good, the muffin is even better. I dance when I drink and have been known to occasionally free-style rap, none of which benefits society.

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  • I think the power-fantasy take is more alienating than people think. Its prevalence probably says something about us. Something I don’t know. I think at its core it comes to us from the bully’s prerogative.

    • Josh Hinke

      I think you’re somewhat correct. I think the power-fantasy appeals to a small demographic of players. There’s actually more to this and it’s worth exploring in it’s own piece.