A Tale Of Tails: The Cat And The Coup

By Alec Meer on July 13th, 2011 at 3:40 pm.

Cropping and shrinking: not ideal for tiny cat graphics

I was going to treat this as a Wot I Think, but sometimes you meet a game that just isn’t at all suited to any kind of verdict like that. There’s plenty I could probably find to moan about if I put my critic’s hat on, but what a futile endeavour that would be.

The Cat And The Coup doesn’t exist to serve games’ usual purposes, although that’s not to say it’s entirely divorced from why we play them. You owe it to yourself to free up 20 minutes for this. And I don’t only say that because it stars a cat.

It’s an abstract but simple puzzle game about a cat and a ghost.

It’s a reverse-order, interactive documentary about a CIA-orchestrated takedown of the first democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran.

It looks like Terry Gilliam does The Power Of Nightmares.

It’s beautiful, it’s moving, it’s frightening, it’s metaphysical, it’s allegorical, it’s mechanically as well as intellectually clever.

It doesn’t patronise you. It knows you’re a grown-up and it knows you’re a gamer, and it treats both those things equally seriously.

It will only take you 20 minutes and it won’t cost you a penny.

We should have posted about it sooner. We let you down. The creators, Peter Brinson and Kurosh ValaNejad, did not. Here’s how and why they made The Cat And The Coup.

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66 Comments »

  1. fuggles says:

    Played this a while ago, have to say it’s my kind of edutainment – calling it a game is almost too strong but it was an engaging way to learn about a historical event in 15 minutes.

  2. Alphabet says:

    Wow.

  3. kickme22 says:

    My copy is broken -_- The part where you do the Oil thing doesnt work. Your dictator guy falls off the side of the building leaving you IN the building trying to figure out what to do.

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      Okami says:

      Beeing the victim of a US supported coup doesn’t automatically make someone a dictator.

    • Kaira- says:

      Indeed. I suggest you read this (and well, anyone if you happen to be interested in history).

    • kickme22 says:

      my main point was that the game is glitching at the oil crisis room so I cant finish it.

      Also forgive me for some reason I assumed he was a dictator (probably thinking of all the current “presidents” of these middle eastern countries)

    • Dozer says:

      You didn’t mean your username to be taken literally, did you Kickme?

      I thought the whole point of the game was to demonstrate that not all not-pro-America heads of state/government are bad guys…

    • Tacroy says:

      The worst part is that he wasn’t really not-pro-American; as the game states, he even called on the USA to support Iran in its bid for independence from Britain, much like France did for us back in the day.

      Of course we said “screw you we want oil” and set them up the Shah instead.

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      phuzz says:

      “set them up the Shah”
      You sir win today’s Internets. Congratulations.
      :)

  4. arienette says:

    Played this on steam a week or so back. If I’m to learn I’d prefer it be done like this.

  5. Bhazor says:

    Still can’t get this to work even after trying for two months. Steam keeps saying its unable to connect to the server.
    I am sad panda.

    Really hope to see more of these interactive documentaries and I really really hope to see that undercover investigative journalism game to make an appearence on a major platform.
    Because, ironically, it seems to have vanished.
    http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2008/12/02/pictures-for-truth-click-click-click-click-boom/

    • Vagrant says:

      I didn’t realize this was released on Steam. Have you tried the non-steam version?

  6. magnus says:

    It’s a great pity there’s not more out there like this, it’s really made want to find out more for myself, but that’s probably the point of it all.

  7. Greg Wild says:

    I really, really loved this game. The Mossadeq affair is by far one of the most important events in the post-second world war era, demonstrating quite worryingly for the first time since it became a dominant power just how much America hates democracy, and the lengths the British would go to secure their interests no matter the long term instability their actions would create. To see the events rendered in such poetic beauty was wonderful.

  8. Cinnamon says:

    I hope that it isn’t shocking news to too many people that the British empire tried to control North Africa and the Middle East because of it’s oil resources and that the USA took over that imperialistic role. Spoiler. But this is a very attractive game with some nice puzzles. And the explanatory text with Nine Inch Nails playing is very Adam Curtiseque.

    • Greg Wild says:

      It’s lovely to see the creative commons on Ghosts bearing fruit :P

      And yes. No-one should be shocked by the history it presents. And if they are – or worse, deny it – then such games prove their worth on this basis alone :)

    • KenTWOu says:

      OMG they used “9 Ghosts I” by NIN and did it even better than authors of Portal: Prelude.

  9. Kieron Gillen says:

    This really is extraordinarily beautiful work.

    KG

  10. Abundant_Suede says:

    Without commenting on the subject matter of the game in question, it does make me slightly uncomfortable.

    Regardless of how you feel about the portrayal of the subject matter in this “game”, what about when people you may be less sympathetic to clue into this outlet into the young adult demographic? How far away are we now from seeing targeted political propaganda cobbled together into 20 minutes of some sort of token interactivity, and aerially dispersed onto Steam?

    Am I going to wake up one day to find a free Sarah Palin “game”, where she rides a grizzly across the Alaskan wilderness, gunning down socialists, freeing millionaires from the burden of paying taxes, collecting buckets of oil from the colorful detonations of native wildlife, and using that oil to immolate vast piles of pesky history books? (I hope so, that sounds kind of awesome, actually).

    Politically charged interactive “games” are not new, but they’ve never had something with the audience of Steam before to help them reach people. Before they’ve generally had to host the games themselves, and get people to come to them. It seems pretty cost effective compared to the price of national advertising, and it reaches a targeted demographic. I’ve got a queasy feeling about this. I’m torn between hoping Valve demonstrates good judgement in this matter, and realizing I don’t really think Valve should be making any decisions over the artistic merits of games it carries. Which means infomercial and political “games” seem inevitable, now that Steam has opened the free game floodgate.

    • Cugel says:

      “How far away are we now from seeing targeted political propaganda cobbled together into 20 minutes of some sort of token interactivity, and aerially dispersed onto Steam?”

      It’s already on Steam: http://store.steampowered.com/app/10180/?snr=1_4_4__13

    • Abundant_Suede says:

      Heh. But you at least have to pay for that. It might be jingoist trash, but it’s pricey jingoist trash.

    • Cugel says:

      In all seriousness, to think that any game is free from politics is to kid yourself. A game designed as overt propaganda would almost be less insidious than the salient message packaged in say CoD or Medal of Honour. And even a game like The Sims establishes constraints and implicit goals based on prevailing discourses of family, consumption and societal organisation. I’m not to say whether they are bad, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there.

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      Lars Westergren says:

      >Heh. But you at least have to pay for that. It might be jingoist trash, but it’s pricey jingoist trash.

      America’s Army 3 is free on Steam though.

    • Xercies says:

      I would say its a good thing to have these propaganda games, even the bad ones. Film did the same thing and they matured the medium, this could do the same thing with the medium of games. I like that they are doing this and i would say more of this. because well, we already have propaganda out there in the real world, you could argue some news media has propaganda. We already know how to sift through the ones giving a good message or a bad message so i would say. People are more intelligent then you give them credit for, they can dismiss a message as well as take it to heart.

    • Abundant_Suede says:

      @Xercies

      People are more intelligent then you give them credit for, they can dismiss a message as well as take it to heart.

      I’m afraid you’re going to have to back this statement up with some sort of evidence. Keep in mind I’m a U.S. citizen, so I’m understandably skeptical of this claim.

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      Rinox says:

      I just want to say that I understand your concerns, but this particular situation is fact, not spin. Back in the days they weren’t all trying all THAT hard to look like they weren’t all pigs. ;-)

      Besides, you, could say (more or less) the same about a film like Der Untergang or even Mesrine (about the French gangster).

    • PFlute says:

      People are more intelligent then you give them credit for, they can dismiss a message as well as take it to heart.

      People are also masses of psychological phenomenon with some beliefs boiling frantically under the surface of consciousness. Someone who is uninformed, gullible, or just someone who wants to believe something is a prime and easy target for propaganda, for stereotype reinforcing media, and whatever else. Frankly, the concept that people are choice-robots who can pick through media and choose what affects them does not accord with reality.

      That said I’m looking forward to playing the game!

    • Frank says:

      I have no problem with this. Games are a medium, and I don’t think it’s desirable to limit the scope of messages they send, nor reasonable to think you can. It sounds like you’d rather keep messages out of games, just to be on the safe side. Heh

      Or maybe you think that the distribution system matters? Is that it? There’s certainly a bigger barrier to getting this game (Steam + whatever engine is used here) than to getting Flash games, which folks have been cobbling together (often in fewer than 20 minutes), for years now.

    • JackShandy says:

      So it’s bad that people are making games that espouse a certain point of view, beause someone might in future make a game based around a point of view you disagree with?

    • Abundant_Suede says:

      @ Rinox

      I just want to say that I understand your concerns, but this particular situation is fact, not spin.

      Ah, well that’s a relief. Because people are always very candid about the politically charged docu-material sympathetic to their own viewpoints being spin, and not factual.

      I’m sure you’re right, but certainly you realize that anyone would say that of anything they are sympathetic to. There are all sorts of facts on any given issue, and politically charged material tends to limit the scope of the facts they are examining.

      .
      But this is precisely why I am not commenting on the subject matter of the game in question, but what the game itself represents. People may be sympathetic to this, and find merit in it, but it won’t take other people too long to notice. Political activists and corporate hawkers are quite adept at monkey see, monkey do, as evidenced by how quickly they co-opt any form of social media. There will be more that you might not feel the same way about. Or perhaps you will, if it has a sufficiently artsy candy coating, and you’ve been successfully indoctrinated. ;)

      Of course there is no escaping the political leanings of the makers of our artistic fiction, which applies to games the same as movies. But commercial games are created with the agenda of profit and broad appeal, are overwhelmingly aimed at younger/all-ages audiences, and being overtly politically driven and divisive would be counter productive in most cases. Jingoist trash has always been a big seller unfortunately, as anyone who grew up in the 80′s could tell you.

      This feels like the beginning of something a little different (curse my insistence on nuance). This is the advent of agenda-driven politically charged documentaries being featured and given out for free on the most powerful game digital distribution entity in the world. Except that young adults don’t like politically charged documentaries, because they suck. But they do like games, and they like them even more when they’re free.

      I guess I’m not questioning whether it should happen, in as much as I don’t think you could, or should, stop it. I have no idea what Steam charges to host a free “game”, but I suspect people are going to find it’s a fairly cost effective way to reach a target demographic with chocolate covered propaganda and marketing pitches. I’m just sad to see it happen, and not looking forward to the free games section on Steam becoming a cesspool of competing infomercials, activism, and political propaganda, over the next decade.

    • Abundant_Suede says:

      So it’s bad that people are making games that espouse a certain point of view, beause someone might in future make a game based around a point of view you disagree with?

      You say that like it’s somehow unreasonable.

      No, like a lot of people, I suspect, I’m just thoroughly shell-shocked right now by the inescapable megaphone of contentious propaganda in every aspect of media. It used to be some places were safe and people could restrain themselves. But no more. I just realize that once one person starts doing it somewhere, even someone I’m sympathetic to, other people have to respond.

      I have been clear I don’t think it’s something you could, or should, inhibit. But yes, I will admit to frequently finding a lot of the propaganda representing some of the viewpoints I am vehemently opposed to, very distressing. I don’t look forward to it proliferating in yet another circle I frequent. I am sure I am completely unique in that regard. I may not think it should be stopped, but I don’t have to be comforted by it.

      I do admit to looking forward to the first free games marketing herbal male enhancement on Steam.

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      Rinox says:

      To be honest, since it’s free, I don’t think Steam would even feature the game if it had any real (actual) political criticism or slant. :-) If it had, Valve’d have everything to lose and almost nothing to gain from featuring such a game.

    • Abundant_Suede says:

      To be honest, since it’s free, I don’t think Steam would even feature the game if it had any real (actual) political criticism or slant. :-) If it had, Valve’d have everything to lose and almost nothing to gain from featuring such a game.

      But this was one of my earlier points. Do we really want Valve making decisions about what constitutes sufficient artistic merit to accept a game? It brings the recent article here on Manhunt to mind. As long as it it conforms to ratings standards, once you open that door, you have to accept everyone.

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      Rinox says:

      But doesn’t that apply to any publication, corportation, media outlet, museum, magazine, school, person….?

      As long as they are not intruding on other people’s freedoms or beliefs, or shamelessly denying stuff like the Holocaust, it doesn’t really matter does it? Beauty and art need not be inherently linked to political or moral beliefs. I’m not Christian, but I am overwhelmed with emotion when I enter the Sacré-Coeur. I’m not a communist (let alone Stalinist), but I can appreciate the artistic influences in soviet-era propaganda posters.

    • caulder says:

      You say that as if something needs to be designed from the start as propaganda in order to be so. The thing is, cultural production is not free from class struggle. This kind of “passive propaganda” is a fact of life, even more so as we become more and more informationally overwhelmed. See the bloke a few posts above who immediately assumed Mossadegh was a dictator because hey, Third World plus anti-West means bad guy.

    • Raiyan 1.0 says:

      I was going through an old forum thread on the Escapist the other day, and I came across this interesting story. The OP was playing RE4 with his younger cousin, when they came across this Arabian figure (never played RE4, so can’t specify), and his cousin reflexively started shooting at him (even though he wasn’t hostile). Years of military FPS games had seasoned him to act like this.

      I’m a little terrified about kids being exposed to overt propaganda, lest they create their worldview around them. While I’m against the blocking of any media just because of its political nature, I can sympathize with Suede’s concerns.

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      Harbour Master says:

      I had an interesting discussion with Jonas Kyratzes (The Infinite Ocean, Phenomenon 32) a few months ago about games activism and agit-prop, and I put the question to him about whether we should be concerned about games being sharpened into tools of propaganda, and Jonas pointed out:

      “Every artform can be abused for propaganda, so there’s nothing really new there.”

      That’s pretty much it. Games are not going to be magically immune to propaganda but if we expect them to grow up and tackle subject matter like The Cat and the Coup, this is going to happen.

    • Abundant_Suede says:

      @Harbour Master

      That’s pretty much it. Games are not going to be magically immune to propaganda but if we expect them to grow up and tackle subject matter like The Cat and the Coup, this is going to happen.

      I agree completely. My dread is not that it might happen, but in the waiting for the other shoe to drop, precisely because I understand this is inevitable, and it’s likely to get pretty ugly.

    • vagabond says:

      @Abundant_Suede – Your argument basically boils down to “No one should ever develop any form of communication, since people will then be able to use it to spread lies or misinformation, and there are people who will believe it.”

      That’s going to be the case until everyone’s smartphone houses an AI capable of determining the objective truth of any SMSes it receives (and even then I’m sure they’ll get hacked). You just need to accept that it’s going to happen, but that the positives outweigh the negatives.

    • Abundant_Suede says:

      Having trouble getting a reply past the spam filter(so forgive my odd phrasing here), but I said the opposite several times.

      I don’t really think I was making an ar.gument, that I’m aware of. More than once I stated it’s not something that we could prevent if we wanted to, and we really s.hould not in any event.

      Hand wringing over seeing an unfortunate new likelihood on my digital gamescape, is not the same as advocating an end to freedom of expression. But it doesn’t mean I don’t get a little ill thinking about some of the things to come.

    • zal says:

      I feel the same way about propaganda in games, and its not just steam you have to watch out for.. I was just going through Good Old Games and I see yet another over patriotic sim blatantly using “The Great War” to overshadow the 14 year conflict right before it, simply because no ones alive who remembers it.

      So much GTVA tripe, trying to mask a generation of conflict by playing up a cliche coalition featuring an underdog hero we have no documented proof on post Sol-Node collapse.

      Anyone who’s well read knows the Vasudans didn’t want war, didn’t ask for it, and then were double crossed when they allied with Terrans against the Shivan menace. The Vasudan homeworld got scorched, and yet the T comes before the V in the GTVA.

      Its just wrong, and if that can just sit right there on shelves, then I think we can all agree that history isn’t written by the winners, its written by the entertainers.

  11. Cooper says:

    Caught this when it came out.

    Just bloody brilliant.

    Dear Steam / Valve: more of this, please.

  12. bluebogle says:

    So glad to see this got a write up on RPS. Really should be played by everyone!

  13. Premium User Badge

    Rinox says:

    Everyone who wants to read something nice on Iran and the revolution (and aftermath), get Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. It’s a wonderful book/comic. We think we understand a lot about Iran, but we don’t really.

    • Rii says:

      There’s also a film adaptation. =)

    • Greg Wild says:

      Seconded. People talk about Iran, but no-one really understands Iran. I don’t profess to myself, but for anyone who wants to read some non-fiction on the country, I strongly recommend:

      Iran: Empire of the Mind – Michael Axworthy. A superb history of Iran as a region, then country. It has a long and prestigious history. Axworthy does it the justice it deserves.

      Hidden Iran: Paradox and Power in the Islamic Republic – Ray Takeyh. It’s a brilliant dissection of the internal politics of the Islamic Republic. Don’t presume to know anything about the country’s politics until you’ve at least attempted to understand the internal dynamics. This is a good introduction.

      Mirrors of the Unseen: Journeys in Iran – Jason Elliot. This is a great look at Iran from a cultural perspective, and from a people perspective. It smashes any preconceptions you might have about who the “Iranians” are.

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      Rinox says:

      Thanks for the tips! Not very contemporary (at all, haha), but if you like poetry Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat is worth checking out. I like the Fitzgerald translation best.

  14. Shadrach says:

    Any game trailer featuring Erik Satie’s music is worth a look in my book.

  15. JackShandy says:

    Beautiful, but I can’t say it gave me any kind of decent grounding in the subject. The whole thing was just confusing. I’ll spend the next while wikipedia-ing the subject, though, which is half the battle.

  16. Hydrogene says:

    Very original take on a very complex issue.
    And we all know what happened after that coup against Mossadegh. The Shah was a modernizer but a ruthless ruler who jailed any kind of opposition and the popular unrest againt him brought another revolution, the 1979 Islamist revolution which put the ayatollahs in power. Well done CIA !

    • Greg Wild says:

      Another “Mission Accomplished”, you might say.

    • Shadrach says:

      Indeed, has the CIA ever done anything that’s not backfired at them years later?

      Anyway, played through it. Short and a bit confusing what to do. Lovely, lovely music though, and a good history lesson.

    • Abundant_Suede says:

      Indeed, has the CIA ever done anything that’s not backfired at them years later?

      Some people still swear by Jackson Pollock.

    • Navagon says:

      I always thought that the purpose of the CIA is to keep the US well enough stocked up on enemies that they’re somehow able to justify the country’s ludicrous military budget. They do that job very well.

    • Dozer says:

      My aunt and her boyfriend lived in Iran in the 70s. She wrote for a feminist magazine; he was an architect to the Shah I think.

      They both lost their jobs and had to leave the country quickly at the same time…

      I only learned of this when I discovered a 1967 highway map of Iran in a pile of my stuff when I was looking for something else. Naturally it is now framed and on the wall in the hallway.

  17. Navagon says:

    I just recently played this and it leaves no doubt that it’s worth every bit of the small amount of your time it asks for.

  18. Kakrafoon says:

    The Emperor IS benevolent.

  19. Vivian says:

    This, Chinese Room. Any other serious contenders?

  20. LennyLeonardo says:

    Yeah, this is great stuff. It’s weird that it barely qualifies as a game, yet the interactive element makes it ten times more powerful.
    Ok, that isn’t weird at all, actually, it makes perfect sense.

  21. Triki says:

    If anyone is interested in the visual style and wants some insight into miniature painting, Orhan Pamuk’s “My Name Is Red” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/My_Name_Is_Red) is a great novel set in the world of miniaturists during the time of the Ottoman Empire.

  22. KinkyJohn says:

    Just played this. It was like history, art, tragedy, and fun all combined in one riveting and affecting package with a cat.

    Most rewarding twenty minutes I’ve ever had without using lube.

  23. ThirteenthLetter says:

    So what?

    The coup against Mossadegh was so long ago that for many of the folks on this site, their parents weren’t born yet at the time it happened. Yes, it was a dumb idea. And? Is there anyone who disagrees with that? What’s left to learn here? And how is this coup, committed in the distant past by people who are all now dead, more important than, oh, say, what the non-coup, non-Shah, current theocratic government of Iran is doing to its people now entirely of its own volition? Perhaps the oh-so-brave authors of this “game” should turn their eyes to things that happened less than three generations ago.

    • Cryo says:

      It’s a prominent trait of conservatives that they have no sense of history whatsoever. Pretty funny for people who claim to want to live in the past.

    • Blackcompany says:

      Its an equally – if not more – prominent trait of liberals that they entirely lack any sort of foresight. Fore surely, we they possessed of any, they would undoubtedly realize that, when you try and use other people’s money to buy your way out of problems created by your ideology, the other people eventually run out of money.
      .
      You can’t buy a prosperous utopia for all by robbing it from some.

    • Cryo says:

      Thanks for proving my point by making random comment in no way related to the topic.