The Cat and the Coup

Well here’s something that caught my attention a while back: The Cat and the Coup. It really is a strange beast, but by gosh if it isn’t an extremely interesting concept.

The Cat and the Coup is a game about Mohammad Mosaddegh; the prime minster of Iran from 1951 until 1953, when he was overthrown in a CIA-backed coup. The game’s website itself describes your role as the player like this: ‘The Cat and the Coup is a documentary game in which you play the cat of Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh, the first democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran.’ Now, far be it from me to try to follow that amazing description, but I’m going to try to give some kind of an idea of what this game is.

In the game you play as Mohammad Mosaddegh’s asshole cat, and throughout the fifteen or so minutes the game will require you, as his cat (of course), ‘coax Mossadegh back through significant events of his life’ by scratching your owner, knocking him over, spilling ink all over his important documents, and so on. You have all the natural abilities of a cat, which means that you can pretty much just run around, and can swipe at things with your paw; an act which inevitably leads to some kind of minor misery for Mosaddegh every time it’s employed. You begin by waking up Mosaddegh from his death bed, which admittedly isn’t exactly a dick move, and in order to move him along from one room to another (each room giving a short piece of information, and usually a neat little visual metaphor, about an important period or event in Mosaddegh’s rise and fall) you have to solve a very short puzzle. The game tells you the short-form story of Mosaddegh’s career, and the involvement of both the British and the U.S. in Iranian affairs.

It’s hardly an in-depth history lesson, but it’s not really trying to be; instead its a visually fascinating, and ultimately poignant walk through the downfall of a man, brought about by greater powers with their own motives. I didn’t know anything about Mosaddegh before playing this, but I’m certainly going to do some reading on his life and the surrounding events now, which is really what any documentary should aim for. I do have a little reservation about the connection of the rest of the game with what you actually do as a player; I’d be interested to play a game like this where you actually play as Mosaddegh, or someone else, and work as a major player in the events rather than simply an observer. But for what it is The Cat and the Coup is a rather wonderful experience. Its mix of photography, drawings, computer-generated-images, and Middle Eastern art blends together fantastically, and I’m not sure I’ve seen an artistic style so engaging or original in a game for a long, long time. This isn’t even to mention the choice of music, which really does a great job in helping to get across the emotional resonance of the experience, and helps to bind it all up into an impressive whole.

In other words, this is a fantastic effort, and it’s free, so you really don’t have any excuse not to play it beyond the fact that it’ll teach you something. It’s only a small download, and it should run on a very large number of computers (it does warn you that it has a 2GB RAM requirement). I did, however, have some very minor technical issues with it: despite having the required specs and then some the game did show some pretty serious slow-down for the first ten or so seconds once I had moved to each new location. It’s not something that’ll impact the experience, but it is something to be aware of if you have a lower-spec computer.

I’d love to see a few more games in this kind of vein; little, charming documentaries about history, or whatever. Although I do have a bit of a crush on history thanks to a bit of an enduring crush on my old history teacher. But really, that’s neither here nor there and I’m not sure why I brought it up. She was rather ace, though.

You can find it here: http://coup.peterbrinson.com/

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