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The crisis in Iran in the early fifties is something that still resonates through international events today. Many in Iran justify their blood feud with the United States on the basis of the CIA’s intervention in their government, propping up the Shah back in 1953.

The game The Cat and the Coup was created to tell that story, and from that particular angle. It is a game that receives pretty high praise on the internet, probably not least of which because it is a free offering. It is quite different from anything else I’ve talked about on these pages, but it the subject matter and timeline fits very well within my Cold War theme.

It is a simple 2D puzzle game with very fanciful graphics illustrating the historical events in question. It’s not a genre with which I have a lot of familiarity, but it immediately reminds me of Samorost (also free) in tone, feel, and play style. It is considerable shorter and simpler, though, than Samorost. Like other games of its genre, part of the “puzzle” is figuring out what you’re supposed to be doing in the first place. There are no instructions, no back story, except that “you” can move (the cat) to coax the former Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh out of each room. We also find him on his deathbed.

The game is charming in its simplicity. You won’t be needing to google up walk-throughs to solve this one. Each puzzle uses similar mechanics, and has the same goal (moving from one “room” to the next). There’s no ability to save, perhaps because the game itself is so short. In reality, the game is unrelated to the “history,” and it is the latter that is the point of this exercise.

On this one, I try not to spoil the experience. If you want to see what the game is like, just play it. It’s short and its free.

The detail here are the scenes surrounding the game as Mosaddegh and his cat progress through it. In them are depicted the events that made up the crisis in Iran. It is a one-sided telling (justified or not); Mosaddegh is the only personage portrayed accurately as human. The CIA, for example, is a giant lizard and President Truman as a rabbit and the American Military (perhaps?) as a giant, mechanized pig being driven by a Nazi-hat wearing eagle, begin controlled by an English bulldog.

While the modern interpretation of events certainly does not put the West in the best of light, it is worth noting that Mosaddegh himself came to power after the assassination of the previous Prime Minister by a radical Islamist group, Fadayan-e Islam. Prime Minister Haj Ali Razmara was something of a moderate figure. Although a former General and appointed by the Shah, he proposed a plan for both decentralization and modernization. He managed to anger both the right and left; the former by cutting government patronage and the latter for failing to get good enough concessions in contracts with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, the British owned controller of Iran’s oil which was seen by the left (and many if not most Iranians) as profiting at the expense of the poor of their country. A particular thorn was it was known that other countries, such as Venezuela and Saudi Arabia, were operating under better terms.

After the assassination, Mosaddegh was appointed by the Shah, a long-time political opponent, with the backing of the Parliament. His policies emphasized social reforms benefiting the working poor and a reduction in the power of the Shah. On May 1st, 1951, Mosaddegh nationalized the Iranian oil industry, long a goal of his party the National Front, with an improbably unanimous support of the Parliament. This lead to a stand-off with the British government, who prevented Iran from selling its oil internationally without them.

The oil embargo had a terrible impact on the Iranian economy, and the political situation in that country rapidly deteriorated. Immediately preceding the coup, Mosaddegh attempted to dissolve the Parliament to give himself direct law-making powers. This was used a pretense for supporting his overthrow. While today most agree that the CIA had stepped out of bounds with its “Regime Change,” the events are hardly as clean as the modern interpretation would have it. Policy makers at the time saw the Soviet Union’s hand in an increasingly radical Socialist moving coming to power, and I’m not sure they’ve been proven wrong.

Within the greater Cold War contest, the success of the operation in Iran was probably a catalyst for future CIA operations throughout the world. Within a year, the CIA engineered the removal of Colonel Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán who had nationalized the land of the United Fruit Company in Guatemala.

All that aside, The Cat and the Coup is an nice little artistic piece telling a story about which most of its target audience (the English-speaking, first world game players) have little or no knowledge. Whatever shortcoming it may have, it was worth the time to play through.