(Photo credit: Zahak)
‘Zahak,’ an updated game available on Google Play for free, is allowing to users to play as Iranian protesters whose main mission is to fight high-ranking officials in the Islamic Republic, with the final goal being the assassination of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the overthrow of Tehran.
Inspired by the #IranProtests2023, @GooglePlay is offering its users to download a new game, Zahhak, in which they have to fight IRI's staff and kill some of its high-ranking officials, including Jannati. Eventually, they must reach SL's office and kill him to topple the regime. pic.twitter.com/iBbR13asmq
— Yossi Mansharof (@Yossi_Mansharof) January 3, 2023
We’re dealing with a bunch of kids.
How’s this even allowed on Google Play? My Nasheed/eulogy video got taken down on Youtube because “criminal violent organisation” but a game where you simulate the riots and kill IRI staff is allowed? What in the world! https://t.co/jZKvdpTP7Z
— Arya 🇮🇷 (@AryJeay) January 5, 2023
The game was initially released in 2016 as a combat game inspired by Shahnameh (Persian Book of Kings), the 11th century epic by Abu al-Qassem Ferdowsi. Centering around Persian mythology, the player’s goal was to fight an evil Persian king named Zahak, known in the story to have serpents growing from his shoulders.
The game – developed by Swedish company Swedenmark Studios LTD – was then updated on 10 November, 2022, around two months after the start of protests in Iran. In the update, the game serves as an anti-Iran adventure of justice for 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, as well as to advocate for ‘freedom.’
The boss fights have also been modified, allowing the player to face off against a number of high-ranking Iranian government officials, clerics, and members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), including Qassem Soleimani, Mohammed Reza Naqdi, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, and the Supreme Leader himself (who is portrayed with the snakes, like Zahak).
Framed as a quest for freedom from oppression, one stage of the game sees the playable character (who is female) move through a cemetery in which the grave of Mahsa Amini is seen. The popular protest slogan, “Women, Life, Freedom,” is also heard being chanted throughout the game.
A description of the game on the website APK Combo, which hosts Zahak, reads: “A game practicing freedom of speech, which is opposing the ideology of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and dictators worldwide … The game opposes religious terrorism including … the parts of the Quran that support terrorism and Jihad.”
The game is a direct violation of Google policy, which states that apps or games “that depict or facilitate gratuitous violence or other dangerous activities” are prohibited. Google apps, according to their Policy Center, must not include anything that incites or “promote[s] violence … against individuals or groups based on … religion,” as the game clearly does.
Additionally, the Google Policy Center states that only “fictional violence” is allowed, meaning that a boss fight against the Iranian Supreme Leader – with the intention of killing him and toppling the Iranian government – should not make its way into a game.
This is a step up from the latest Call of Duty (CoD) game, which included a stage in which the player must carry out the assassination of an Iranian general bearing a striking resemblance to Soleimani, the fallen Quds Force commander. Despite the provocative nature of that particular CoD level, the name of the Iranian general depicted was – at the very least – rebranded from Soleimani to ‘Ghorbrani.’
Google – which WikiLeaks founder and political prisoner Julian Assange described as “a deeply political operation” – is known to use online technology as a strategy for social engineering – including the promotion of regime change against Washington’s adversaries, essentially allowing the company to serve as a defacto arm of the US government.
Jared Cohen, a former State Department official who served as an advisor to both Condoleezza Rice and Hilary Clinton, founded Google Ideas in 2010 (which was rebranded as Google Jigsaw by Eric Schmidt in 2015), as a tool to incite uprisings under the guise of counterterrorism, democracy, freedom, and building “better societies.”