I have been a gamer since my first Atari console I owned as a child which certainly dates me. I wouldn’t call myself an avid gamer, but through the decades I always seem to have game or two that I could play on my console, computer, or now iPhone as a diversion. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent on some of favorites like Unreal Tournament, UT2003 and the Myth game series. Most recently, the game I play the most is one called Clash of Clans. This is an extremely popular game first released in 2012 by a company called Supercell out of Finland. Some estimates have revenues of around $6 million per day with possibly as many as 50 million active players around the world though they don’t release the numbers.
The purpose of this article however has to do with the popularity of this game all across the Middle East and especially in Iran where around 5.5 million Iranians are playing this game daily. It is popular all over the world but it fascinated me to see how many clans I face in wars that hail from all over the Middle East and Iran in particular.
For people unfamiliar with this game I will include a video of a typical attack below. Clash of Clans is called a freemium game which means you can play for free (like me) or can advance faster by paying for upgrades. Fortunately for me, my love of money in my pocket outweighs my love of the game… This has allowed me to avoid spending a penny on this game and I’ve still enjoyed playing it nearly daily for two years now. Another key aspect of the game is the social aspect that comes along from being in a clan where you can chat with your fellow team members. This I feel is the shortcoming of games like Candy Crush and others who lack teams and the all-important social aspect of gaming that keep people playing. In games with teams you often connect and befriend your teammates and feel a sense of duty or obligation to keep playing to not let them down.
According to “Iran Computer & Video Games Foundation”, with 20 million gamers, Iran is the largest growing video games market in the Middle East. During a conference, Mohammad Hassan Entezari, Iran’s Secretary of the Supreme Council of Cyberspace talked about their achievements and performance in the council.
The changes on cyberspace are rapid and profound. We need to catch up with the pace and manage these developments. Right now, more than 5.5 million people play Clash of Clans in Iran and more than 90 percent of the games played in the country are products of foreign countries.”
Iranian gamers don’t have easy access to credit cards like Visa, MasterCard, or American Express to buy gems in games like Clash of Clans and others so instead have to buy Apple or Google play gift cards for any purchases.
Iran has been in the American news a lot in recent years thanks to both negotiations over the Iranian nuclear treaty deal as well as over their involvement in Iraq and Syria involving ISIS.
A few key facts about Iran
Iran is a very large country both in land mass and in population. It is around 2.5 times the size of Texas. According to the CIA World fact book site they currently have a population of around 82 million. What is most fascinating to me is 41% of their population is under 24 years old. That is a lot of young people who may not be quite as radicalized as older generations who grew up hating America due to our support of the hated Shah and meddling in their internal affairs decades ago. The size of this country also makes remarks by GOP hawks in Congress laughable simply due to the enormous size of the country. Any war with Iran would make the losses in Iraq in terms of manpower and money seem tiny by comparison.
Relations have thawed ever so slightly between Iran and the U.S. recently. Even the famous chant of “Death to America” often heard in Iran no longer seems to really mean much anymore. Recently the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, claimed that “Death to America” doesn’t mean what you think it means.
Khamenei spoke recently to commemorate the 37th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution, and in his address to students, apparently the Supreme Leader wanted to make something clear about the “Death to America” chant he frequently proclaims and gets people to chant before him: it’s not meant literally.
“the slogan and shout of ‘Death to the US’ by the Iranian nation has strong logical and rational support and stems from the Constitution and fundamental thoughts that brooks no injustice and oppression.” And furthermore, it means “death to the policies of the US and arrogant powers,” not death to Americans themselves.
Young Iranians could be a big problem for the government and religious leaders because they are a lot more liberal (relatively speaking) than older generations. The protests back in 2011-12 may have been only a small taste of things to come and we need to make sure the young people in Iran that support America know we have their backs. The absolute worst thing we can do is turn a lot of goodwill towards us away with idiotic policies that hurt the very people who have the ability to bring more freedom and democracy to Iran.
Young Iranians have access to news from Radio Farda, the Farsi-language service of Radio Liberty, funded by the U.S. congress and supervised by the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors; the BBC, with its new Farsi service; the Voice of America; and CNN, as well as from the internet. In 2009 the World Public Opinion poll found that 51 percent of Iranians hold a favorable opinion of Americans, a number consistent with other polls, meaning that Americans are more widely liked in Iran than anywhere else in the Middle East!
In other words Iranians view America more favorably than our allies like Turkey, India, or Saudi Arabia and twice as high as Egyptians. Most Iranians also support full restoration of diplomatic ties with the U.S. and these numbers are likely lower than the reality since many are afraid to express their true feelings. In other words they might chant “Death to America” at rallies while secretly wishing Iran can become free and prosperous like the U.S. at home. Read more here
While Jon Stewart was still running the Daily Show he sent Jason Jones to Iran which demonstrates the just how wrong American stereotypes about Iran may be. Instead of being spit on or attacked he was welcomed and treated with kindness and respect. We saw people more concerned about employment, inflation, and putting food on their tables than destroying America.
I am not arguing that the Iranian government at the moment is anywhere close to becoming a U.S. ally any time soon. But what I am suggesting is that Americans stop lumping in all the Iranian people, many of whom are pretty pro-American with the Iranian government. It seems to me that we might want to try and foster better relations with the country in the Middle East where we have around the highest favorability in the entire Middle East.
I have had the pleasure of meeting and befriending many Iranians in my life and all my stereotypes went out the window once we had long and fascinating discussions over dinner or over coffee. I have also even joined a few Iranian clans in Clash of Clans where they welcomed me onto their team. Instead of “Death to America” in clan chat all I read were things like “I love America” and “God bless America”. They also appreciated the opportunity to practice their English and asked me all sorts of pop culture questions related to music and movies.
That is not to say that we shouldn’t verify the Iranian nuclear deal, or we shouldn’t continue to be vigilant in fighting Iranian state sponsored terrorism around the world. I am not naive to the ambitions and motives of the Iranian government. But what I am saying is perhaps the key to peace with Iran and other countries in the Middle East is better relations with the young people through culture and games like Clash of Clans where young people can talk freely with each other in chat. Perhaps the key to defeating ISIS and radical Islamic terrorists is through promoting peace and especially jobs to all the unemployed young men who are easy prey to ISIS recruiters. Perhaps the American government and media need to do a better job at understanding the difference between the Iranian people and the Iranian government.
Perhaps the key to peace in the Middle east is not looking down the barrel of a gun but through soft diplomacy. Once the people in the U.S. and in countries like Iran understand that the people they have demonized and have been taught to hate are simply people that have kids, stress about jobs, and all the same problems of daily life we might make some progress and realize the true enemies are groups like ISIS, Al Qaeda, and other terrorist groups who count on countries not being able to work together. If the day ever came where Russia, China, Iran, the U.S. , Saudi Arabia, and other key countries ever decided to wipe out these terrorist groups in a coordinated effort it could be done in very short order. Terrorist groups count on discord among major countries to ensure their very survival.
I don’t think Iranians playing games like Clash of Clans will cause any sort of velvet revolution in Iran or peace among our countries. But it does show that they have a lot more in common with us than we may have ever imagined. It also offers just a glimmer of hope that young Iranians may be a lot less concerned about the Shah of Iran or the CIA meddling in their country decades ago and a lot more open to improved relations in the future. We have tried threats, sanctions, bullets and bombs, perhaps it is time to try diplomacy for a change.