The release of online video game “The Return of Mokhtar” has hit the headlines, dominating social network debates and commanding the attention of a number of news websites. Its aim, according to the game’s creators, is to pit the player against “symbols of sedition and imperialism”. And the game, which is available via the Nofuzi website, has received enthusiastic endorsement from the Pure Islamic Art Institute.

The symbols of “arrogance” are none other than the leaders of the Green Movement, who emerged during the disputed presidential elections of 2009 – namely, former presidential candidate Mir Hossein Moussavi, his wife, former reformist president Mohammad Khatami and prominent supporters.

Players move through corridors, advancing to the next stage after successfully shooting and killing an enemy. Instead of being rewarded with points, a player earns “insights”. If he or she fails to hit a target, they lose an “insight”; when they run out of them, the game is over and the player must start again.

The game’s title references the early days of Islam, when, in the 7th-century AD, Mokhtar bin Abu Ubaid Saqafi led a revolt against the governing Umayyad Caliphs. Mokhtar exacted revenge for the murder of Imam Hossein, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, who refused to pledge allegiance to the Caliph. Though Mokhtar successfully executed many who had played a role in Imam Hossein’s death, he was eventually crushed by the Caliph’s army and lost his life. He became a martyr for Shi’a Muslims.

On its website, the Pure Islamic Art Institute promotes and celebrates “The Return of Mokhtar”. Initially launched as a design company in 2008, the institute registered as a non-profit organization in March 2010. Soon after, the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance granted permission for it to operate a website, an indication that the institute had widespread approval among some of Iran’s most influential political and religious leaders. According to the site, the institute is made up of “a group of committed and expert young people who want to promote Islamic culture and art”. It lists “The Household of The Prophet Mohammad’ and ‘Islamic Revolution and The Holy Defense” among the most important topics it champions.

Despite this endorsement, the game met with some consternation from Hassan Moazemi, Vice-President for Communications at the National Foundation for Computer Games. “The makers of the game never submitted a request for a permit,” he said, “but now that it has been released, we are duty-bound to refer the matter to the responsible authorities, including the Ministry of Islamic Guidance, security forces and the judiciary, so they can take appropriate legal actions.”

“We will gather necessary information and pass it on to competent authorities,” he added, “so they can perform their legal responsibilities.”

Anti-Reformist Games: A Trend to Watch

A visit to the Nofuzi website reveals that “The Return of Mokhtar” is not the first game of its kind. Other Nofuzi games include “Shoot the Heretic”, “Catch the Seditionist”, “The Righteous Path” and “The Fall of Moussavi”.

“Shoot the Heretic” refers to Iranian rapper, musician and activist Shahin Najafi, who lives in exile in Germany. His song "Hey, Naghi!" – which refers to the 10th Shi’a Imam – resulted in the Grand Ayatollah issuing a fatwa calling for the singer’s death; an Iranian website placed a bounty of $100,000 on his head. The Pure Islamic Art Institute’s website promotes the anti-Najafi game as “an exercise in killing this representative of Satan”.

“Catch the Seditionist” was released in 2010, a year on from the disputed presidential elections that saw mass unrest and widespread arrests of protesters. “Authorities did not pay enough attention,” the game’s introduction states, so, by playing “Catch the Seditionist”  “the people themselves” are encouraged to take action and capture those responsible for the events of 2009. “The primary objective of this game,” the game’s narrative continues, “is to remind the responsible authorities to arrest sedition leaders and put them on trial. It also reflects the concerns of the revolutionary people and the Iranian party of god.”

“The Righteous Path” takes a simpler, more general approach: players must arrive at a mosque in time for the call to prayer. “The Fall of Moussavi” depicts Mir Hossein Moussavi falling through a series of bubbles – with a click of the mouse, players can hurl the reformist leader around the screen.

It seems that the Nofuzi platform will continue to command attention for its blend of Islamic purism and gaming technology. And the Pure Islamic Art Institute, which supports and promotes Nofuzi’s work, clearly has the support of some of Iran’s most conservative influences: it has received several certificates of appreciation and acclamations, including being awarded prizes at the International Digital Media Festival  – sponsored by the Ministry of Islamic Guidance and Culture  – in 2009, 2010 and 2011. With this kind of support, the phenomenon of Pure Islamic gaming may have only just begun. 

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