So maybe Iran’s not going to kill that American game developer after all

The BBC reports today the Iranian government has overturned the death sentence against the Iranian-American game developer who Tehran accuses of being a spy.

Judges had found the verdict against Amir Mirzai Hekmati was “not
complete” and referred his case to an affiliate court, a judiciary
spokesman said.

In January, Mr Hekmati was convicted of “co-operating with a
hostile nation, membership of the CIA and trying to implicate Iran in
terrorism”.

The US has urged Iran to release him.

The Tehran Times published Hekmati’s purported confession, in which he is said to have told Iranian intelligence agents that he worked with Kuma, a games company that produces the free-to-play Kuma/War series. Kuma/War games are based on real-life combat incidents and the series’ developers usually take their inspiration from the United States’ wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, although the most recent Kuma/War mission is based on the death of Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi.

The Iranian government has claimed that Hekmati told interrogators that Kuma/War is part of a U.S. propaganda campaign to manipulate public opinion in the Middle East.

The U.S. government has also denied that Hekmati is a spy and had demanded his release.

Whether the Iranian government actually has evidence that he is a spy or is simply holding Hekmati, who has also served in the U.S. Marines, as a captive/bargaining chip during the current international tensions between the United States and Iran remains to be seen.

President Obama is today scheduled to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss what strategies, which could include actual military options, may be employed to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. 

(Via Kotaku)

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.”

“The
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 Kotaku.com 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.