Welcome to my blog about video gaming in Russia!
I'm Tonich, a historian, tour guide and a musician from Nizhniy Novgorod, Russian Federation. And - what do you know! - I'm a gamer, too. Here I'll be dwelling upon what it's like to be a gamer in my home country and maybe just giving some thoughts about video games in general.
Greetings! Hi everyone! This is my first blog post on Destructoid but it's one that I have been meaning to write for quite some time. Hope that at least someone finds it interesting or informative.
I live in a rather large city in Central Russia, about 450 km east of Moscow. Even though my hometown is among the five largest cities in Russia, it's still generally considered somewhat of a back country. Compared to the metropolitan cities, we've got slower pace of life, less jobs and lower salaries, and a whole bunch of other problems. Including ones that a gamer like myself has to face. Sure, most of these problems are common to all Russian gamers (and some are merely reflections of even larger scale ones), but it's in the province that they can be seen more clearly.
Problem One. The Prejudices I guess this one won't come as a surprise; video gaming is not socially approved in Russia. More of a surprise: gaming is less approved than alcoholism.
Certainly, it's not really as bad as it sounds and no one is going to point fingers at you for being a gamer, but sometimes people's subconscious reactions can be a bit frustrating. For instance, if you meet some new people who are not gamers and you drop "Yesterday I got really drunk and fell flat on my face", most likely there'll be laughter and knowing looks. "Happens to the best of us buddy". But say something like "Yesterday I played a video game and there was a great moment there..." - and awkward silence is what you get. Yeah, usually these people play some casual games as well so there's nothing wrong with it. But discussing a moment from a video game is simply preposterous.
Even worse, a guy who, like me, steers clear of booze but plays video games is considered immature and can sometimes get a "What a weirdo" reaction. Especially if he says he's got a console. Especially if he takes the games too seriously. Look, he's even saying video games are art! Weirdo.
And mind you, this is the situation among young people, usually in their twenties. To the older folks video games are kids' entertainment at best and the source of all evil at worst. And I'm not talking violent games here. In 2001 there was a series of articles in the Russian press about numerous cases of teenage suicide in a small town not far from where I live. The newspapers blamed video games for these, imposing that all the victims had been playing a strange Japanese game called Final Fantasy VIII where a character named Monk sets the date of death for the player. I suppose I don't need to say there's no such character or event in the actual game. There were also speculations about some mind-controlling images printed on the game boxes...
The whole story (apart from the suicides that had actually taken place) most probably was invented by some journalist with a sick imagination, but it caused an uproar among parents, some of them totally banning video games in their homes and, as far as I heard, even destroying their game consoles.
My mom disapproved of my playing habits ever since I was a kid, and she still thinks video games are destroying my brain cells, turning me into a zombie. Hey mom, I'm nearly thirty, I've got a University credential, a job and a family, and yes, I've been regularly playing games for about twenty years... Still, she isn't convinced. Well, I guess that's what moms do. :)
So, what we have now in terms of social reactions to video games:
- Mobile and casual gaming are okay.
- Free-to-play MMOs (e.g. World of Tanks) and military shooters like CoD or Crysis are acceptable.
- Strategy games are fine but will get you a nerd reputation.
- Plying other genres on your PC will deem you as childish.
- Having a home console for yourself rather than the kids means you are beyond salvation. And don't even think of talking about it publicly.
Thankfully, now the situation is improving rapidly. Three or four years ago all of the above would describe the situation in my hometown to the point, but now it's gradually going away. The problem is, other towns (especially smaller ones and those farther from the central area) may be not as lucky.
Problem Two. PC Domination and Pricing Policies Yes, it's generally common knowledge that Russia is a land of PC players. Even counting out piracy issues (which I'll dwell upon later) and the situation described above, there remains a simple but strong enough reason for PC dominating even among the more hardcore gamers: the price.
The differences between PC and console game prices are indeed dashing. Yes, Russia enjoys fairly cheap PC games, but at the same time we have console games sold for prices that are simply unaffordable to some. For the city I live in, the average monthly income is about 15000-16000 RUB (roughly 420-450 USD currently). And I know quite a few people who earn half that. Considering this, spending 2800-3200 RUB (~80-90 USD) on a single console game is too much of a luxury, isn't it? And there are no game stores where one can trade in or buy used games. So, it's either looking for used games on the Internet or...
...playing PC. Nowadays the average PC game will cost you about 600-800 RUB (~17-23 USD) at retail. Sometimes the most anticipated AAA games can get double the price though. And they just seem to stay for quite a while; usually a price drop happens in two years since the game's release. But ever since Steam started operating in the region-specific prices, digital versions have become as accessible as ever.
Besides that, there's also the issue of actually finding the games. Due to the high price and (consequently) low demand console games are rare to find on the store shelves. There are next to none specialized game stores in my hometown, and certainly not a single large one. Usually there are a dozen most popular titles found in electronics stores, but there's nothing to choose from, really. So, even if I'm willing to cough up and buy a new Dynasty Warriors game (yeah, I'm into that thing :)) for my 360 I wouldn't be able to buy it where I live. So it's either going to, say, Moscow or ordering it on the Net. And both options mean even more money spent.
Wait, by "that" I didn't mean THAT!
So no wonder there are people who do not want to pay that much (or to pay at all) for games. Yes, I'm talking about piracy which is really a complex and ambiguous issue here (where is it not?). That's why I think I'll speak about it next time.
If you find this topic interesting feel free to ask questions or start discussions. But try not to resort to stereotypes please. :)