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American Game Designer Sentenced to Death in Iran for Alleged Espionage

An Iranian-American developer has been convicted of spying in the reclusive Middle Eastern nation, and sentenced to be executed.

The video game industry is rarely touched by real world political machinations outside of the usual slate of government content bannings, debates over how they impact our children, and the occasional detour into real world war scenarios. In this regard, today's news that American game designer and former US Marine Amir Mizraei Hekmati has been sentenced to be executed in Iran for crimes allegedly pertaining to his own profession is perhaps the single most incredible and sobering convergence of the video game industry and the very dangerous political world that exists just outside of our chosen hobby/profession we've yet seen.

Hekmati during his trial.
Hekmati during his trial.

Hekmati, an American-born designer in the employ of war game developer Kuma Reality Games, was detained in Iran during a visit last August. Not long after, an alleged confession by Hekmati was published in which he purportedly claimed he was in Iran specifically to help develop propaganda-based video games designed to "manipulate public opinion in the Middle East."

The confession then goes on to claim that Kuma is specifically contracted by the CIA to develop software aimed at pushing American policy in the Middle East region. Hekmati's confession continued on Iranian state television in December, where he further confessed to being assigned by the CIA to work as a double agent within Iran's own government by gaining their trust and providing false intel, while reporting back to the US government.

It's an insane-sounding accusation that the US government has repeatedly denied, citing Iran's frequent history of detaining Americans in the country and eliciting forced confessions.

Unfortunately for Hekmati, Kuma's history within reality-based gaming may have something to do with his conviction. Kuma's raison d'être was, for a number of years, focused on making the reality-based Kuma/War. That game has included a number of scenarios in which players could track down and kill infamous terrorists like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Osama bin Laden. A recent entry in the series took place in Iran, and involved the country's controversial nuclear weapons program, tasking players with infiltrating a secret facility to destroy any such program.

For their part, Kuma has admitted to taking some contract work over the years to make training software for the US Army, but hasn't stated outright that Kuma, or any other projects the developer has worked on (which include games about everything from World War II to dinosaurs) were influenced in any way by the American government.

With Hekmati being found "Corrupt on Earth and Mohareb (waging war on God)," he has been sentenced to death. Because the American government has no political representation in Iran, the White House has called for Hekmati to receive legal counsel from the Swiss embassy, who represent American interests in the country. The government has also called for Hekmati's release.

We spend a lot of time when writing about the video game industry focusing on frivolous nonsense and reserving our concern and rage for relatively paltry consumer-minded issues, at least insomuch as they rank compared with the larger scope of the world's problems. It's times like these that make you realize exactly how minuscule the price of a new console or a piece of DLC really is in the grand scheme of things.

Alex Navarro on Google+