Reports: Iran sentences American games developer to death for alleged espionage

This is a rare serious post on Tech-Out, but the most important story in gaming this week is not about the experience of playing games, but the Iranian government sentencing American game designer Amir Mizraei Hekmati to death for espionage.

From GamaSutra, via GiantBomb:

After the former U.S. Marine was detained while visiting Iran in August
(supposedly to visit family), local daily newspaper Tehran Times published excerpts from a purported confession
in which Hekmati admitted to helping create games designed to
“manipulate public opinion in the Middle East” at New York City-based
developer Kuma Reality Games, under the CIA’s direction and payroll.

Hekmati allegedly said, “[Kuma] was receiving money from the CIA to
(produce) and design and distribute for free special movies and games
with the aim of manipulating public opinion in the Middle East. The goal
of the company in question was to convince the people of Iran and the
people of the entire world that whatever the U.S. does in other
countries is a good measure.”

The U.S. government denies Hekmati worked for the CIA and condemned the Iranian government’s actions. From the Associated Press.

The State Department called them a “complete fabrication,” and White
House spokesman Tommy Vietor added that “allegations that Mr. Hekmati
either worked for or was sent to Iran by the CIA are false.”

Iranian regime has a history of falsely accusing people of being spies,
of eliciting forced confessions, and of holding innocent Americans for
political reasons,” Vietor said in a statement.

Kuma Reality Games has published its Kuma War series of war-themed games since February 2004. The free-to-download games are presented as episodes, most frequently from real conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The series debuted with a two-part episode intended to recreate the death of Saddam Hussein’s sons, Uday and Qusay Hussein, in the early aftermath of the American-led invasion of Iraq.

The series’ most recent episodes feature the deaths of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi and al Qaida terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. Most of the playable missions listed on Kuma’s website are based on actual U.S. engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, but Mission 58, “Assault on Iran” is an attempt to create what Kuma describes as a plausible scenario for a Special Forces strike aimed at neutralizing Iran’s nuclear capability.

Kuma’s mission descriptions are undeniably pro-American, but that of course is no evidence that Hekmati committed espionage or that Kuma Reality Games is a CIA front. Kuma head Keith Halper did, however, tell that the company has produced training software for the military.

I honestly wouldn’t be shocked if the CIA tried to use games to influence popular opinion, but it seems like a waste of taxpayer dollars when the makers of the Call of Duty and Battlefield series are spending millions on games that show the U.S. military in a positive light. That bit of semi-paranoia out of the way, I have a harder time believing the Iranian government and Hekmati’s purported “confession.”

My guess is that the Iranian government won’t really execute Hekmati, and that his trial and imprisonment is just one big show amidst the current diplomatic crisis between Iran and the United States. That prediction, of course, depends on whether or not the U.S. and Iranian navies end up shooting at each other in the Straits of Hormuz.

  • Paul

    yes, the machine is still working quite well. Company money / funding tends to do that. It’s an inherent risk… If you want to play, you have to pay. I hope he is released soon, although # real days of imprisonment = # of days Iran feels it saved face.