Iran's video-game developers find inspiration in America's best-selling Prince of Persia franchise.

The art of play.
May 26 2010 3:34 PM

Real Princes, Real Persians

Iran's video-game developers find inspiration in America's best-selling Prince of Persia franchise.

(Continued from Page 1)

As detailed in a recent Washington Post article, life isn't easy for Iranian video-game designers. Although Iran has many talented computer programmers, they are often raw and inexperienced. It's tough to rack up sales domestically, as the average Iranian does not have much money to spend on video games. Sanctions also make it difficult to market games in Western countries, and the threat of censorship and government interference is ever-present. Arash Jafari, a member of the team behind Garshasp, told the Post's Thomas Erdbrink that the game's Iranian release date was being delayed because of the political climate. "[P]eople are sad right now, worried," he said. "Some of their family members are in prison. This is not the right time to promote our game."

As a result of these market pressures, locally produced games are often incredibly cheap. According to Puya Dadgar, a project lead at Puya Arts, most of their games market domestically at $6 or $7 (in U.S. dollars), while selling from 25,000 to 60,000 copies. Even at those low prices, there's stiff competition from Western fare: Iran is one of the world capitals of software piracy and bootleg copies of games such as the Call of Duty series and Bioshock 2 can easily be found at street stalls or bazaars for under $3.

Advertisement

Iranian games aren't all swords and sandals. In comparison to the epics designed for overseas sales, many domestic games indulge in a fanaticism and intolerance that is all too current. It's not surprising that these rabidly anti-reformist, anti-American games are cheap and poorly made. (In that, they have much in common with the crummily designed Islamist video games coming out of the Arabic-speaking Middle East.) In Special Operation 85: Hostage Rescue, a first-person shooter developed by the ultraconservative Union of Islamic Students group, players rescue heroic Iranian nuclear scientists from evil American and Israeli soldiers. Despite the 2007 release date, the game feels like a rehash of 1990s-era relics like Doom. (Upon its release, Al Jazeera scoffed at the game's poor quality.) Fighting the Leaders of Sedition, a sloppily programmed shooter that's freely available on the Internet, is even more disturbing in that it asks you to shoot at the heads of Iranian reformists Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi, and Mohammad Khatami. (Mousavi, Karrubi, and Khatami all shoot back.)

Iranians who prefer a good, faux-Persian epic won't have to wait very long—bootleg copies of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time will surely be on sale in the streets of Tehran within days of the film's American release thanks to Iran's prolific DVD pirates. Iranian video game fans, it seems, are eagerly awaiting it. Jerry Bruckheimer himself was interviewed by the popular expatriate site Iranian.com and in the comments, Persian-speaking readers eagerly parsed the movie's plot and characters for references to the Shahnameh. After all, as one commenter noted, the Prince of Persia games have cultural resonance for real Persians: "[I]f you are Iranian and have kids anywhere between 12 and 42 that grew up in the west, they have probably played it."

Like  Slate on Facebook. Follow us on  Twitter.

Neal Ungerleider is a New York-based journalist who has traveled extensively in the Middle East. He writes about the region for True/Slant.