The Plight Of Iranians Trying To Make A Video Game About The 1979 Revolution

from the video-games-are-art-and-speech dept

Talk with someone who is from an older generation or someone who does not spend much time playing video games and you’ll often hear a common refrain: games aren’t art. Or, perhaps you’ll get a qualifier, claiming that games aren’t a serious form of art, or speech. For some of us, the silliness of those statements has been evident for a long time, particularly given that the courts have stated the opposite. That said, perhaps the problem has been the lack of a definitive example at which to point. Other forms of art have these examples that clearly denote the realm of artwork. The literary world is littered with examples, such as Salman Rushdie and the controversy around The Satanic Verses. Music is also rife with examples, from Bob Dylan to the Pussy Riot fiasco in Russia. Film too has its heroes in speech and art.

I submit that the plight of Iranian nationals attempting to make a game about the 1979 revolution ought to be gaming’s example. The story is a fascinating one involving several folks who have taken to hide their identities in order to remain safe while making a game that is likely to result in tension with their home governments. The story focuses on one Iranian who is working under the name Phoenix.

“I started working professionally when I was 17,” Phoenix said, in an e-mail exchange mediated by Khonsari. “I wanted to become an animator and thought that was the closest I was going to get to working on games, as there was no gaming industry in Iran to support that kind of work. I yearned to work on video games; I love them and dreamed of working on them…I just didn’t think it was possible.”

But it eventually dawned on him that a game like 1979 Revolution would change his life in more sinister ways. The ephemeral nature of the Iranian government’s thought policing means that Phoenix doesn’t exactly know if he’s being targeted. Nevertheless, he didn’t want to risk being wrong. After all, in these kinds of scenarios, you never know that you’re a person of interest until it’s too late. “I’m not sure if anyone is coming after me,” Phoenix said. “But I need to be cautious not only for my own safety, but also for that of my family. Also, Navid was written about and if they associated me with him it could be trouble for my family.”

The Navid mentioned is Navid Khonsari, who is headlining the 1979 Revolution project. Iran, now actively trying to foster an image of a kinder, softer version of the same theocracy that put a contract on Salman Rushdie’s head, has already dubbed Khonsari a spy and refused him any admittance to his home country. There hasn’t been any word yet about death sentences, but several team members on the project, including Phoenix, aren’t taking any chances.

Meanwhile, the game, which is still being developed, is already getting tongues wagging. Many commentators are skeptical about the historicity the game will attempt to portray, or the political motivations of the developers, or the fairness of the portrayal of all sides within. If this sounds familiar, it should, because this is the kind of discussion reserved for fictional artwork and speech surrounding the serious topics of our day. In other words, this game, and the plight of its artistic developers, ends the discussion about games as serious speech and artwork. If we believe that the makers of this game deserve protection from the Iranian government’s attempts to silence their speech, or discourage their activism, then we’re already thinking about this whole story in the framework of art and expression.

That said, it would be a mistake to denigrate the sacrifice these artists are making for their craft.

As for Mr. Phoenix, he doesn’t know when it’ll be safe to go home again. “There was no space for growth or to further my life experience,” Phoenix said. “Don’t get me wrong: there are many artists in Iran who are thriving and I have much respect for them. For me, it was about experiencing the world beyond Iran. My hope for this game is that people will learn what happened and have greater understanding for all people. From learning about their experience in the game, they might be more compassionate rather than dismissive.”

Sounds like an artistic hero to me, one who deserves commendations and support for his art and speech.

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Comments on “The Plight Of Iranians Trying To Make A Video Game About The 1979 Revolution”

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Sheogorath (profile) says:


Iran, now actively trying to foster an image of a kinder, softer version of the same theocracy that put a contract on Salman Rushdie’s head […]

You’re jokin’, you’re jokin’
I can’t believe my ears
I really must correct this guy
I’m drownin’ in my tears
It’s funny, I’m laughing
You really are too much
And now, with your permission
I’m going to do my stuff:
Iran have actually revived the fatwa.
(Lyrics nicked from ‘Oogie Boogie’s Song’ in ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Nothing New.

No it wasn’t. It was about fundamentalists using the abuses of the Shah to seize power when the people revolted against him. The Shah was a brutal dictator that was placed back in in power by a coup the CIA and MI6 organized in 1953 to over throw the democratically elected government in power at the time. It might be a good idea to do a little research and learn a little history before you open your mouth.

vancedecker (profile) says:

Re: Re: Nothing New.

you’re an idiot, it was the uneducated dumb masses, mostly from the countryside:

“The majority of the draftees came from the countryside and had little education…Khomeini ordered these young conscripts to desert, which they did by the thousands.”

vancedecker (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Nothing New.

You’re a fucking idiot! There is no bigotry in my statements whatsoever.

It was the dumb toothless masses who thought that Iran was “westernizing” too rapidly which fell for the Khomeini’s cult and promises of a Islamic paradise.

You obviously don’t know shit outside your anarcho-libertarian freegan trips to the dumpster, you stupid dumb fuck.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Nothing New.

Sure there is. And yes, of course westernization was an issue. The Shah was placed back in power with the support of the CIA and MI6 that abused the people embraced the western culture. The fundamentalists used that to further demonize the west, making it all about western culture against their fundamentalist traditionalist culture. They used that culture clash to fan the flames of the uprising and seize power in it’s wake. I said absolutely nothing about the education status or what part of the country the people came from that took part in the uprising. But since you mention it. The US embassy hostage crisis which was a critical event in the Iranian Revolution. Remember that? Those where mostly STUDENTS from the University in Tehran. That hardly qualifies as uneducated country folk.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Nothing New.

As for the bigotry in your comment:

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the majority of the people taking part in the uprising were uneducated. Ok that would indicate a lack of knowledge. There is a word for that, ignorant. But that is not the word you used. You called them stupid. Ignorance and stupidity is not the same thing. Stupidity is the unwillingness to learn. Mere ignorance can’t be faulted whereas stupidity on the other hand can. If they were merely ignorant yet you referred to them as stupid simply because they were Muslim, uneducated, and from the countryside where they lacked exposure to modern culture available in the cities, you bestowed on them partially due to their religion a negative label that they didn’t deserve which fits the definition of bigotry.

vancedecker (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Nothing New.

Just because you fill up a cup, doesn’t mean it was filled with water, you can fill it up with piss, you can fill it up with acid, you fill it up with all sorts of things.

Same thing here, these were stupid, uneducated fools, who had their heads filled with shit, and they went into the cities, and made war and put Khomeini into power. So yes many were stupid, those that weren’t stupid were ignorant, your distinctions are BULLSHIT!

You see the same thing in America today. The south and other areas which are not urbanized have larger populations of both stupid and ignorant people.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Nothing New.

WTF do cups of whatever have to do with anything I said? The words stupidity and ignorance don’t have the same meaning and you obviously conflate the two so that you can fling insults at people who are of a particular religion that you want to blame for many of the evils in the world when they decided they were tired of being oppressed and decided to do something about that. I can’t blame them for that. Did they buy into the philosophies of a opportunistic nut job that they allowed to rise to power in the Shah’s place that was also oppressive? Sure. Was it the fault of the people were mislead by murderous nut job that promised to lead them out of poverty in post-WWI Germany? We don’t blame the German people for Hitler’s atrocities. We blame him. If the west hadn’t put the source of their oppression in power against the democratic principles that the west professed to stand for for their own gain, then maybe the west wouldn’t have been so easily made the target of all of that anger.

vancedecker (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Nothing New.

You can blame Hitler, I blame dumb fucking German people. That’s why I don’t give a flying fuck when all these morons start crying about the Bombing of Dresden.

Not enough people were burned alive in my opinion. They should have fire bombed every single German city until the entire country was in ashes.

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