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Digital Borderlands: Soft War as Discourse in Iranian Video Games

Published onDec 15, 2022
Digital Borderlands: Soft War as Discourse in Iranian Video Games

 Culture industries, from video games to the movies, are inextricably linked to the politics of information control in Iran. With tight controls of the internet and cultural production, the Iranian government decides what cultural products go on the market to fit their soft war strategy—the ideological control of the state’s narrative and the curtailment of all incoming information that challenges the image of a Persian legacy based on history and myth (Jones and Newlee 1).  Because video games are important cultural artifacts that serve as a form of interactive entertainment across a variety of categories, including gender, social class, age, and national origin, the Iranian authorities seek to prevent the influence of Western video games on youth and thus offer a highly curated and censored game industry (Šisler 172). Game content is perceived by Iranian authorities as impacting youth since those who play video games are not passive observers but rather are actively engaging with content, other players in the moment of play, and online communities during post-game play. Games are thus designed not only for the creative and immersive needs for players but are also cultural objects that happen to converge on the borders of digital technology and commerce while reinforcing group identit(ies), game company objectives, and the influence of both state and non-state actors (Fornas et al. 1, 2). Understanding the impact of video game multimedia on consumers, the Iranian authorities have spent 1.31 trillion rials ($5.24 million) on video games between 2020 and 2021, while approximately 23 million individuals in Iran identify as having played some form of game (“Iranians”; IRCG 7).

Iran presented itself as a unique case study as previous scholarship has argued that Iranian game designers rely heavily on European and US models when envisioning in-game rules known as mechanics (Šisler). The scholarship also argues that Iran’s game and gaming industry is not predicated on its own culture but rather consists of a culture of hybridity (Šisler). Metadata based on the content from Iranian video games conveys significant meaning about Iran, particularly the government. However, current metadata practices alone do not provide the clearest image of how the Iranian state impacts the game industry. In this paper, I analyze the video game industry in Iran by describing the contours of the Digital Borderlands digital humanities project, including the use of discourse and metadata analysis to elucidate the impact of myth-narrative formations in video games. Throughout the paper, I argue that the Iranian authorities sought to use soft war and soft power in video games by relying on historical moments and in some cases popular poetry linked to specific narrative-myths to control the state narrative and information flow into Iran. In doing so, I use discourse and metadata analysis to dissect digital cultural artifacts to better understand how video games are intentionally made to invoke a semiotic message or mode of signification through cultural signs and icons.

The Digital Borderlands Project

During the autumn quarter of 2019, I began the Digital Borderlands project collecting metadata on Iranian video games using the UW Video Game Metadata Schema (VGMS) with the intent of building a website on Omeka Classic. Omeka, a free and open-source content management system (CMS), allows researchers to build and publish exhibits for cultural heritage projects. My initial project aims included using the Omeka platform to exhibit Iranian video games, as I discovered early on for this research that not many gamers or academics knew about the Iranian video game industry. At the time, I noticed a lack of information about this industry when doing a simple Google and Wikipedia search. After completing a thorough search and reading several articles on the Iranian game industry, I wanted to further understand why gamers in Iran often do not play Iranian-made computer games and how US sanctions and the Iranian game industry came to influence game content. As I positioned games made in non-western contexts using the VGMS as a guide for thinking with video games’ cultural themes, I learned that using current metadata schemas proved both challenging and obfuscating of essential cultural data. The VGMS did not align well with Omeka, because the Omeka CMS uses the Dublin Core Metadata Element Set, with a mere fifteen core elements. Exploring metadata, despite the challenges I faced aligning varied schemas, allowed me to analyze how the Iranian video game industry uses symbolic imagery to invoke a state narrative as a form of information control in Iran and against foreign entities.

Despite finding that the state does not successfully use video games as state-sanctioned propaganda in Iran, Iranian video games are catalogued so that the reader can gain better insights into the image that the state sought to create and situate Iranian state-imagined cultural artifacts within the international flow of game production. My metadata analysis shows the prevalence of cultural elements present within video games that sought to convey Persian culture using images, narrative, and even mundane objects in games. The main cultural elements include stories from the epic poem Shahnameh, the concept of Sacred Defense, and Iranian authorities’ soft war strategy against the West. To exhibit these cultural elements more clearly, I incorporate tabulated blog posts to explain the Iranian game industry, US sanctions, and methodology on the Digital Borderlands website. In doing so, I show these cultural elements from a local Iranian context in a broader global framework while bringing to the fore discourses of nation building and exchanges between nation-states.

In a terse blog post entitled “About the Project,” I explain the project goal to elucidate the desire of the Iranian gaming industry to disrupt Western expansion of media in Iran. However, Digital Borderlands’ “Methodology” provides a deeper explanation of the methods for data collection and discourse analysis as a genealogical account of games in Iran. To make the process legible, I explain how video games are cultural artifacts that deserve a deeper understanding as objects that possess and manifest as a dialectical exchange between nation-states. The dialectical exchange, in the case of Iran, occurs when video games are created in direct response to perceived threats to its image. In other words, video games that are made in Iran are created for an intended purpose—Persian identity presented and adapted in cultural multimedia to communicate with and to interrelate to an oppositional force (Cheong and Gray 266). When Iranian authorities perceive an information campaign by the US or the West that seeks to undermine the narrative of Iran as a great nation in video games (e.g., Assault on Iran, Battlefield 3, Call of Duty, 1979 Revolution), they ban that game and then respond by supporting cultural center or game companies that create games to oppose the other Western made games (e.g., Special Mission 85, Mir-Mahna, Cry of Freedom, Breaking the Surround of Abadan, and Alvatan Battle). Rather than make an argument, Iranian authorities present a censored form of video game content that reflects their point of view of the West, an opposition to the West, and information containment in Iran. In other words, the logic of video games in Iran exists as a contradiction between the idea of preserving Persian myths, history, and cultural truth while at the same time envisioning content to retaliate against a foreign entity. Throughout the rest of the “Methodology” section, I lay out a framework based on Michel Foucault’s theory of discourse, proposing that Iranian video games are socio-historically constructed yet persuasive accounts that demonstrate political consciousness.

In “History of the Iranian Game Industry,” I describe the evolution of the gaming industry in Iran from 1979 onward and detail the importance of the Iranian authorities’ grasp on the cultural industry of games in Iran. Video games are a political and virtual space for the presentation of an authentic Islamic and Iranian culture and thus are heavily surveilled. Beginning in 1979 with the founding of the Islamic Republic of Iran, a charged political sphere emerged where political authorities sought to warn of the dangers of Western cultural attacks (Malekifar and Omidi 173). All forms of media were highly regulated and censored. Yet, during the Iran–Iraq war the popularity of Western-made games rose significantly in Iran with first generation games consoles like the Atari VCS 2600 (Ahmadi 271). The Iranian game industry itself became more extensive during the 1990s and 2000s with semi-governmental game development companies like Kanoon, which produced games focused on culture and education. With the growth of internet cafes, the Iranian authorities focused on quality and access to network services in addition to content management online, known as the filtered internet (Rahimi 102). In 2006, the Iran Computer and Video Games Foundation (IRCG) was founded with the intent to set higher standards for video game content under the recommendations of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. At the same time, Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei created a bureaucratic agency known as the National Information Network (NIN) to maintain the functionality of the internet and filter domestically obtained information online. With both agencies overseen by Iranian authorities, including the Supreme Council of Cyberspace, multimedia content online—from video games to social media—was to be maintained through a process of geopolitical control and surveillance known as soft war. There are more than 140 game development companies that are responsible for production and distribution of video games in Iran, all of which must promote “nationalism and the Iranian–Islamic culture” (IRCG “Iran’s Game Industry.”; Shahnahpur 78). To promote Iranian–Islamic culture in video game content, companies are guided by Iran’s Entertainment Software Rating Association (ESRA), which analyzes (IRCG 17, 18):

  • displays of harm and impact on mental experience (violence)

  • prohibition of social taboos (tobacco and drug, sexual stimuli)

  • vulgar actions (sexual stimuli)

  • atmosphere of insecurity and pessimism (fear)

  • violation of Islamic principles such as displays of gambling and sacrilege (religious values violation)

  • vulgar language that impacts youths (social norms violation)

  • despair and sorrow (hopelessness)

ESRA also determines the video games rating based on multiple perspectives from player, analyzer, narrator, and observer.

While the main point of “History of the Iranian Game Industry” is to show the growth of soft war and sacred defense as a strategy in the video game industry, the “US Sanctions” blog post explains how the game industry has been adversely impacted by US-imposed sanctions, leading to “deprivation of new and advanced technology” (Shahnahpur 78). The US has a long history of economic sanctions against Iran since 1979. For the game industry, Iranians who create games are unable to access to top-tier technology or promote their developed games on pivotal marketplaces such as Apple and Google stores. The blog post in part serves as a critique of President Donald Trump’s maximum pressure policy as a punitive measure on the Iranian economy. President Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal (formerly known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)) in 2018 prevented Iranians from accessing online spaces such as websites, multimedia sharing, social networks, digital subscriptions, and popular online services like Riot Games or Activision—Blizzard’s World of Warcraft. While Iranian gamers can use virtual private networks (VPNs) to encrypt their connection and mask their location, enabling them to use online content like social media and video games. But VPNs inevitably hinder the gaming experience with terrible lag. Together, sanctions and state censorship serve to make the internet less accessible in Iran. Meanwhile, the blog posts “Gamers in Iran” and “Gender and Gaming in Iran,” delve into the statistics of the gamer community, and how Iranian women experience hurdles in gaming cultural spheres, particularly with participation in tournaments. Iranian women can face fines if they attempt to play in game cafes or tournaments. And while women can play online, they face tremendous backlash from observers, especially if they stream themselves on Twitch—a gamer streaming platform. Experiencing deliberate harassment and trolling is one reason Iranian gamers may hide their gender and choose to not stream themselves gaming online, in addition to potential imprisonment. In many ways, Iranian gaming communities can be described as an extension of the public sphere in Iran: women can face oppression from male gamers, state-aligned trolls, and the cyber police. Yet, women make up one third of the gaming community online despite acute backlash. Playing online while pretending to not be women thus provides a lifeline to gamers who seek to engage and live their lives as gamers among online communities.

Although a part of the Digital Borderlands project focuses on the contours of the game industry and its users, the project’s main aim is to exhibit cultural artifacts while providing the Neatline plugin to map cultural artifacts geotemporally so that the site clearly shows the production of video games in Iran through an interactive feature corresponding to the location and time of each video game’s creation. By presenting a visual model of how Iranian games create discourse and counter-discourse with the global game industry, the Omeka site shows that the themes present in Iranian videogames function as discourse on Western-made games (e.g., Special Operation 85 versus Assault on Iran). Whereas some games encoded by the Iranian state as neither Iranian nor a product of the West—despite tremendous influence of diaspora Iranians—did not make it on the Neatline (1979 Revolution: Black Friday for example), Garshasp did as it was not labeled as subversive by Iranian authorities even though the game was finished in Texas. In the following sections, I further address how video games like Garshasp are products of discourse and myth building by Iranian authorities and how cataloguing and metadata analysis lends itself to understanding the world building in Iranian video games.


The Digital Borderlands project demonstrates that Iranian video games are products of a specific discourse meant to invoke nationalism through history, current events, and myth. Indeed, this very agenda is both a soft war and soft power strategy among Iranian authorities who support yet censor the various companies that produce video games throughout Iran. This analysis is based on cataloguing and analyzing 30 video games developed in Iran from 2005 through 2018, and inspired a separate exploratory digital humanities project entitled Digital Iran: Anticolonial and Imperial Narrative of Iran in Video Games (2020) that provided a close reading of several games (Cohoon et al.). Through distant reading of video games using subject, theme, author, and production date, the Digital Borderlands video game Dublin Core metadata and tagging shows that the video game industry provides clear representations of both real and imagined histories, and thus affords a construction of cultural memory through historical moments and counterfactual events which influence the ways in which the past and present are thought about among Iranian citizens (Begy 1). This paper argues that the Iranian authorities influence video games as a form of soft war, which is transposed onto game content so that a particular discourse is not only shown but carried out semiotically through the entirety of a game. By comparing a close reading model to the overarching themes presented in distant reading throughout both Digital Borderlands and Digital Iran, I aim to provide an analysis of Special Operation 85 (2007), The Flight of Dowran (2017), Devil in the Capital (2017), and Garshasp (2011) as games that highly vary in narrative and gameplay mechanics but seek to achieve a sense of Iranian nationalism through game content.

Under the supervision of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, the IRCG ensures that video games invoke the concept of Iranian identity as Islamic, Persian, and deeply rooted in history. Yet, it is this historical and myth-based narrative of Iranian identity that seek to connect to feelings of nationalism in direct response to US made games that establish a sense of American exceptionalism (Payne 94). As Call of Duty or Battlefield 3 creates a sense of American exceptionalism, Special Operation 85 (2007) emphasizes the same discourse in Iranian culture, one of greatness since time immemorial. Special Operation 85 thus highlights the theme of Sacred Defense (defa-e moqqaddas), which aims to illustrate “heroic acts of the Iranian soldiers at the warfront” through their “martyrdom, bravery, resistance, and fealty to higher cause” (Shahnahpur 79). This rhetoric of Sacred Defense invoked in games like Special Operation 85 is celebrated in Iranian culture, usually in defense of the Iran–Iraq war and commemorated yearly (Cohoon 6). However, Special Operation 85 uses the theme of Sacred Defense somewhat different than The Flight of Dowran, which explicitly reminds the player of the Iran–Iraq war through combat fight simulation. Instead, Sacred Defense is used in Special Operation 85 to refer to “an ideological struggle with the US” and Iraq (Šisler 177).

Special Operation 85 was produced in direct response to the US game Assault on Iran. Metadata and discourse analysis of Special Operation 85 provides a particularized cultural moment and memory for the makers of the game. The game is a first-person shooter with eight levels developed by Ali Reza and produced by the Association of Islamic Unions of Students in Isfahan, Iran. The game begins with US military forces capturing Iranians during a pilgrimage. The player must kill US and Israeli soldiers while playing the character Bahram Nasseri. Although the VGMS allows only three themes, Dublin Core’s metadata schema offers more controlled vocabulary through its tagging option which I follow instead of fully complying with the VGMS schema. For the Omeka game tags, I use espionage, martyrdom, and Sacred Defense to describe the game, in lieu of VGMS controlled vocabulary themes of sacrifice, violence, and martyrdom. I find that the more relevant the tagging of cultural data the better that data explains the game’s actual content. Special Operation 85 is thematically soft war, as I argue that it was made with the intent to dispute the representation of Iranians in the US game Assault on Iran (2005). After collecting the metadata as a form of distant reading, a close reading of the narrative content suggests that the discourse of Sacred Defense is in continuity to multi-discursive and non-discursive facets within the Iranian game industry’s soft war strategy. To further elucidate, the discourse of Sacred Defense obeys certain rules and requires concretizing the historical memory and current global relations. Yet, the meaning of Sacred Defense has become not only a social process, but a concept transformed by the transition and effects of wider processes for a particularized social meaning (Fairclough 52). For example, Special Operation 85 takes place in Iraq; Iranians were imprisoned on their way to Karbala by US soldiers. In restoring the cultural memory of the Iran–Iraq War and simultaneously the current issues with US–Iranian relations, the game is thus “born out of multiple determining elements” in which a game is not merely a product, but rather several effects fostered by a specific political landscape (Foucault, Politics 64). As such, the game has historical yet felt memory invoked in its narrative based on a collective understanding of martyrdom during the Iran–Iraq War and a powerful expression of its own mythological destiny of exceptionalism (Payne 8). While Sacred Defense in the game embodies the hope and religious values of ESRA by reinvigorating the Iran–Iraq War and how Iranians stood bravely against the nation’s enemies in the name of preserving the foundations of Islam, the driving force to make Special Operation 85 is also a countermeasure of soft war towards the US. In other words, the cultural industry of games in Iran constitutes a part of the Iranian authorities’ soft war strategy to evoke the memory of martyrs in video game content (Akhavan 64, 65). Yet, at the same time, the game industry becomes a mouthpiece for the state to curtail the flow of information into Iran from the United States by producing disinformation and curating a state narrative based on Iranian imperial legacy as well as counterfactual and historical data (Cohoon 1). The video game propaganda machine seeks to regulate emotions and feelings of users, which also falls under ESRA. If the game industry seeks to prevent hopelessness, then it employs mechanisms of hope through nationalistic paradigms. When placed in context with the signifiers and significations of the post-Iran–Iraq war, it becomes clear that Special Operation 85 is intimately linked to the metaphoric embodiment within political consciousness among everyday Iranians (Saramifar 133). In this sense, cultural memory is as much about multimedia engagement as it is a particularized political consciousness. Deviations from the norm would not be supported. A game where the US is the exceptional would not have its place in Iran because the soft war agenda of Iranian authorities prohibits such adverse accounts.

Games are derived from a particularized cultural context as they are culture in the making. Although Special Operation 85 depicts Sacred Defense through a transformative lens whereby the term invokes not just the martyrdom of the Iran–Iraq war but martyrdom of Iranian and US political conflict, The Flight of Dowran takes a more traditional discourse approach to the meaning of Sacred Defense. The game is an air battle simulation with motion comic narrative. The player takes the perspective of an Iranian Air Force pilot completing aerial attacks on the southern borders of Iran, Kharg Island, Abadan, the mountains of western Iran, Paweh, Majnoon Island, Basra, and Qasr-e Shirin. The Iranian government in the game essentially calls for battle essentially against Iraq as Saddam Hussein sought to conquer Tehran, calling the Iranian Air Force cowards. Described as a story of courage against formidable Iraqi foes, the interactive nature of the game subjects the player to Sacred Defense by having them experience enemy infiltration. Developed by RSK Entertainment and Strategy First in Tehran, Iran, the game’s narrative is modeled on Sacred Defense as it emphasizes war and resistance to Iraq, implicating Iraq as both the foe and the other meant for conquering while corresponding itself to the official discourse of soft war. Since it is the goal of the Iranian authorities to use game narratives to reinvigorate the Iran–Iraq war, it becomes re-articulated in the minds of the player by evoking Iranian–Islamic national identity and then linking political consciousness of the past to the present through the dynamic of soft power. Despite having only two hours of gameplay, the game content in The Flight of Dowran does the work of the Iranian state by utilizing the tactic of soft power by serving the overarching goal of soft war as it operates as an ideological campaign linked to the politics of control, or in other words, involving historical memory in curated game content seeks to contain and persuade the player of Iran as a bastion of Persian culture thwarting potential conquerors while seeking to prevent the spread of foreign ideas into Iran.

Iranian leaders have come to impact the content of the video game industry in Iran by promoting narratives of resistance to those who seek to undermine Persian identity and tailoring “local conditions and audiences in order to establish affinities and points of connection” (Jones and Newlee 2). By preventing incoming foreign ideas through mechanisms of information control, the state also promotes its own worldview globally by exporting its ideas into video games. Devil in the Capital, developed by RSK Entertainment and produced by Strategy First in Tehran, Iran, is a good example of a game produced as a counternarrative and soft power tactic against the US such that its own ideological campaign is at odds with the past. Devil in the Capital uses historical memory through narrative fiction. The game’s background story involves the nationalization of the oil industry in Iran that sought to cut off the ties of oil to Britain. In particular, Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh sought to nationalize the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (later British Petroleum Company) in part to establish Iranian national sovereignty and sever British control over the oil sector in 1952. While the US would eventually respond to Iranian oil nationalization by having the CIA overthrow Mossadegh in 1953, the game focuses on the year 1952 when a series of murders occur to prepare for the eventual CIA coup. The player takes the point of view of detective Mohammad Afshar and seeks to solve the crime problem in Iran through point and click gameplay. Like Special Operation 85, Devil in the Capital clearly invokes a particular historical memory. While Special Operation 85 focuses on the memory of the Iran–Iraq War and presents an imagined occurrence between Iranian hostages and US soldiers at Karbala, Devil in the Capital’s overarching narrative focuses on foreign and domestic politics with Iran and links the fictitious murders to citizens scheming with foreign entities. To tag Devil in the Capital, rather than using VGMS controlled vocabulary for the themes for conspiracy, espionage, and death, I expand on the theme of espionage to include US and hegemony. I do this in part because the game semiotically disputes previous US hegemonic power relations with Iran. With a cursory glance, Iranian video games are conveying historical and felt memory, culture, and social norms. However, Devil in the Capital employs soft power as a tool to call out US espionage.

Soft power and cultural memory are not only used in historically reimagined games like Devil in the Capital. Garshasp allows the player to take the perspective of the mythological Garshasp, a hero and Shah of Pishdadian dynasty in Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh, a pivotal piece of epic poetry in Iran. Based on Zoroastrian text from the Avesta, the player must slay ferocious monsters known as Deevs who roam the lands of Khunirath. Led by Azhi Dahaka, the Deevs bring about suffering to humans. Through a series of quests, Garshasp seeks revenge against the Deev Hitasp, who not only killed Garshasp’s brother but also plans to destroy Siavoshgard, a village home to Paladins. The story and game based on Garshasp’s journey and heroism may, at least at face value, place Persian mythology at the fore. Despite the hack-and-slash gameplay to ward off armies of darkness, the message or iconography in the game is a palimpsest of premodern visual aesthetics. The player is met with Lamassu reliefs, a protective deity from an ancient Mesopotamian religion, throughout the caves that are reminiscent of the Gate of Xerxes in city of Persepolis, as well as wind towers typical of Iranian desert architecture during the Achaemenid era. Met with ancient iconography, the player also hears bagpipes and Gregorian chanting. The game fixates on the everlasting existence of something Iranian. Or rather, by using the legacy of Shahnameh, Garshasp continues the Persian nationalist myth of existing since time immemorial. Such myths have become retroactively embedded with political consciousness, serving as a political mode “of imagining where a single centre of power oversees a linear unfolding of truth (i.e., as a fixed narrative or programme)” (Fernée 103). This myth making neither hides nor flaunts, rather it is a distortion of history through inflexion (Barthes 240). The soft power mechanism of games like Garshasp thus relies on a transnational Persian culture and heritage, wherein the Iranian cultural game industry designs with the intention to conjure memories, myth, history, and even instances that seek to disrupt misinformed perceptions of Iran.


Video games can be analyzed through the deconstruction and then reconstruction of the underlying meanings. Discourse analysis as a method shows how objects manifest a dialectical exchange on a global and local scale. Beyond discourse, my project illustrates interconnections between video games as digital objects, subjectivity, and social worlds. Video games, in Iran and across the globe, manifest as socio-historical discourses and are mutually constituted. Games construct and reconstruct histories and historical imagination, which can then be connected within the social strata across time and space. This comes to fruition within a games’ materialization of “the forces, energies, and affective potentialities of human beings” through narrative making, that inevitably become part of the “natural, built, and [digital] environment” (Navaro-Yashin 27). Digital spaces, while constructed, showcase the forces and energies through a highly specified cultural and historical experience. Video games, then, are a concerted carnival of discourses made up of “morals, ideals, and metaphysical concepts” through the rise of interpretations on the stage of historical process (Foucault, Language 152, 161). Because games are often activated forms of knowledge passed down from a cultural context, video games like Special Operation 85 materialize as a persuasive argument by, for, or against, a norm or claim made in a previous game.

The game industry in Iran seeks to invoke a persuasive narrative strategy of soft war to control information flow. To accomplish this task, Iranian authorities use the video game industry to reinvigorate historical memory and myths to create (counter)discourses to Western media. Digital Borderlands provides a unique way of analyzing video game narratives that seek to invoke a specific cultural nuance and soft war strategy. Although video games are an immersive entertainment setting for players, video game content is catalyzed for nationalistic aims to generate a particular world view and collective sentiment of nationalism. For Iranian made games, I have sought to lay out how Iranian games are a “defaulting of political discourse” (Barthes 143). Even more so, the deep resistance in these games’ narratives suggest the imperativeness of counter-discourses to perceived ideas of culture. Ironically, because these games are state-sanctioned forms of nationalism, they also produce their own discourse of identity, history, myth, and culture. In a way, institutionalizing the nationalistic narrative of Iran creates a complexity within the game that is unlike Western made games. By challenging the Western cultural industry and using forms of soft war, Iran can produce its own counter argument against perceptions of a so-called backwards Iran through its own socio-cultural relevance. Arguably, Iranian video games revive their own history and culture while simultaneously mythologizing an Iran that never was nor has ever been in existence. For instance, in the game Garshasp a nationalist myth is woven within the narrative by invoking the beloved epic poem Shahnameh, the quintessential text that politicized Iran as something that persevered through time and space. However, the Islamic Republic of Iran was established after the 1979 Iranian Revolution, rather than when Ferdowsi completed Shahnameh in 1010.

Metadata analysis also provides insight into discourses of nationalism and information control through soft war strategy and soft power tactics. When I initially collected Iranian video game themes as metadata, it became evident that the creators relied heavily on a single yet major historical issue, which they continue to constantly reiterate in Iranian video games, especially ones made by RSK Entertainment. By heavily emphasizing the Iran–Iraq war, they elicit particular Iranian gamer emotions through historical memory (Saramifar). As such, I conclude that game creators in Iran are highly aware of the political consciousness, and therefore seek to codify this memory in the form of video games as state-sanctioned propaganda. Through the regulation of games, socio-cultural and propagandized consciousness become intertwined subjects that are ultimately difficult to parse as inherently separate entities. Where one of these aspects exists in an Iranian video game, the other follows. In the end, video games in Iran are arguably not static objects left in a mere production but rather an assemblage of networking parts that shapes an immersive authentic Iran, albeit a propagandized vision and version.

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I would like to express gratitude toward the institutional donors that funded The Digital Borderlands. With awards, grants, and fellowships from the Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute, Near Eastern Languages and Civilization at University of Washington, Near and Middle Eastern Studies PhD program at the University of Washington, and the Social Science Research Council’s Social Data Research and Dissertation Fellowships, I had the fortune to imagine a project through the Omeka platform. Having the opportunity to create an exhibit and think thoroughly with distant and close reading, the project propelled Digital Iran, a collaborative exploration of video games on Twitch. I am also deeply grateful to my mentors Professor Arzoo Osanloo, Professor Selim Kuru, and Professor Aria Fani who have supported and guided me during the research process. Thank you to Jennifer Freeland who looked at an earlier version of this paper in 2020 prior to the publication of “Digital Iran: Soft Power and Affect in Video Games” for the IDEAH journal. A special thanks to Professor Fani, Professor Purnima Dhavan, and Professor and Artist Farhad Bahram for your critical and thoughtful feedback on a draft of this paper during the University of Washington’s Adab Workshop in August 2021. Last but not least, I would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful suggestions.

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