Last weekend was Indiecade 2010. It’s an annual and international festival that aims to promote and celebrate independently developed video games. The highlight of the event is their award ceremony where a group of finalists are chosen in multiple categories. This year’s winners were incredible as always, you can view the full list here.
One of the winners that really stood out among the crowd was The Cat and The Coup, the winner of the “Documentary Award”. The game tells the story of Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh, the first democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran.
Mossadegh was famous for his passionate opposition to foreign intervention. In 1953, the American CIA and the UK Government organized a coup d’état against him. His story is well documented; however most Americans don’t know enough about it. Creators Peter Brinson and Kurosh ValaNejad from the University of Southern California wanted to tell that story through a game experience.
Here is a short video about The Cat and the Coup’s game play:
I wanted to find out more about the game, so I interviewed Peter Brinson about their motivations, their views on the industry and more.
Games for Change: 1. What motivated you to create a “documentary game” and why did you choose Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh as your subject?
Peter Brinson: War has been on the minds of Americans this past decade. Most of us are new to thinking about the Middle East, and if you look at video games about war, most of them are about World War II. It seemed like it was time to make a game about US warfare after World War II but before the two wars going on now (Iraq and Afghanistan – JR). The foreign interventions of the CIA could provide subject matter for many games, as there were plenty. We decided to focus on the first successful CIA sponsored coup d’état.
But the more we studied Mohammed Mossadegh, the more we realized that his story is just as much about democracy as it is about war. As a nation, we have talked a lot about democracy in the Middle East. Such discussions should begin with recognizing any such examples.
2. Do you think winning Indiecade’s “Documentary Award” will inspire more developers to experiment with the style?
We’re hardly the first to do this, but more people will be making documentary games in the near future. How a developer labels their game has a lot to do with the audience they imagine. Early on we knew we didn’t want to make a game that provided alternative versions of history, (playing with a system is a common design direction for non-fiction games) but to focus on the player’s relationship to the content as the site of the play experience. The Cat and the Coup is about your relationship with Mohammed Mossadegh, even if you didn’t realize there ever was one.
3. Your game deals with politics. Do you think as an indie developer, you have the freedom to take a political stance? (Unlike the creators of war games like Medal of Honor?) And what power do you think political freedom has in story telling in a game?
Considering what tends to come out of the industry, the simple decision to make a game about an Iranian Prime Minister does seem to stand as a political gesture, but our playtests revealed that players did not come away experiencing a political agenda nor did they describe it as an advocacy game. By and large, they found the story interesting and brought their own interests and preconceptions to the table, and came away curious to know more about Mossadegh.
The biggest difference between The Cat and the Coup and a game like Medal of Honor is that it is about something that, presumably, Americans don’t know. When the priority is to make a game fun above all else, it makes sense to embrace what your audience already knows, so making a game in which the player lands in Normandy in order to shoot Nazi’s allows for efficient storytelling. We certainly aimed to design gameplay that was compelling, but just as important to us was telling a coherent, although short, version of Mossadegh’s story.
At the same time, our audience also includes people who know Iranian history, potentially in great detail. So we included layers of detail that would engage such a person who has experienced this history in books and films, as well as personally. But sure, concerning the developer’s creative freedom, if you take a profit motive as your primary concern out of the equation, you inevitably end up with a different type of game.
4. When are we going to see the game?
The game will be release for Window and Mac next year – for free download.
To find out more about the game, check out the official website here.
To find out more about Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh, go to his Wikipedia page: