Interview • No Entry for IGF-finalist from Iran

Iranian student Mahdi Bahrami (20) didn’t get a visa for the USA. His Farsh is finalist in the IGF Student Showcase, in 2011 his game Bo got an honorable mention. Currently he’s studying in The Netherlands.

Can you tell us a bit about what life is like for a boy who wants to become a game developer and lives in Iran? 

At first sight there is no difference [if you want] to become a game developer. As long as you have access to a normal computer with internet connection, it doesn’t matter where you live.
But there are some details that could be different based on the location. For example, in high schools in Iran students study lots of math and physics. After six month of going to college in The Netherlands, what I know is that Highschool students in Iran study much more than their Dutch counterparts.

I think those studies helped me a lot to be able to learn programming. Furthermore, we have lots of programming competitions and festivals in Iran. When I was twelve years old, for the first time in my life I submitted a software program that I had made with Visual Basic for a software development festival that was held in our school. It was the first time in my life that something I had programmed became the winning entry. Those competitions and festivals really helped me to find my way and improve my skills.

On the other hand there are some unfair things that happen to you if your nationality is Iranian. Think you have made a game in XNA and are going to submit it for DreamBuildPlay – a competition organized by Microsoft for the games made by XNA. Then you see this when you are reading the rules:

Residents of the following countries are ineligible to participate: Cuba; Iran; North Korea; Sudan; and Syria.

Or what if you have made a game and you want to sell it on Xbox Live Indie Games then you get this message from Microsoft:

Your current game titled KooChooLoo!!! was submitted previously as KooChooLoo! and was found to be from an account from Iran. Even though it is currently being submitted from an Australian account, the U.S. maintains a trade embargo on Iran. Microsoft may not sell or support, directly or indirectly, products or services to Iran. Microsoft cannot partner with a third party if we know or have reason to know that they might be sending our products to Iran. Current international discussions of increasing sanctions on Iran will have little impact to the existing comprehensive controls on Microsoft products to Iran. Therefore this account will remain banned and this game will not be approved.

What if you want to submit your game to IGF but you’re not able to pay $100 fee just because there is no accessible way of paying the fees from Iran?

These are some important ones but that’s not all. What I want to say is that for developing games, yeah, everything is fine – but for showing or distributing the game there are lots of problems.

Even now that I’m living in The Netherlands, those difficulties are still with me. I’m not able to attend GDC because my VISA application was rejected. Being a finalist in IGF was something of a dream for me. But instead of being happy for fulfilling my dream, I’m depressed. This is the most unfair situation happened to me in my life.

Because of my bad economic situation I’m not sure if I can survive until graduating from school and GDC was an opportunity for me to find some people who could support me.

Would you like to remain independent, or would you like to join or start studio?

I’d like to continue working independently, and I’d love to form my own little studio or company. I’m not sure if I can do it right after graduating – maybe I need to work for a few years in a company. Working in Iran is one of the possibilities and I really like the idea of having my own company in Iran, but before going back to Iran I need to find solutions for those problems otherwise it will be same as before, disconnected to the world.

Farsh is your second game being noticed by the IGF-jurors, and you’re just twenty years old. What is it that makes your games special?

I think having original gameplay is the main reason for that. By far.

What made you decide to go to Europe? And the NHTV in The Netherlands in particular?

I was searching for universities around the world to apply for a bachelor degree and asking my friends for suggestions. Valmbeer’s Rami Ismail suggested the HKU [whose alumni include the likes of Ronimo Games and Vlambeer] and the NHTV in the Netherlands. They both seemed great schools. Finally I decided to apply for NTHV because it was an International school.

Do you think Europeans, Americans, Africans, Arabics, Asians all have a different approach to game design due to their different cultural background?

Yes, if each part of the world has it’s own type art, literature, music, architecture and… why shouldn’t they sport their own type of games? All I am trying to do is designing games which are inspired by my culture.

Your visa was rejected, so you can’t attend GDC nor IGF. Is that something that happens often, having to miss out on events because of this?

That’s something that happens only for the USA. About three years ago one of my games was selected for Sense of Wonder Night conference at the Tokyo Game Show. I got my VISA and travelled to Japan to present my game. Six month ago I got my visa to study in The Netherlands. But for USA? It’s different.

Photo by Joram Wolters for Control Magazine •

Matthijs Dierckx
Matthijs Dierckx
Dierckx is Composer and Marketing Lead on roguelite cult hit Unexplored and two undisclosed projects. He is co-creator of Android puzzle hit Sumico, the numbers game. Dierckx is the former Publisher and Founder of Control Magazine, Control Conference and and writes about games on an irregular basis.

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