The Null Device

Museum of Soviet Arcade Machines

WIRED has a photo gallery of Soviet video games; these were arcade machines, sometimes inspired by American or Japanese ones, manufactured in the Soviet Union (often at military manufacturing facilities; presumably because civilian electronics manufacturers in the USSR weren't up to scratch). They often were more primitive than western counterparts (some feature mechanical score counters and lack controls that western equivalents had), cost 15 kopecks per game (not enough for most Soviet youth to be able to play more than a game a week), and thematically avoided the zapping-space-aliens themes of the capitalist world, instead combining a sort of earnest socialist benignness (there were Russian folk games adapted for the arcade, games simulating socially worthy occupations such as firefighting), with the odd bit of ideologically-sound militarism (sinking Nazi submarines during the Great Patriotic War, and shooting down enemy fighters (presumably of a capitalist persuasion, though the article didn't say)). Interestingly enough, a common feature of all the games was the lack of a high score table; the idea of such an individualistic, competitive feature was, for obvious reasons, frowned upon.

Compared to western games, they looked a bit shabby and lacklustre. So as soon as Communism collapsed and Nintendos and PCs started flooding in, they pretty much disappeared. Most were destroyed, though a few survived; and now, four collectors in Moscow are finding and restoring these machines, for display in a Museum of Soviet Arcade Machines, which they have set up in a bomb shelter under a university dormitory.

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