Throughout summer 2021, I have gathered data from interviews, participant-observation, Instagram, Steam, and World of Warcraft. While gathering this data, I researched the political discourses surrounding the use of the internet and lack of access for Iranian gamers by also tracing the socio-political issues such as the rise of the filternet, blogging, and networked online platforms. My dissertation illustrates that while access to online gaming allows for Iranian gamers to produce new modes of being, the political exclusionary practices of the US are intimately tied to dominant perceptions of what it means to be Iranian. I argue that the politicization of the internet, a minefield of bureaucratic practices by the Iranian government and the US, alike, is linked to Iranians’ desire toward normativity, and sometimes even a denial that occupying an online gaming space is political.
Through a quiet encroachment against external subjectivities such as US maximum pressure policies and the Iranian government’s surveillance and trolling of its citizens, Iranian gamers’ resistance to these pressures quietly mirrors historically based activities of resistance in Iran, such as the blogosphere that instituted moments where the state control of the internet infrastructure led to instances of cutting access to the internet and even imprisonment as forms of suppression (Bayat 2013; Akhavan 2013). With these historical memories in mind, gamers have sought a nonconfrontational and quiet encroachment as a mode of opposition yet evasion of the state eye.
During autumn 2021, I produced a chapter draft entitled “Politics of the Everyday: Iranian Gamers and Cyberspace Censorship,” which I initially submitted as an application material for the Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship. I have since then edited and submitted the chapter as an article for the 2022 Law and Humanities Junior Scholars workshop, which is currently under review. If accepted to the workshop, the article will be published in a special issue of the Legal Scholarship Network. In “Politics of the Everyday: Iranian Gamers and Cyberspace Censorship,” I uncover the sentiment and affect of Iranian gamers within the context of internet surveillance and socio-historical moments such as the rise of the internet, blogging, social media, and the game industry in Iran. Under the framework of affect, I utilize the concepts of rapture and rupture, labor, deep play, and soft war and soft power.
My main conclusion is that the game industry as a form of propaganda against the West is a red herring. Instances of cutting access to the internet and even imprisonment as forms of suppression have not curtailed the use of VPNs, which will continue to be so even if or when “Protection Bill” in Iran is passed to completely mitigate the use of VPNs and social networks. Within the chapter, I conclude that while the game industry may be perceived as a source of propaganda, the heart of the issue is how these histories, power grabs, legal strategies, and state-sanctioned violence have created a social nonmovement among gamers in Iran. The use of the internet, social media, and games have thus enabled dissent among non-state actors through modes of protest and even quiet encroachment.
The gamers’ internalized clash between a new imagined future and reality creates a schism or affective tension, producing gamers with distress and impulses to using methods of soft power through bypassing the restrictions of their location. Therefore, active engagement online becomes a form of soft power through overcoming modes of state sanctioned soft war, affording Iranian gamers opportunities to build trust and communities with one another and in the transnational community. To show the context of gamer relationships with these socio-political and cultural contexts, I frame key ethnographic sketches that provide the necessary nuance to the overall narrative arc. Particularly, I illustrate the gamers’ emotional resonance with streaming online and how it not only affords human-to-human communication but provides a form of upward mobility for those who seek to become gaming influencers. At the same time, these gamers point out their hurdles with high ping with online games due to their use of VPNs that connect them to servers in Europe, which can lead to inability to log onto certain games.
Dissertation Timeline and Writing Plan
Currently, I have carried out 16 months of research across multiple online platforms. With funding from the Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute, I had the opportunity to research Iranian and Iranian American gamers, through the lens of affect. In winter 2022, my goal is to release a Qualtrics survey on Steam and begin triangulating the computational data using NVivo. During early spring 2022, I will be finishing and finalizing the dissertation research on Instagram, Facebook, Steam, and 4Chan as well as tying up all loose ends with interlocutors.
The dissertation will consist of four chapters, an introduction, and a conclusion. The first chapter will focus on maximum pressure policy and minimum gain along with Iranian internet protocols and how that has come to impact Iranian gamers economically through the framework of labor. At the time, I have a drafted chapter 2 on politics of the everyday, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s internet censorship, and its impact on gaming communities in Iran. I plan to edit this chapter during the months of December and January. Chapter 3 is partially outlined and will be based on the section “Gamergate Reloaded” from my forthcoming SSRC Social Data Research and Dissertation Fellowship White Paper. Chapter 4 will touch on affective entanglements of gender and masculinity for Iranian women gamers. The introduction will weave together theoretical frameworks of affect and labor, while providing arguments and insights through the used digital and computational methodologies. I have parts of chapter 1 produced as a journal article. All fieldwork will be completed by early Spring 2022, although coding of fieldnotes and the production of data visualizations are ongoing.
December 2021 – January 2022
- Revise chapter 2: “Politics of the Everyday: Iranian Gamers and Cyberspace Censorship”
- Outline chapter 1: “Maximum Pressure and Minimum Gain: Iranian Gamers under US Sanctions”
February 2022 – April 2022
- Write chapter 1.
- Begin outlining chapter 3: “Gamergate Reloaded: Iranian and Iranian American Gamer Political Discourses.”
May 2022 – July 2022
- Revise chapter 1.
- Write Chapter 3.
- Outline chapter 4: “Iranian Women Gamers and Precarity: Gender and Masculinity in the Islamic Republic of Iran”
August 2022 – October 2022
- Revise Chapter 3.
- Write chapter 4.
- Outline introduction: “Affective Entanglements on Transnational Frontiers: Methods and Motivations for a Study of Iranian Gamers” (theoretical frameworks, historical background, research design, and methodology)
November 2022 – January 2023
- Revise chapter 4.
- Write introduction.
- Outline conclusion: “Circumventing the Intractable: The Right to Play”
January 2023 – March 2023
- Revise introduction
- Write conclusion.
April 2023 – May 2023
- Final revisions of the dissertation before defense.
- Defend the dissertation.