Hagverdiev acknowledged that the motivation for developing the game went beyond a simple desire to entertain. There was also a political element to the project. "By creating the game we wanted to support the patriotic spirit in our youth, which I hope we accomplished successfully," he told EurasiaNet.org. The game, which can be downloaded for free, has gotten a successful reception from Azerbaijani gamers.
While the video game may have been an independent initiative, government officials have latched onto it, viewing it as a means of raising awareness about the Nagorno-Karabakh issue among Azerbaijani young people, and of mobilizing support for ongoing governmental efforts to recover the territory.
In a sign that the game enjoys the full approval of President Ilham Aliyev's administration, the Ministry of Youth and Sports organized a formal presentation of Under Occupation. The event, which occurred earlier this summer, was held at the Hyatt Regency, one of Baku's swankiest hotels.
Talks on a political settlement for Nagorno-Karabakh have long been stalemated. In recent years, Azerbaijani rhetoric concerning the territory has grown increasingly bellicose. The video game dovetails with the government's effort to keep the patriotic mood at a slow boil.
Under Occupation is not for the faint of heart: there's lots of killing and computer-generated gore. To a great extent, it's a celebration of violence: to advance, players must handle a variety of tasks, including shooting lots of Armenian enemies, rescuing a wounded Azerbaijani soldier, retrieving a document and blowing up a building in the town of Shusha.
The game's scenery closely resembles to Shusha's actual appearance. Prominent landmarks, including the House of Culture, the Govhar Agha Mosque, Vafig Mausoleum and the city gate, all make an appearance. Although born after the city's capture by Armenian troops, and the subsequent expulsion of Azerbaijani residents, Hagverdiev managed to recreate the city by relying on old photographs.
Whether or not the video game can have a tangible effect on the Karabakh peace process is the subject of debate. Some experts doubt that a video game can cause a substantive spike in aggressive sentiment in Azerbaijan. "Not enough research is available to suggest that shooter games promote any more active hostility than the current events themselves," said Tom Parker, a former policy director at Amnesty International.
Hagverdiev and his fellow developers, meanwhile, are now contemplating a new game-related venture, one that would aim to make them some money. "We're graduating college soon, and we do not wish to mooch off our parents forever," he said.
This article originally appeared at EurasiaNet.org, an Atlantic partner site.