One of my favorite things about Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption is the feeling of history that surrounds it. Unlike so many games, you don’t have a stake in history or the ability to manipulate its future, instead the unyielding approach of the future feels like it is inevitably closing in around you. John Marston feels like a man out of time. With the railroads, winchester rifles, and the threat of the industrial revolution looming in the east, you get the sense that Marston is existing in an age of great change, even though he has little to do with that change. That is how most people experience history: they aren’t part of the game, or even on the sidelines; they’re simply spectators in the stands, watching the inevitable come for them. That is what 1979 Revolution: Black Friday does so well.

Video games are terrified of history. I’ve never been entirely sure why games have such a paralyzing fear of the past, other than to recognize the challenges a global industry would have trying to portray tactful recreations of events that are still painful to diverse audience. Furthermore, games are often designed to encourage player agency and power fantasy, making it difficult to tell a piece of history without making players directly responsible for how events play out. In video games you are often the most important person, determining the future of those around you. The very nature of history pushes against this idea. Older historians used to argue the “Great Man” theory: that all major historical events happened because a singular figure pushed humanity in a certain direction. If you subscribe to this theory you believe World War II happened because of Adolf Hitler, that America won the revolutionary war because of George Washington, or slaves were freed in America because of Abraham Lincoln. Video games have largely subscribed to this idea with players either assuming an almost omnipotent role, controlling a historical faction or battling famous historical enemies. For instance, Wolfenstein‘s idea of a climactic World War II conflict was to fight Mecha-Hitler. In Total War you alone determine the outcome of great conflicts. In Assassin’s Creed III the player’s character coincidentally is responsible for every influential moment of America’s fight for independence.

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However, the Great Man theory is often contradicted by the belief that the circumstances surrounding large events are more important than the people who often get the credit for them. To revisit previous examples, the Treaty of Versailles was so poorly structured, and punished the nation of Germany so heavily that, coupled with a global depression, Germany turned to radical leaders out of desperation who guided the nation to another global conflict. While this might be a more well-rounded explanation of history, it doesn’t make for a great video game boss fight.

So video games have largely skirted history in favor of creating alternate settings where they can allow a singular protagonist to change the world or use singular antagonists to ruin it. Even when game have attempted to play with history, the results have been mediocre at best. Assassin’s Creed has spent years making us believe that men in white cloaks have been secretly manipulating everything from the power of the Roman pope to the industrial revolution, treating historical figures with the same narrative effort as the Marvel movie franchise treat Stan Lee cameos. Excluding the strategy genre, it’s difficult to find historical fiction in video games aside from Assassin’s Creed.

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History isn’t only experienced by larger-than-life heroes and it’s not restricted to a battlefield. History is something that affects people on an intimate level, something the involves family and friends. What one day may be homework for a seventh grade social studies class is something that can be painful and personal. This is what separates 1979 Revolution: Black Friday from the pack of historical video games.

Rookie developer, iNK Stories puts players in the shoes of Reza, a photojournalist who has come from Germany to document the radical protests happening in his home country of Iran. Reza doesn’t have much pull with any of the multiple factions involved in the movement on a macro level. No one is going to be writing his name as the answer to any history tests, yet the stakes of 1979 don’t feel compromised, if anything they feel greater. This tale of Iranian revolution doesn’t revel in tactical decisions or the decision of powerful people that act as a catalyst toward conflict. It focuses on the people close to Reza and how they feel about this moment in time. Much like John Martson, these people have little agency in the change that is coming, there’s not much they can do to affect the future of Iran, but we care about them nonetheless, they’re opinions and feelings are still valuable because 1979 tells us that they are.

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1979 Revolution isn’t scared that players won’t feel any sense of destiny or power, that is all-too-often the crux of video game design. It trusts that it’s players will feel a sense of gravity because of the significant events happening around them. It proves that even if you are not manipulating history or the fate of a nation, that there’s still value in the story being told, that there is more to history than powerful people and large-scale battles.

Video games could learn from iNK Stories example. Imagine how much more interesting Battlefield 1’s interpretation of the Great War would be if it remained true to the horror of the Western Front instead of indulging in colorful action sequences set to Seven Nation Army remixes – something Valiant Hearts: The Great War did with far more success (capturing the horror of World War I, not Seven Nation Army Remixes). History, and historical events, aren’t great because of the drama experienced by heroes, it is interesting because we see people much like ourselves enduring hardship and struggle we can only imagine. To have the power to change the course of history pales in comparison to the awe of watching the world change around you by forces larger than we could fathom. That’s what makes history and 1979 Revolution fascinating.