“The Cat and the Coup”: Fun and Learnin’ All in One Package
Thanks to my finicky gaming tastes, which drive me away from most FPS, RTS, and platformers, I’m excited when I find a new genre to explore. “The Cat and the Coup” is the first “documentary puzzle” game I’ve played, and it far exceeded my expectations of how historical events could be related in an entertaining way in an interactive environment.
Hit the jump for all the deets.
“The Cat and the Coup” explores an important political event in Iranian history that is little known to most Americans, though it ought to be, as our country was heavily involved and, like many of our dealings with the Middle East throughout the years, kind of fucked up.
The game explores the life of Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh, the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran (1951-53) who supported the nationalization of Iranian oil and made himself the enemy of capitalistic Western nations like Britain and ourselves. Check out this quote from a speech he made in 1951:
“Our long years of negotiations with foreign countries… have yielded no results this far. With the oil revenues we could meet our entire budget and combat poverty, disease, and backwardness among our people. Another important consideration is that by the elimination of the power of the British company, we would also eliminate corruption and intrigue, by means of which the internal affairs of our country have been influenced. Once this tutelage has ceased, Iran will have achieved its economic and political independence.”
Sounds pretty nice, right? I mean, except for the Brits and us not profiting from Iranian oil…
In this trippy mash-up of Persian imagery and Monty-Python-esque animation, we follow Mossadegh’s life backward from his death under house arrest in 1967, back through his trial, the coup, and the foreign negotiations that sparked the whole conflict.
Oh yeah, did I mention you play his cat?
Yep, rather than a dry presentation of facts, we’ve got the animated-Mossadegh’s simple but expressive actions to tell the story (pacing as he prepares to write the policy, tripping on the pop-off head of a rather terrifying judge, tumbling away from the forcefully insistent outstretched paws of a rabbit-Truman), text at the bottom of each stage describing the historical moment, and a bouncing little black cat that likes to knock all of Mossadegh’s stuff over, startle him by jumping at him from high places, and in true cat fashion, curl up on his lap and smack him a moment later.
Having the cat as the star of the piece was an excellent move, as it lends the game a charm that compliments its gravity. I think it also makes the game more appealing for Western audiences ignorant of the history, giving us a much more neutral and universal “in” than if the character you controlled was Mossadegh himself.
My biggest complaint about the game is that it’s entirely too short. Just as I was getting into the swing of things it ended, and I was treated to a face-full of BLATANT HISTORY! which up to that point the game had been imparting elegantly and subtlety. The fact that the timeline switches at this point and runs forward again was even more confusing my first time through.
“The Cat and the Coup” was produced over 3 years by USC students Peter Brinson and Kurosh ValaNejad, and was funded by USC’s Game Innovation Lab. As a student-produced, free indie game, I can grudgingly forgive them for only giving me 10-15min of, but I certainly hope that they’ll continue to develop it and flesh it out. With an extended, more detailed timeline, I think they could elevate this game above the charming curiosity it is to a piece that’s both educational and emotionally stirring.
“The Cat and the Coup” is available as a free download for Mac or PC, and is also available through Steam.