Video game maker linked to US prisoner in Iran

By Barbara Ortutay

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 10 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

But the war games are getting much of the attention.

Are they propaganda?

"Obviously, they are biased, like anything," said Ian Bogost, a game designer and Georgia Tech professor who wrote about Kuma in his book, "Newsgames." ''But I think it would be pretty bad Western propaganda if you took Kuma's existing products and dropped them in Iran."

Propaganda, he says, would be less subtle than Kuma's games, which are "really quite modest. Let's take this thing in the news and recreate it."

That said, it's hard to say how players in the Middle East would respond to games created in the West, he added — just as it's hard to say how American players would react to games created from Iran's perspective.

Kuma's "Assault on Iran" episode seeks to offer players "the most plausible scenario to delaying or destroying Iran's nuclear arms capabilities," according to the company's website. It was released in 2005. Two years later, Kuma's CEO Keith Halper told video game blog Gamasutra that the game was downloaded "hundreds of thousands of times" in Iran.

"We put Iranian and American gamers face to face, playing and talking together in a virtual space in a way that still eludes our real-world politicians," Gamasutra quoted him as saying in May 2007.

On its website, Kuma describes its war games as an "interactive chronicle of the war on terror" and says the company is "very sensitive and respectful of American and coalition soldiers and the sacrifices they are making every day." It says it donates money to two veterans groups — the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund and the Vietnam Unit Memorial Monument fund.

"They want to sell you on the experience that you get to do the battle," Kotaku's Totilo said. "You get to be the soldier."

He added that it would be easy to say that what Kuma is doing is "pro-U.S. military," in the sense that anyone who is recreating conflicts and letting people play from the American perspective is taking America's side.

"We have a whole host of movie directors and TV producers who, like Kuma, recreate real battles from an American perspective," he said. "And I haven't seen them as quickly accused of being a front for the CIA."

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