the artistry and psychology of gaming


Battlefield 3 in Iran

Battlefield 3 in Iran

Here, in Iran, we were waiting for the release of Battlefield 3 like the rest of the world. FPS games are pretty popular here, and this one was going to be a big one. But people got REALLY excited when they spotted the phallic symbol of our city, Tehran, in a promotional screenshot of the game. That phallic symbol is Milad Tower, as you can see in the feature image of this article, a telecommunication tower which is 435 m (1,427 ft) tall, making it the 6th largest tower in the world. I have never understood the beauty of the phallic symbols, and I think in a city like Tehran fighting heavy traffic, developing underground metro, and cleaning the streets from flowing sewer and mice should be considered a higher priority than erecting fascinating towers, but, anyhow, this erectile structure is something we’re supposed to be proud of. So imagine how pant-wettingly excited we (this “we”, I shall mention, excludes “me”) felt when we saw this pic:

At first I didn’t believe there was anything special about this pic. The city could be Tehran, sure. But there are two erectile structures in that image while there’s only one Milad Tower in Tehran. So my first thought was, meh, this isn’t Tehran. But then it was confirmed that a portion of the gameplay takes place in Tehran. In any other country this wouldn’t be an issue, but in Iran it is. We can look at the relationship between Iran and this country in three aspects. How Iran is pictured in the game, how the government has reacted to this game, and how Iranian gamers have reacted to it.

Iran in This Game

PLR, the villain terrorist group of the game, sounds like nothing in Iranian army or Revolutionary Guard. We know that they operate in Iran-Iraq and that they are most probably Kurdish, so they more sound like PJAK than anything else in the real world. They are a militant Marxist Kurdish nationalist terrorist group which are the mutual enemy of Iraq, Iran, USA and Turkey. They speak Persian which doesn’t make sense (they should speak Kurdish). Maybe they are modeled after another Iranian terrorsit group? PMOI, the People’s Mujahideen of Iran? Well, it might make some sense since they’re one of the most powerful terrorist groups trying to overthrow the regime, it’s just, they’re trapped in a ghetto and can pose no real threat now. My money is, PLO is entirely fictional and not rooted in real life.

So, are they a group funded by Islamic Republic? Nope, since they have just overthrown Islamic Republic and some dictator called Farokh Al-Bashir is now in power in Iran. Which is strange, because that name sounds Arab. We don’t have the Arabic article “Al” before our names. It gets weirder when it comes to our city, Tehran. Many signs are in Arabic.

Like this one.

 We share the Arabic alphabet, but our national language is Farsi (Persian), and the vast majority of our people don’t understand Arabic. Our signs are usually in Farsi and English. It would make no sense for us to write anything in Arabic. And we are not Arabs. There is an Arab minority, especially in the south of the country, while the majority are Persians. Persians and Arabs have fought their entire history against one another and usually a fair amount of racism and bigotry goes between the two. So it pisses Iranians largely to be associated with Arabs, because it would be like asking a KKK member if he’s black.

In short, this game portraits a very inaccurate, ridiculous picture of Iran. There has been some research but they haven’t discarded the incorrect stereotypes which is repeated a lot. And the story goes on to show that PLR has developed many nuclear bombs and is going to attack Paris and New York.

This game has come out in a very sensitive time. Iran has been accused of plotting to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador in Washington. A very condemning report on human right abuses in Iran is reported in the UN, plus, the IAEA report has been harsher than ever. Israel is talking about attacking Iran too much. Many republican senators are banging on the drums of war. The internal rift within the Islamic Republic is worse than ever. Iran has never been in a more troubled time. Iran is the land of crises, having two major revolutions, three major coups, some wars, and some major social uprisings in the last 100 years. This land has never been calm. But it has never been so stormy as well. Iranians feel the threat of war, and this game has come out at the wrong time, to say the least.

The default Iranian move is to jump on the conspiracy theory bandwagon. Many have called this game a propaganda to prepare the American public for the war. This might or might not be true. There is conspiracy in the world, and there is also propaganda. This game might be one. However, we can have no proof, and therefore let’s assume it’s not deliberate propaganda. What does it show now?

It shows that we have become the “bad guys”. Battlefield 3 is a popular action game and it needs a villain, and we have become a suitable villain. Each era has a suitable bad guy. It might be the Nazis, the Russians, North Koreans and Arabian terrorist groups, and now we’ve joined the club. This is not good news. If B3 is not deliberate propaganda, it shows that we’ve become a villain in the Western collective unconsciousness. Not good news.

Reactions to this game in Iran

The government has banned this game. This has happened before a lot. This year Witcher 2 was banned because it contained nudity. However it seems that this one is taken more seriously as some retailers selling it are fined heavily. I have searched the internet to see what the government says about this game but there’s no official response or decree. There are some gibberish conspiracy theory (linking everything to the Zionists) articles on conservative sites, but no governmental issue is there showing why this game was banned and how you would be punished for selling it.

The game is being sold of course, just much more expensively. Usually a game is 3 dollars, sometimes going up to 6. But B3 is being sold at at least 10 dollars, or even 20, 25, or 30 dollars, which is a lot of money. (A movie is usually sold at 1.5 dollars). In addition to that there are lots of rumors going around about what will happen if you buy this game. People say they will whip you- with varying numbers, from 20 to 60. Also there’s talk of ridiculous prison sentences. But all of these are baseless stupid rumors and are not true. Actually, you will face no punishment if you simply buy and play the game. No one is searching you for the game, and therefore no one is punishing you. However, it’s certain that the people who sell the game might face some consequences. They will be fined and maybe closed down for a few days.

The nonsensical rumors are not limited to the consequences of playing the game (none), but also about the content of the game. Many of my students have told me that you will kill many important personalities, which is false, since all the characters in the game are fictional. Many have said that you blow up and destroy Milad Tower, (you don’t), or the whole Tehran (you don’t).

If you listen to the word on the street, this game is about destroying Iran completely or overthrowing the Islamic Republic, and the consequences are worse than being caught drinking alcohol or watching pornography (both major crimes in Iran). The response has been exaggerated, dramatic and false.

And whatever this shows, I think it’s a proof of what I said earlier. We, as a nation, expect war and destruction. Some people act disgusted, some excited. Some are afraid of the thought of war, some rejoice it. However, we all think the worst is coming. Doom has shadowed over us.

As a gamer, I frankly don’t care much about B3. But as an Iranian, I believe it illuminates and brings out the dark aspects of western and Iranian collective subconscious about the prospect of war with Iran. And above all, it shows that we all find war to be inevitable, soon, and destructive. It doesn’t matter if that’s true or not. That shows how we feel, and how we feel is as important as how the things will actually play out.

And therefore, I’m worried sick.


  1. Hello Ali,

    Those are dark times for you, i bet. Citizens of a country under constant threat cannot live peacefully.
    I regret to say that i don’t condemn arbitrary destruction of Iran’s nuclear project, as Israel cannot put its faith at the hands of a man such as Ahmadinejad and his extremists. – saying that, bare in mind that i have great sympathy and respect to the sane majority (well.. hopefully a majority) of the Iranian people.
    It’s sad to see how absurd the current regime actually is, withholding its citizens things the one would consider not less than elementary in a liberal country (banning video games, come on..).
    As an Israeli i wish you all the best. I’ve been told stories by my father about Iran and its warm relationship with Israel, prior to the rise of the Ayatollah.

    And as for B3, Iranians are suddenly being shown as the “bad guys”, BUT, the game developers made it very clear that those “bad guys” are only a terrorist organization and therefore it does not give indication about the whole of the Iranian people.

    I wish the day of Iranian being the “good guys” again is not too far away.

    • Great to hear from you. :) You’ve raised some points that I can’t reply to publicly since I write with my real name but I appreciate your concern. :)

  2. Other countries ban video games, it’s nothing strange. For example, Germany bans any game that displays a swastika, even in an historically-accurate context – so no swastikas on the tails of digital WW2 Luftwaffe aircraft, for example. Actually that’s counterproductive since seeing the swastika makes gamers think more about the serious historical context of the game world they’re playing in, instead of just forgetting about it.

    I can also understand the current Iranian government not being happy about their country being portrayed undergoing an American military strike – they are very worried, almost paranoid, about that coming true.

    I really don’t like FPS games being used as a recruiting tool. America’s Army was the worst offender for that, but Battlefield 3 could easily fall into that category.

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  4. Ali i can say in the picture were the guy is holding the AT-4 rocket launcher that is in the early part of the game in Iraqi-Kurdistan an thats why you see arabic writing, but idk what writing is on the signs in the Tehran part of the game though, now as far as BF3 being a recruitment/propaganda tool that some think it is us here in the U.S. dont see it that way. Truthfully nobody i know or nobody i have played w/ really cares that part of it is based in Tehran an Mehrabad airport it doesnt make a difference we care more about the graphics an the game play. If i know 1 thing its that ppl here really dont want to go to war w/ Iran or anybody were just now finishing up 13 years of fighting, but the thought of insane ppl with nuclear weapons is something we take serious, i think i can speak for most ppl in the world that all anybody wants is to live in peace an raise a family and enjoy life. We do feel the pain of the iranian ppl after all our country was born out fighting for our freedom against a tryant. Hopefully one day ppl of all religions colors can live in peace side by side

  5. Ur concern is extremely appreciated,im wondering if there is a translated version available in iran or not?

  6. This is my first time pay a quick visit at here and i am really pleassant to read all at alone place.

  7. yeah that was really true.if the game was banned because its in iran it wasnt a correct choice to make and if it was correct so most of the the games are in russia,france,and afghanistan and whole arabic countries and in that case we should play games never ever

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