Iranian Games Weirdness

This video popped up in my news feed this morning, and it was odd enough to merit a share. (Sorry, no embedded video.) It offers a small glimpse into the world of Iranian game production, as filtered through the lens of Press TV, the official English-language propaganda wing of the Iranian ruling council.


It appears to be a fairly straightforward report on a young national industry’s annual awards show, but it’s just a bit … off, and it winds up feeling like those videos of apparently happy hostages reading out propaganda statements while they blink “help me” in Morse Code.

Western games are popular among Iranian youth, but Iran doesn’t care for the Western cultural influence that goes with it.

Fair enough. I don’t care for it either sometimes. And even though their efforts seem to be somewhere around late-1990s level in technical and design quality, that’s to be expected in a young industry still working to build up their technological and talent base. They’re to be applauded for trying.

The video is a report on the National Foundation of Computer Games 2013 awards. The NFCG was created by the Iranian government to develop and promote the national gaming industry and fight the influence of offensive western games on their culture.

That’s not unusual. There are plenty of similar organizations throughout the world, and a culture as rich in history as Persia certainly has a great deal to offer through a creative medium like video and computer gaming, as long as they’re not making Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s ‘Let’s Wipe Israel Off the Map.’

In fact, there is a bit of that in Iranian games. Rather than the American military focus of domestic shooters, Iranain military shooters feature things like “Mohamad Marzoghi, an elite member of the Lebanese Hezbollah commando, sneaking through an Israeli military base on a mission to rescue a kidnapped Iranian scientist in the game Resistance (Tebyan, 2008)” and “a member of the Pasdaran Revolutionary Guards attacking and finally subduing Iraqi forces in the fierce battle of the Fao Peninsula in 1986 in the game Valfajr 8 (Tebyan, 2007).”

There’s also non-mainstream, amateur fare like Fighting the Leaders of Sedition, a free game that asks you to shoot real-life Iranian reformers.

For the most part, however, Iran downplays Islamic elements to focus on their Persian heritage with exotic “Prince of Persia”-style action games such as Quest for Persia.

This short video report makes me wonder just what’s going on in Iranian game development circles. Though the report is produced by Western talent working for Press TV, much of it just odd. For example:

  • One of the guys on the stage helping out with the award presentations appears to be a living statue version of slain Libyan dictator (and foe of Iran) Muammar Gaddafi. Try to imagine a comic Saddam Hussein giving out awards at the 2006 E3 to get an idea of how wrong this is.
  • The organization is called the National Foundation of Computer Games, and everyone is determined to stick with narrative by calling the things on display computer games, even though everything being shown appears to be a video game. That’s not a minor distinction in gaming. (There’s also an Iran Computer and Video Games Foundation, which may or may not be related. Maybe it’s People’s Front of Judea thing.) 
  • The kids are all shown playing Western games.
  • The one winner interviewed is a sound guy. He’s wearing a shirt with a yin-yang symbol on it. Remember, this video is aimed not at Iranians (who will never see it), but Americans, which is why Cool T-Shirt Guy was chosen for the sole interview. Look how understanding Iran is! We even let this guy walk around free!
  • At the 34 second mark, one of the games looks like something my kids did in basic computer class in grade school. You can see from Quest for Persia that they’re capable of better (though still primitive) work. Why not show that?
  • Near the 1:48 mark a woman is shown briefly, and without comment, attaching sensors to a child’s head and finger. I imagine it’s some kind of brain-machine interface device, but without context, it just looks rather alarming.
  • The randomness of the clips accelerates as the story goes on. At one point, for no apparent reason, we see a group of joking boys poised to fight with each other. Hidden message: games make children aggressive!

An Iranian game called “Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner” is getting some international attention, but wasn’t featured in the report. Maybe a game named for one of St. Augustine’s most famous quotes was just to much for Press TV. In any case, it looks like a pretty good 2D puzzler, and one I’d like to try: