Report: Videogame designer sentenced to death in Iran

The US-Iranian citizen reportedly sentenced to death by the Islamic Revolutionary Court yesterday over charges linking him to CIA-funded spying previously worked for Kuma Reality Games.

In a televised "confession" broadcast on state television, former US marine Amir Mizra Hekmati allegedly admitted to spying on Iran, while in a written statement said that the CIA paid him to develop games designed to spread pro-US propaganda. 

Excerpts from the Hekmati's statement were published by the Tehran Times.

"[Kuma] was receiving money from the CIA to (produce) and design and distribute for free special movies and games with the aim of manipulating public opinion in the Middle East," Hekmati said. 

"The goal of the company in question was to convince the people of Iran and the people of the entire world that whatever the U.S. does in other countries is a good measure."

Kuma Reality Games' output includes several games based on western military activities in the middle east, such as the killing of Osama Bin Laden, and events which have taken place during the Arab Spring, like the capture and execution of Muammar Gaddafi.

The studio also released Assault On Iran, in which players were tasked with infiltrating an Iranian nuclear facility in order to obtain evidence of illegal uranium enrichment.

"There were hundreds of thousands of downloads in Iran," said Kuma CEO Ketih Halper, discussing the download with Gamasutra in May 2007. "We were denounced by name in the newspaper controlled by the supreme Ayatollah as a possible precursor to real US policy, which is absurd on the face of it, but speaks to the great power of realtime videogames as a storytelling medium."

While of questionable taste, Hekmati's name isn't associated with these "ripped from the headlines" episodic downloads, but instead with a "language retention toolset" for trainers and deployed soldiers, described as follows.

"Soldiers would: participate in machine-guided evaluative exercises; work with expert language trainers via network-based video game 'multiplay', repurposed here for remote learning; participate in iterative exercises conducted by culture-specific virtual characters and a world-class voice recognition technology to refresh and tune vocabulary and pronunciation; exercise their knowledge in intense, voice-enabled firstperson scenarios customized for their language skill level and mission-specific communication needs; participate in a global 'social' network of Soldiers and trainers – utilizing KUMA's advanced communications tools – for ongoing language and cultural guidance."

According to his family, Hekmati – a former US marine – was detained while visiting family in Iran last August. Iranian officials advised his family not to publicise the arrest as it would worsen the situation.

The White House has demanded Hekmati be released "without delay" and given access to legal counsel. It has also said that Swiss diplomats, representing US interests, based in Tehran have not been allowed to see him.

"Allegations that Mr. Hekmati either worked for, or was sent to Iran by the CIA are false," said White House National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor. "The Iranian regime has a history of falsely accusing people of being spies, of eliciting forced confessions, and of holding innocent Americans for political reasons."

Last year two hikers were freed after being held on similar charges.

We've contacted Kuma for comment.

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