Listen here or on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/americaniranians-podcast/id1152417924
Our latest Iran Chat is with Navid Khonsari, video game creator and the founder of Ink Stories, the independent film and gaming studio responsible for the development of the fascinating video game 1979 Revolution: Black Friday, which puts players into the world of the revolution in Iran in 1979. While our conversation focused on this game about the Iranian revolution, Mr. Khonsari is also well known for his work developing the cinematic look and feel for video games like Grand Theft Auto, Max Payne, The Warriors and others. For more information about 1979 Revolution: Black Friday, or to purchase it, you can visit inkstories.com.
Some highlights of our conversation are below:
How to describe 1979 Revolution: Black Friday:
In 1979 Revolution: Black Friday you play a protagonist, Reza, who is 18 years old and who just returned to Iran from Germany, arriving in the midst of turmoil on the streets of Tehran. With this character, “you have the ability to not just physically navigate the streets, but also morally navigate how you want to be involved with the revolution.” Mr. Khonsari describes it as “a movie that you get to play where you control the destiny of the character,” and says, “quite simply the easiest thing to refer to is the adventure books that used to exist; you have the ability to make choices, and the choices end up changing the narrative of your experience."
He adds that the game is accessible to anyone, including those who would not typically be considered “gamers.” It can be played on a touch screen and doesn’t focus on eye-hand coordination.
On portraying a complicated subject:
“The thing we always say here at InkStories is that it’s not a matter of black and it’s not a matter of white. It’s all about the shades of gray. If we can convey that, then we are actually conveying what’s really taking place [including] the morality, and the choices that people have to deal with in these chaotic moments.” He says that he wanted the player to be in the shoes of a young person, an 18 year old protagonist, because the player and the protagonist are both, themselves, trying to figure things out. Indeed, presenting the revolution in all of its shades of gray provides the player with an “emotional journey, rather than trying to tell them the pros and cons of a political group.”
“In the end we try to tell a passionate, emotional story about people and about relationships and about family. And that is something everybody can relate to.”
On the power of the medium:
“We were taking a look at games and the impact and power that they have compared to other mediums that we’ve been involved with.” In reflecting on the power of video games to surpass other mediums in their ability to tell a story, he explains that “because of the interactive nature of it, games allow you to be in the shoes of the character, and that’s [powerful.]“ He adds that the technology has further advantages because, “we can now provide this experience with so few barriers through digital distribution. Embracing the ability to get the word out, the message out, truly democratizes the process.”
As evidence of the unique way that this medium can speak to players that others cannot, Mr. Khonsari notes that the game is being used as an educational resource: “1979 Revolution: Black Friday is being used in a UNESCO paper as an example for conflict resolution, so it’s now being brought into schools across North America, Scandinavia, Australia… with a curriculum to start teaching people about what took place, rather than just watching a film or reading a book."
On the feedback from players:
“It’s really been an international experience. We’re just as big in the US, Germany and the UK as we are in Lithuania and South America. The overall interest in 1979 Revolution: Black Friday as a game about real world experiences has allowed us to create something that transcends borders.” He adds that most of the feedback has also been quite emotional from this diverse player base. “We get a fair amount of people reaching out to us talking about how when they were looking at the home movies it reminded them of their own experiences and brought tears to their eyes. We’ve gotten emails from people who played the games with their fathers mothers and it opened up discussions and has allowed them to reconnect in a way they had not had the ability to before.”
On what he learned from this experience:
On the revolution itself, “The thing I learned most through our research was how the heroes of the revolution were actually treated in the aftermath. So many were imprisoned and executed, and for me that was really an eye-opener.” He adds “the truth is the entire population suffered dramatically after the revolution whether it was economically, physically or imprisonment; it just seems that the darkest days came after the revolution.”
As for the future of gaming, he believes, “We’ve achieved what we wanted to but we’ve only scratched the surface. The possibility of what we can do and the areas we can go into by creating real world experiences, can help down the line with the greater sense of understanding and empathy for one another… We’re just getting started and excited about how we’re going to get more historically accurate real-world style games to the market.”