Gaming in Russia: From the 90s to This Day. Part 2

After my mother had retired we began to spend more time together. My father worked during the weeks, my brother had been living on his own already, so I looked after my mother. First I only helped her in her daily routine: we cooked, cleaned the flat. While she was sleeping, I would either do my homework or play a video game. We strolled together, did shopping, went to museums and galleries, visited my grandmother. I was always near my mother, in case she felt bad and so my father who was working 7 days a week did not have to worry if anything happens. We both were right next her. The desease was progressing, sometimes retreating. But having returned it brought new symptoms and increased the old ones. It was very hard to see her suffer. Yet I think that my being by mother's side made her calm and happy.

As I have already mentioned gaming was more than just a hobby. Gaming enriched my dull life. Since I had to be with my mother all the time, I did not go out much, I did not have any friends in my neighborhood. You may think that I was a self-contained, unfriendly and shy kid. But fortunately I was not. And I can thank gaming for that. Video games were cool among kids. If you owned a Dendy you were cool. But if you had a 16-bit console, you were 'the man'. Luckily a few of my classmates also had Mega Drives and so we were very good friends. We were the gang. Cartridges for Mega Drive were pretty expensive, I only got games for big holidays like New Year and Birthday. My collection was not large. In order to play new games we would exchange games. My elder brother's friend had a Mega Drive as well and my brother used to bring me a game or two from his friend's collection. I even got one game as present from his friend. It was Ayrton Senna's Super Monaco GP 2. One of the best racers for Mega Drive, if not the best.

Besides giving me my school friends, gaming helped me study the English language. English was one of the most important subjects at school back in the early 90s. Every parent dreamed of their child speaking English. Fluent English granted great possibilities of getting a well-paid job after the university, so parents forced their kids to study English. When I was in nursery school my mother began teaching me basic English. She had studied it at school and university and was good at it. A year before school while I was preparing for school education, I attended English classes. Nothing special just some easy stuff: letters, numbers, colors and animals but it would help me a lot at school. When I was in second grade our school administration divided my class in two English groups . The first group would become an experiment. It would receive 5 hours of English a week, teacher would use British textbooks and innovative approach in teaching.

My old textbooks we had in Year 3. We thought we were so cool that we studied by British textbooks. Just looking at them brings back so many memories.

Gaming in Russia: From the 90s to This Day. Part 2

At first I was in the second group and did not feel happy about it, because I was far better than anyone in my group. Having noticed my success in English the teacher of the experimental group transferred me. The classes were challenging, but very interesting. And video games made it easier to study English. I studied English while playing games. The fact that my friends who enjoyed games were also good at English can only prove that video games are an excellent method of studying languages.

The games in the early 90s did not get any localizations. Most of the cartridges sold were bootleg. Sometimes one could even get a Japanese version. I owned a Japanese copy of Ecco the Dolphin 2. It did not prevent me from playing it of course, but I surely was not enjoying it. Japanese made it unplayable in the latter half of the game. It is such a pity because the game itself is very good, beautiful and addicting. It was a breath of fresh air. You were the dolphin trying to save your comrades from evil aliens. How is that? The creator of this game is a genius. Alas, I could not play it. My copy of Super Monaco GP 2 had a Japanese cover, but the game was in English. Every Russian gamer can tell you of such things, especially the people who gamed on Dendy. But most of time the games were in English. The Russian versions of Dendy (NES) and Mega Drive began appearing in late 90s, they were pirate copies with poor translation. Personally I still prefer English versions of games. There are several reasons for that. Firstly, I have no problems playing in English. If I have trouble of understanding anything, I turn subtitles on. Secondly, in many cases, Russian localizations are still bad: translation is poor, the fonts are ugly, the actors who do voice overs migrate from game to game, so their voices feel hackneyed. Moreover their talent leaves a lot to be desired. I remember only one proper localization and it was for Star Craft 2 the Heart of Swarm. I think the reason is that Blizzard was wholly responsible for the Russian version, they even had textures with Russian text. Unlike Blizzard, Sony's localizations are lame having all the problems I listed above. They even have bad Russian in PSN. I think they use Google translate for game descriptions in Playstation Store. I really mean it, they use machine translation in the Russian segment of European Store. Do not get me wrong, I am not offended by it, it just makes browsing for games hilarious. Furthermore such poorly translated descriptions turn customers off. Valeriy Korneev (aka Valkorn) a popular blogger, game journalist, amateur photographer and an art director for a company distibuting anime in Russia (well, jack of all trades) published an article mocking Sony for that (unfortunately, only Russian-speaking TAY users will appreciate the awesomeness of this post and ridicuolousness of the translation). It was in 2008, 6 (!) years ago. And here is a photo of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc entry in PS Store taken by me (again, and I am sorry for that, only for Russian-speaking TAYers). It is 2014, 6 (!!) years passed. I can only approve they've changed thier michine translation software since 2008, because this is a bit less hysterical, but still gross.

Gaming in Russia: From the 90s to This Day. Part 2

I do not know whose responsibility it is to contribute such descriptions and it really does not matter to me, but whoever it is, they are not doing their job appropriately. In addition recently Russian publishers have been failing to include English versions on disks. I can think of several games having this drawback: Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 and Black Ops, Unit 13. Sometimes changing language in console settings gives access to English voice overs, like in the case of Fable 2 or PGR4. I reckon I am more of an exception than a rule, most gamers play Russian versions of games. If they play on PCs and there is no Russian in a particular game, they wait for a fan-made translation or (if none) pass on to the game that has Russian. Some, I hear, use Russian walkthroughs. In many cases language barrier prevents Russian gamers from enjoying their hobby. We would appreciated if Russian publishers did a better job of localizing games: hired better dubbing actors, did not remove original language, invited professional translators (even from the fandom). These all would really make our gaming lives happier.

But let us get back to 1994. It was a very tough year in the modern Russian history. In 1994 the Russian government launched the First Chechen War in attempt to restore Moscow's control over the rebel republic. After the collapse of USSR Chechnya declared its independence from Russian Federation and formation of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. Its leader, former Soviet Air Force general Dzhokhar Dudayev refused to pay bills to state treasury, still having access to Russain oil, he sold it abroad. He also prohibited Russian special services from entering the newly formed republic. Nevertheless Chechnya still received financial support from the federal centre. So in December 1994 Russian federal forces entered the territory of Chechnya in order to seize control over the rebellious republic. Many families fled from Chechnya to Russian Federation. In new school year of 1994 a Chechen boy joined our class. Many parents were against it, they were afraid of Chechens and did not want their kids to be in the same class with Chechen kids. Parents even scared their children with violent Chechens. They became the Russian analogy of a Boogy Man. But they could not do anything about it. Chechnya still was a part of our state and schools could not refuse to accept refugees. At first nobody seemed to notice the boy. We neither talked to him nor played. But then on of us found out that he too had a console. And this fact changed everything for us. He, an evil Chechen like our parents put it, played video games. He played the same games like we did, enjoyed them. He had the same passion for games. Come on he could not be evil. He was cool, he was one of us. Since this very moment we became good friends and he joined 'the gang'.

That is another reason why I love gaming so much. It brings people together. It creates a world without boundaries. Look at developers. Game studios have employees who come from different countries. They work side by side to get us gamers of the world together. We have an excellent opportunity to see the world from many different perspectives. We start to dig into other cultures. We learn languages, History and World Art from interactive stories, competitive sessions and gaming web-sites and forums. Gamers are cosmopolitans. We belong to a group with no ethnic, gender or cultural differences. So when we had learned that our classmate was also into games, the fear was no longer with us. We broke the wall separating us from enjoying our hobby together, sharing our feelings. And through games we learned more about each other. I think we gamers all had a moment when we felt that we were a part of something bigger. We are. When you are reading this article or making a tricky jump in Mario, or exploring the desert with a stranger in Journey, you are a part of something bigger. I think that illustrious European PS2 commercial nails this idea. We are all very different but our enthusiasm makes us equal. And this is very important to remember and stand for our equality.

But sometimes gamers have to defend gaming as a legitimate pastime and say that it is more than just 'kids' stuff'. We also have heard that games are bad for us, for our mental and physical health. We have had this argument with our parents, classmates, colleagues. My father did not approve of my hobby. He told me that it was bad for my eyesight (indeed it was), that games interfered with school. Back then I did not have the right words to prove my point of view. It is always sad that somebody so close does not understand you and does not share your devotion. Luckily, I had such a person. And believe it or not he was an adult. Well, my mother was not against video games, but she saw them more as a toy than a true passion. My elder brother played some multiplayer games with me like Road Rash 2, Super Monaco GP 2 or Lethal Enforcers. He gave Lethal Enforces 1 and 2 with two light guns for my Birthday. One of my favorite games for Mega Drive. But still he thought of games as a mere toy.

Gaming in Russia: From the 90s to This Day. Part 2

The person who shared my passion, my fascination was Sergey Suponev, a TV host. There is no gamer in Russia who grew up in the 90s and who does not know his name. He was an icon. He hosted several shows for kids: "Zvezdny Chas" (Star Hour or Hour of Triumph), a trivia game for schoolchildren; then "Zov Djungley" (Call of the Jungle), a competitive game show for primary schoolchildren; "Marafon-15" (Marathon-15), an educational and entertainment show for teenagers (hence the name for the show). And the there was "Dendy-Novaya Realnost" (Dendy-New Reality). At first the program was more like a commercial. Steepler, the company which sold Dendy in Russian Federaiton funded the show. For many it was the only source to learn about games for the consoles of their choice. Many can argue that he knew nothing about the games he reviewed, sometimes making up crazy stories about the game characters and even making factual mistakes. But none of these things mattered to me. He was a grown-up who played and enjoyed video games. We could all feel that he actually was a fellow gamer, passionate and faithful. For many, for me and for my classmates, he was a guide to the wonderful, intriguing and tantalizing world of video games. He was the White Rabbit and helped us explore the Wonderland. He had an incredible talent of getting on with children. He seemed very natural and honest in everything he did on TV. He was not afraid of children, he would crack jokes with kids, mock them, encourage them if they fail anything and laud them for their success. He was our friend and mentor. We learned many things from him, since he hosted a wide range of shows from highly educational to entertaining. He was the face of Russian TV for children. He invested his life into making TV for children in Russia. I was so sad to learn that he had crashed his snowmobile and died. His peers used to call him a kidult. But he was so much more than a grown-up kid, he was our best friend. His gravestone resembles a kinescope with his father's epitaph engraved on it: Your star path in this world runs through the screen into the souls of children. After his departure TV for kids will never be the same again. Nowdays kids show are dull, uninspiring and pitiful. They lack natural emotions and just painful to watch. It is really sad to realize that modern Russian children are deprived from interesting, educational and entertaining television. There are about ten channels for kids on Russian TV and none of them are comparable to the work Sergey Suponev did throughout the 90s and in the early 2000.

Sergey Suponev had very good sense of humor. I really appreciated it. In the introduction to this episode of "Dendy-Novaya Realnost" he compares video game market to an actual market, saying that 8-bit games are potatoes, Mega Drive games are tomatoes and Super Nintendo games are actually pineapples (!), tangerines (!!) and oranges (!!!). Enjoy the early-90s-Russian-gaming-show goodness! And behold the best studio ever!

"Dendy-Novaya Realnost" (Dendy-New Reality) was not the only show about gaming on Russian TV. In 1996 Steepler (the company that funded the show) could not prolong the agreement with the channel and the show was shut down to gamers' regret. Soon after, a new show called "Mir Dendy"(Dendy World) appeared on a different channel. It was okay but the choice of hosts was meh. They tried to follow Suponev's formula but lacked his charisma. It did not gain any popularity and was closed. The show that is also worth mentioning was "Ot Vinta" (Clear! or Off we go!), it also was funded by Steepler at the very beginning. This show unlike the above two highlighted the PC games. It was popular among the gamers. The presenters, Bonus and Gamover, had weird, even zany sense of humor and did a very good job of presenting and reviewing the games. It was both entertaining and informative. Unfortunately it was also shut down in 1998.

The first episode of "Ot Vinta". We were yet to see what Bonus and Gameover had to offer. Wierdness, PC games, Zany Jokes and 15 minutes of Pure Gaming Fun every show! Love it.

This episode of "Mir Dendy" takes a look at "Killer Instinct" tournament held back in the early 90s. Pure nostalgia! Sergey Suponev was the host of the tournament.

As you can see popularity of vidoe games was increasing. There were shows, a few game magazines and even tournaments in the 90s. Video games were growing on people. Many were joining gaming society, some as spectators, but most as participators. It was overwhelming at times with so much choice on the market: PC gaming joined the party with its sharp graphics and great sound, new consoles like Saturn, Psone and 3DO started to compete for the Russian living rooms (better to say kids' rooms). It was the time I started to fall behind with gaming.

End of Part 2. Here is the first part in case you missed it.

You can contact omeniel by email: omeniel@gmail.com