Last Tuesday, the biggest games publishing company in the world, Blizzard, announced that it had banned people in Iran from accessing its online gaming behemoth, World of Warcraft. WoW is technically already banned in Iran anyway, but thousands usually access the game through VPNs, proxy servers and other techie things that you probably don't know about unless your every waking hour is consumed with slaying dragons in the plains of Kalimdor.
However, without any warning and despite all their internet wizardry, WoW players in Iran suddenly found that they could no longer get online to join their guildmates. Bear in mind that WoW isn't your average video game, either; it's a virtual phenomenon that attracts the kind of people who will stay awake for days on end – sometimes until they die – to ensure their character gets the best gear and the maximum amount of experience points. You also have to pay a monthly subscription fee to play online, and nobody likes it when The Man flat out steals something you've paid for and gets away with it.
Almost immediately, forums were chock-full of Iranian gamers losing their shit at Blizzard, trying to find out why they couldn't gain access to their beloved second life. I remember getting pretty fucking angry when my mum took Mortal Kombat for the Mega Drive away from me, so I could definitely empathise.
Assumptions of guilt went straight to the Iranian regime. After all, they did recently ban Battlefield 3 because it depicted American troops invading and shooting the shit out of Tehran, which was kind of a fair move on their part, considering the two countries haven't exactly been on the best terms since the 1979 Iranian revolution. It turned out, however, that it wasn't the perennial killjoys of the Iranian regime who banned the game, but Blizzard itself. The games publisher is well-renowned for its all-consuming hunger when it comes to squeezing cash out of its customers, so it seemed odd that they were willing to drop thousands of Iranian customers, all of whom pay £10 a month to play the game.
Of course, a statement soon followed:
So, WoW was banned because of American and European sanctions on Iran – punishment for the country's refusal to comply with inspections at its nuclear plants. Way to get the Iranian populace on side with the great Western devil, guys! Worse still was the refusal to reimburse any Iranian WoW players of the fees they've already paid this month. Reeeal classy.
So, what next? Thousands of WoW players taking to the streets of Iran, burning Blizzard logos and WoW merchandise? Apparently not. I managed to speak to a few WoW players in Iran who just found out they wouldn't be massacring their virtual enemies for hoards of gold at any point in the near future.
Kambiz, Level 85 Worgen Hunter
VICE: Hey, Kambiz. How deep was your love for World of Warcraft?
Kambiz: I've been playing WoW for about two years, so I got mad when the ban was announced. I mean, I put so much time, not to mention money, into this game, so not being able to play just makes me mad. At first, there was an article in the news saying that Iran had banned the game for "promotion of superstition and mythology", "promotion of violence due to too much violence" (I'm not exaggerating, this is exactly what they wrote) and for the "demonstration of inappropriate clothing", because of all the slutty outfits for female avatars. But then we found out it was because of the trade sanctions.
Are there secret gaming shops where you can play banned games in Iran?
I've been looking, but I've found nothing so far. Some friends told me that they used a proxy server, but I just don't want to risk being banned completely.
Do you think the ban could spark protests in Iran?
There aren't that many WoW players in Iran – maybe a 1000 people – and 75 percent of them play on private servers. So no, I don't think so.
Do you think the sanctions against Iran are fair?
Well, I think the Iranian regime brought it on themselves, but it is a bit unfair on civilians. I wish they could come up with something that wouldn't affect the civilians, because it's not their fault that the regime aren't cooperating.
Mamad, Level 85 Paladin
Hi Mamad. How are you holding up?
Mamad: I've been playing WoW for seven years, and the first thing that attracted me was the fact that you can connect with players from all over the world, which is exactly what this ban has stopped. All the Iranian players were shocked when the ban was announced because they've all constantly been paying money for the last however many years to play, and it's suddenly gone. A lot of people have already pre-paid for Mists of Pandaria, the next expansion pack, as well, and nobody's getting their money back.
Is there a way around the ban?
We've been using VPNs to play for a while, but the VPN speed has decreased massively recently, which means we can't play like we did before.
Do you think the ban could spark protests in Iran?
I don't think so, no. The game was banned by Blizzard because of the USA's sanctions, not by Iran, so there's no one to get angry at here.
So it seems that, although Iranian gamers are slightly miffed, there's not going to be a WoW-inspired uprising in Iran any time soon. I suppose there are more important things to worry about – that looming war being a biggie for most people. All it does it further marginalise and heap more misery on the youth of Iran. A youth who already can't mix with the opposite sex, be gay or enjoy Western haircuts. What next? A ban on speaking your own language and celebrating your own culture? Oh no, wait, that's banned too.
Follow Henry on Twitter: @Henry_Langston