Science, Tech & Environment

U.S. sanctions cut off Iranian gamers' access to World of Warcraft

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Mists of Pandaria, one of the World of Warcraft games, is now off-limits in Iran. (Photo by Blizzard Entertainment.)

The World or Warcraft is now officially off-limits to online gamers in Iran.

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Their access to the gaming network has been blocked so the game's developer can comply with tough U.S. trade sanctions imposed on Iran, in response to that country's pursuit of nuclear weapons.

World of Warcraft creator Blizzard Entertainment is set to release a new episode of its online game next month. Its fictional dungeons and battlegrounds are set on the fictional continent of Pandaria.

The dark and violent world of Pandaria may (or may not) be fine entertainment, but its now off limits in Iran. Gamers in Teheran have posted complaints in recent days saying they can’t access Warcraft’s network. This week, Blizzard acknowledged that it’s responsible for more tightly restricting Iranian access.

“U.S. trade restrictions and economic sanctions prohibit doing business with residents of certain nations, including Iran,” the company said.

Jamal Abdi, who is with the National Iranian American Council in Washington, said this is an example of how U.S. sanctions are hurting the wrong people.

“Our politices are hurting ordinary Iranians and not the Iranian government whose behavior we’re trying to change," he said. "It could be something we think is trivial like World of Warcraft but this is a much bigger problem. Every facet of life in Iran is now being impacted by U.S. policies and it’s having a negative impact on the Iranian people, who are largely our friends.”

Iranian blogs has buzzed with speculation that the Iranian government had blocked access to Warcraft because of "the corrupting influence" of violent entertainment.

Instead Abdi says it turns out that Blizzard Entertainment is just complying with U.S. government policy.

“If we want to stand with the Iranian people, we need to make sure they can be part of the outside world, and communicate freely instead of making their lives harder, and cutting them off from these communications tools,” Abdi said.

Warcraft fans in Cuba, Libya, North Korea and Syria are in the same boat. U.S. sanctions mean they’re all restricted from playing in the misty lands of World of Warcraft.