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Already A Movie Topic, Iran's Revolution Is Now A Video Game


Protesters fill the streets of Tehran, and a young photographer is swept up in the action. The middle class, the intelligentsia and the religious are revolting against the oppressive and corrupt regime of the shah. It's the stuff of a movie, but it's also a new video game called "1979 Revolution: Black Friday."


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (As character) This is the future of Iran.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (As character) This is incredible.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (As Reza Shirazi) My part is taking pictures, not choosing sides.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Listen, you may not realize it, but you're going to have to pick a side. OK?

MONTAGNE: The main character is fictional, but he's based partly on the game's creator, Navid Khonsari. He recently joined us in our studio.

NAVID KHONSARI: On the streets of the summer of 1978, when I was in Tehran with my grandfather, I could feel the hope. I could feel the possibility that change could come. People were happy. They were hugging each other. They believed that they were about to change their country, their world.

And then six, eight months later, when the protests became violent and soldiers were shooting up in the air, I also remember the emotions that I had when my mother would tell me to get down on the ground because of a stray bullet that might come through the window of our third-floor apartment.

MONTAGNE: Navid Khonsari's family fled shortly after that. He went on to work on video games, like "Grand Theft Auto" and "Max Payne." He founded his own video game company. And when word got out he was working on a game depicting the Iranian Revolution, the Iranian media labeled him a spy. As Khonsari sees it, he's offering gamers an opportunity to immerse themselves in an important moment in history.

KHONSARI: So you play as Reza Shirazi, who's 18 years old and has come home from his first year of college abroad. And your goal as the player is to kind of navigate the streets of Tehran physically but then navigate the revolution morally.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (As Reza Shirazi) So support the shah or let your family starve, you call that a choice?

Yeah, what about my family? My father arrested, tortured, murdered - and for what?

KHONSARI: Which way are you going to go? Not just to save those around you, but who are you going to lean on? Is it going to be your cousin who's pro-revolution, pro possibly violence? Is it your brother, who's also a member of the establishment? So you've got the choices that you make that will change your narrative.

We actually jump between 1978 to 1980, when you are now incarcerated and in Evin Prison being interrogated by Asadollah Lajevardi, who was the actual warden and interrogator at Evin Prison during that time. And the choices that you make in a '78 are reflected in how you're treated in 1980 in Evin Prison.

MONTAGNE: You're using the real name of a real, infamous guy. How indicative is that of the rest of the game? I mean, accuracy is really important, right?

KHONSARI: Absolutely. Look, we reached out to academic scholars, cultural scholars, religious scholars. We've also did over 40 interviews with people from across the spectrum and asked them about their experiences. We also put in home movies, which you can explore.

MONTAGNE: Your grandfather's home movies are featured in this - in this game.

KHONSARI: Absolutely. My grandfather was shooting Super 8 movies from the '50s all the way until 1979. So in the opening titles, you'll see some footage from his home movies, which include my mom at the Caspian Sea, my first day of school in Tehran. We wanted people to understand what Iran was like in the '70s, not as a statement against this regime or a statement against what was there, but as an understanding that Iran cannot be depicted by the past 35 years of what we've seen in the news.

MONTAGNE: Navid Khonsari is the creator of "1979 Revolution: Black Friday." And since we spoke with him, he tells us, the game has been banned in Iran. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.