Look, holding a populace in thrall and the world in the icy grip of fear is a really hard job. I mean, it's a lot easier when you're a raving psychotic bastard because insanity is like Red Bull when it comes to mustering the energy to bomb things and imprison dissidents. Still, when the day is done those people need to relax, and what better way to do it than to crack open an ice cold video game?
Granted, most dictators are not gamers. Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro have both come down on games hardcore in the past. In their defense, though, a lot of first-person shooters have had levels where they get toppled or killed, so we're going to let that slide. Saparmurat Niyazov, a world "leader" so terrible that he makes every crappy middle manager you've ever answered to look like Woodrow Wilson in comparison, banned all video games in Turkmenistan during his reign, as well as libraries, facial hair, opera, car radios and makeup because he couldn't tell the difference between men and women when they wore it. No, I did not make that last one up.
There are at least a few autocrats that like a good game, though. Let's meet them.
If you want to pick fruit from the wackaloon world leader tree, you won't even need a step-ladder to reach Muammar Gaddafi. When he was shot I was inconsolable. Not because I liked him, but because I was worried that a bullet in the head had created an exit where all the madness bugs could flee his brain and infect the rest of the world.
After the coup last year, people naturally started going through Gaddafi's palaces, and man, did they find some odd stuff. Among those was a giant reproduction of the cover art from 2004's Prince of Persia: Warrior Within. Whether Gaddafi himself played the game or not isn't known, but his son Moatassem-Billah Gaddafi was a huge fan of the series. Surely he did what all kids try to do, get their parents into video games.
The Democratic People's Republic of Korea has a new beloved leader in the form of Kim Jong-un, and let's face it, we would be more surprised if a kid that looks like that wasn't a gamer. How in charge the young man is of the country is a subject for debate, but he does seem to be continuing the fine dictator tradition of holding public executions and throwing dissidents in jail, so there's that. On the other hand, women can now wear pants and hamburgers are legal. So...progress is mixed.
By all accounts, Kim was big into gaming from back when he was pretending to go to school in Switzerland in the '90s. He did well in math, but a slowness learning English and German hampered his education while there. He spent most of his time shooting hoops -- he is apparently pretty good at it despite his weight -- and playing sports video games. He's also taken to upgrading the country's arcades in order to better connect with young Koreans. Of course, as you can guess, his gaming love is hereditary.
Seriously, what were the odds that Kim Jong-il wasn't going to be on this list? If Gaddafi was the low-hanging fruit on the wackaloon tree, then Kim was the knothole some mentally handicapped kid stashed his tastiest paste snacks in. He smeared the Psychotic Despot Handbook across the walls in his own poop. The only reason he didn't commit every single insanity possible is because Time refused his command to stop while he caught up on that list. Witness Exhibit A...
Gold farming is an interesting concept, and by interesting I mean heart-breakingly sad. Basically, players in MMORPGs kill monsters or do other tasks for hours on end to earn in-game gold, then they sell that in-game currency to other players for real-world currency. It's the sort of gaming that Mitt Romney would probably call fun and the rest of us would probably call only slightly preferable to a prison sentence...except in China, where the practice is huge prison gangs have forced other prisoners to work in their gaming farms because it is so lucrative.
Apparently Kim realized that this was the absolute best way to raise money for that nuclear fuckpunch he's been asking Santa for since he was old enough to threaten other children to confess his crimes and avoid the Naughty List. He had hackers set up accounts in games like Lineage and Dungeon Fighter, and Forbes reported that the scheme had netted at least $6 million thus far. Christ, the little nutjob couldn't even game in a normal way.
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Jordan's reigning monarch has been a fine example of evolving Middle Eastern government. Abdullah has begun the process of moving Jordan towards democracy, done much to boost his land's economy, maintains a wonderful reputation with the United States and works tirelessly towards peace in the Middle East. All in all, if you had to be born during a dictatorship, pray you're born in Jordan.
He is also a full-on, out-of-the-closet gamer who absolutely loves gaming in all its forms. His opponents even mock him as King PlayStation for his apparent love of gaming. Want a fun example? Hussam Sohaib of Wizard Productions works both as an original game designer and as someone responsible for localizing existing games for the Arabic world. Sohaib was the first person to develop a 3D MMO in Arabic, and King Abdullah was one of the beta testers.
Even better, his King Abdullah Fund for Development helped launch the Jordan Gaming Lab, designed to build a bigger and better game industry in the country. Now, I love democracy, but if you told me I could trade a few basic human rights to finally get Portal 3 and Half-Life 3 because Emperor Obama didn't feel like waiting on Gabe Newell's ass any longer, I might seriously consider it.