When Iranian state TV aired the alleged confession of a homegrown spy on Sunday night, Amir Mirza Hekmati’s recitation of supposed wrongdoings included the standard claims of working as mole for the American Government along with a less common twist: that he’d supposedly worked for a video game company that was secretly trying to warp American perceptions of the Middle East.
“After (working for DARPA), I went to Kuma (Games Company),” Hekmati was quoted as saying by Iran’s Tehran Times. “This computer company 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. 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.”
New York-based Kuma games has, of course, never intimated that they are a propaganda tool for the CIA. The company has, however, made a computer game series called Kuma War. That series has consisted of military first-person shooter missions that re-create events in the Middle East and surrounding region, including missions that let players try to participate in a virtual recreation of the killing of Osama Bin Laden as well as the former leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq.
Kuma officials told me in 2006 that the company has done contract work for the U.S. government, designing gaming technology to help train the armed forces. But it has primarily presented itself as a gaming company that caters to civilians. It has opened its studio doors to MTV and Kotaku, among other outlets. Kuma has not only done ripped-from-the-headlines military games. It has made video games about dinosaurs and mobsters. It has done contract work for major American cable TV networks. And its military games have strayed far from subject matter that could be accused of anti-Middle East propaganda with commercially-available missions made about Senator John Kerry’s experience on a swiftboat during the Vietnam War and one about that war’s Tet Offensive.
We’ve asked a Kuma spokesperson about the assertions in the supposed confession and will update this story when we hear back.