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Gaming: Russian Style

Peculiarities of having fun in post-USSR setting.

Our home was blessed with it when I was about seven years old. My father brought a shiny new Intel 486 PC and a pile of 1.44 MB floppy disks to our flat. The next day a specialist came to us and I watched him installing a load of boring programs and a copy of Wolfenstein 3D. After some digging in settings he finally launched the game, killed a few Nazis and got killed himself. With a grin on his visage, he turned to me. Expansive smile slid off his face in a split second. I was shaking my fist and whispering: «What have you done?.. You got him killed! How am I going to play it now?» With the lapse of time I understood that it is okay, you can just load a game again. Dozens of hours were spent wandering the Castle Wolfenstein, splashing puddles in Lotus: The Ultimate Challenge and, more important, getting a nervous tick from Doom II: Hell on Earth. My father pressed navigation keys and I pressed Ctrl.

A lot of things changed since then.

But not the Russian legal field. It remains relatively unique - in the sense that it leaves plenty of room for piracy. Roughly speaking, a man is restricted only by his conscience on the internet. An average Russian can do anything he wants on the net and face no consequences. You can imagine that these conditions are a great sandbox for all kinds of reality twists.

To explain this, I want to take you on a trip to the glorious days of me being a middle school student. For us kids, games meant a lot. Especially computer ones. Everyone considered Dendy, Sega and Super Nintendo as past century's museum exhibits. PC games look so much better! There are so many things you can do on PC, even engineers use them! Economic situation is tough, but parents buy us PCs as tools for study, so we all have the same game platform! PCs are perfect!!

Perhaps it is this admiration of possibilities that computers provide that contributed to the fact that, at some point, «cracking» games turned from annoying necessity into some kind of obsessive collective hobby. New «cracks» and «patches» downloaded from doubtful sites were discussed on breaks more frequently than girls from parallel classes, and floppy disks were rewritten faster than homework. Installing, «cracking», tweaking and reinstalling of games became almost more common than gaming itself. Some grandfathers even bragged to teachers about their grandsons becoming great computer experts.

It is important to mention that almost no one had decent internet connection in 2000s Russia. Writing optical drives were a rarity, too. So the only way to obtain a copy of a game was to buy it somewhere. It was an adventure by itself. You never knew what you would get; everybody was playing roulette. I remember visiting about five dirty game stores held by suspicious-looking sellers before finding a clean and unscratched copy of Need for Speed: Underground. Later I discovered that there is no sound folder on the disc. Some of these "old-school" game stores survived to the present days. Now it is obvious that games sales never were their real purpose.

But, fortunately, illegal distributors are almost obsolete now. Some of them used peculiarities of Russian laws and legalized, though. Anyway, the game distribution companies of yore did not only copy original files to blank CD-Rs and added «Crack» folders, they also made «Full Rusian Translaton» versions of games. My acquaintance has an impressive collection of these «masterpieces» and, surprisingly, they are pretty useful now. Take Baldur's Gate, for example. Great game, but a little too familiar. Well, it is just uninteresting to play it anymore! But here is when a terrible translation comes in and makes almost any game fun again.

Now it is easy to download a disc image from the internet. But here is the thing - teenagers turn to adults. The older one gets, the less time and desire one has to keep looking for a way to «crack» a game. Furthermore, circle of friends changes, and discreditable discussions become possible only on forums, only with strangers. Of course, it is not very interesting to discuss such delicate matters with strangers. And there are no girls on such forums. Ultimately, interests come and go. That is when a value system shifts and people start to actually buy games.

But let's go back to school days once more. A huge part of our juvenile gaming culture were computer games magazines. Of course, we did not pay attention to a blatant lack of common sense and grammatical correctness in articles. The authors were god-like figures in our eyes, and gods do not write badly. When I open one of old issues now, I fell a strange mix of nostalgia and bewilderment. Articles were not built around emotions and feelings, they were a hodge-podge of infinite reasonings about polygons, shaders, music and gaming process. But let's be optimistic! These are the magazines of the past; when I open one of the new... Wait. I cannot do it anymore.

Printed computer games magazines are experiencing a natural decline in Russia. In the past year two biggest PC games magazines went on indefinite leave; few remaining multiplatform magazines hastily update their internet portals, finally abandon atavistic DVD appendixes, make controversial decisions about buying articles from foreign magazines, fill blank pages with AV-equipment reviews, clear more and more space for mobile games and declare that they will adhere the «games as art» concept. Considered all round, it is understandable. In conditions of technological progress advertising alone does not save even multiplatform magazines. I think it is about time we talk about the real roots of ubiquitous Russian piracy.

Yes, it is in human nature to share things. Yes, Russia is a copyright infringement heaven. But the main reason of ubiquitous Russian piracy is hidden in the communist past. No matter how modern a person is, vibes are in the air. It seems that the ideology penetrated the DNA of the nation. The value system of an ordinary citizen of Russia is as simple as this: sharing is not stealing, it is good and it is fair; speculation (or selling with profit) is stealing, it is bad and it is unfair. It is a clear logic. But this situation seems to change with the growing up of more open-minded youth and acknowledgement of hassle-free services like Steam.

Few gaming events that are held in Russia contribute to the change, too. As for large-scale game exhibitions, there is the only one. It is called «IgroMir», it takes place in Moscow since 2006 and it is more a three-ring circus than a normal event for normal people. There are no age restrictions for visiting, so schoolboys of every color are all over the place! And these guys are not well-brought-up little gentlemen, I can assure you. In general, the atmosphere resembles some kind of a casual children's party - with students arranging stands, mandatory bawdy jokes and questionable entertainments. Those who try to speak on more or less serious topics look completely out of place. Some people took a good look at this in the first few times and now try to avoid the exhibition altogether. Anyway, there are always new people who are interested in it.

Russian game developers are in minority on «IgroMir». It is safe to say that in this respect Russia is in a stasis state. But there is one significant remark to be made - social games development is thriving. There are quite a few strong mobile and social gaming companies in Russia. It does not change the fact that Russian social gamers rarely do microtransactions or purchase virtual items. However, it does not daunt developers - their games are not only distributed in Russia, their representation in global market is impressive and it increases day by day.

Russia surely is a country of oddities.
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About Anton Govorinone of us since 4:23 PM on 04.18.2012