'We. The Revolution' Is a Bleak Morality Tale of Revolutionary Violence

The trick is knowing when to stop. Few people do. Revolutionaries, or game designers.

When We.The Revolution opens, you are an important but politically insignificant Parisian judge serving on what will become the Revolutionary Tribunal that sent thousands of people to their execution in the final years of the 18th century. As Judge Alexis Fidèle, your job begins as mere procedure. Each day you deal with a new case and a new defendant, you figure out what are the critical questions you need to ask, and then you conduct a thorough questioning before the jury until a verdict is rendered. Then you hand down your sentence, sign some forms, and go home to your family.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/pajbbm/we-the-revolution-is-a-bleak-morality-tale-of-revolutionary-violence
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I caught a glimpse of this game on a livestream and only particularly caught that the developer (Polystream) is based in Poland. I’m glad that Zacny’s had some chance to dig into this, as I was curious what kind of game would emerge out of it. In some ways, that this game is deeply cynical of revolution (to the point of nihilism) doesn’t terribly surprise me based on what I know about it’s background.

It is a shame, since the concept is so fascinating.

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Why is any position critical of the revolution criticised as an outdated 19th C reactionary viewpoint? The revolution had fundamental problems and depending on your interpretation it was not a net benefit to the people of France. From Furet: …If you try to push for democracy without having an adequate institutional basis for it, you will end up with terror, violence, and the suppression of dissent. "

Having completed the game, the thing is that it isn’t so much critical of the revolution ideals or leaders. It wants to make a spectacle of all the misery, corruption and violence of the times, not really to discuss the hows and whys. You plot against political rivals whose goals and opinions are never explored at all ; mostly they don’t like you, so you return the favor and use them as stepping stones to climb the ranks.
And as the game goes on, the way the revolution goes awry becomes mostly a backdrop for the story about Judge Fidèle and his family (which starts to get real stupid real fast, but that’s another issue). So the game doesn’t end up saying much about the revolution itself.
On the other hand, the trials you conduct, when they are unrelated to the main story, deal with a lot of interesting themes: gender politics, class warfare, interaction between the people, the church, the army and the state… Not always well, mind you (there’s a lot of badly written stuff dealing with women in this game, woof), but at least it keeps presenting those conflicts and lets you reflect on them with a more modern point of view. So it was disappointing to see this major part of the gameplay, which I enjoyed, get swallowed up by all the other systems towards the end of the game.

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Terror without virtue is fatal; virtue without terror is impotent.

It would’ve been a lot more interesting for them to explore the choices and ethical dilemmas of the revolution, instead of using it as a sort of window dressing.

Even after readying this verdict, I find myself really wanting to play this one. Even if it misses the mark (and gets lost in the woods along the way – take that metaphors!), it really sounds like a great concept for a historical game, and a failure worth learning from.