Gaming in Russia: From the 90s to this day. Part 3

Before I start I would like to apologize to all the people who enjoyed the previous parts of my retrospective and supported me in the comments section. I am sorry for finishing it abruptly. Thank you and excuse me. 

It has been almost 4 years since Part 2; many things have changed in the world, in my country and my life. My country invaded two regions of our neighbor Ukraine, occupied Crimea (a peninsula in the South of Ukraine), was supposedly involved in the horrible tragedy that occurred in the Ukrainian air space, isolated itself from the civilized world, was put under US and EU sanctions, slapped tit-for-tat sanctions thus making the lives of Russian citizens more difficult. Our state is a mess, and the light at the end of the tunnel is nowhere to be seen. Employers have not changed their salary policies, and it is quite clear why. Some companies collapsed, others lost their share on the market, so employees get the same money they used to get back in 2014. Our national currency, ruble, is getting cheaper. No wonder, it goes by the nickname of “a wooden bill” or “derevyannyi”. The economic situation has seriously affected my gaming habits. Games have become insanely expensive since exchange rates increased at the end of 2014. The average price of a new console release is around 3500 rubles or even more, when before it was around 1800 rubles. The same is happening to food, household chemicals, car maintenance – to everything. So, when choosing between filling a car with fuel and buying a new game, you know what to do.


My gaming routine has shifted towards my backlog (which is thankfully large and diverse), discounted games and budget titles. I own a PS4 now, but I still buy games for my PS3. Well, actually, I almost entirely game on my PS3. At the moment, I am solving a murder as a special agent Francis York Morgan (or simply York, as most people like to call him) in Deadly Premonition. Fantastic game. But the marvels of that game are to be discussed at a different time. Let me concentrate on my past gaming experience since I have yet again become very nostalgic. I guess due to a shortage of work at the moment.

One of my favorite novels is Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine. It is a semi-biographical realistic fantasy masterpiece that takes the reader on a trip to childhood - naive and careless. There is one chapter in particular that I always get back to, Chapter 17. In this chapter Charlie Woodman takes Douglas and Tom to a living “time machine”, Colonel Freeleigh who tells them stories of the past. Writing, in general, has this awesome power to take people back in time. So, I invite you again to accompany me in my time travels. The places and times we will go are not distant, the events we will see are rather ordinary, but they are important to me. They have shaped me as a person and gave me my lifetime passion. Video games have influenced me since the day I tried Pac-Man at my mother’s office way back in 1993. First, they excited my curiosity, then sparked my interest and at last became my devotion, even an obsession.

While we are on the subject of game obsessions, I was crazy about Mortal Kombat 3. I think it was 1995 or 1996 when my classmate boasted that he had got Mortal Kombat 2. He was the cool kid who always got new stuff first. Moreover, somehow he used to get original Sega cartridges with game manuals, while I only could buy bootleg copies. I did not even know where to find original games. Back in the 90s, there were almost no game shops in Moscow, and people bought them at different and sometimes strange places. I remember buying most of my games at my local flea market. There was one seller with lots of bootleg Dendy (NES) and Sega Genesis (Megadrive) cartridges. You could also trade-in your older games or rent games. I was very envious of my friend. He told me how awesome the game was, about the characters, about the liters of blood and tons of bones which filled the screen with each fatality. It was unbearable to listen to him and not play it. I had to get that game. I begged my dad to take me to our local market, and he did. I got my Mortal Kombat game not long after New Year, for my birthday in January. But I got the third game in the franchise, Mortal Kombat 3. The box said: “Get ready for the fight of your life. Plunge into the darkness. This is your life. This is your fight. Mortal Kombat 3”. I was not ready for this game. This game lopped my head off. Three times, Johnny Cage style. Fatality. Flawless victory.

My cartridge of Mortal Kombat 3 was a bootleg copy of the Genesis version, which is interesting because Russain kids used to game on Megadrives, and Megadrive version had different box art.

Before buying our own small piece of land in 1998, my family used to rent “dachas” (a cottage in the country on a tiny piece of land) during the summer. I would stay there with my mother, while my father worked in Moscow. In the summer of 1996, my aunt told us that her colleague was giving her country house for rent. My mother phoned that lady and agreed on all her conditions. In June, we started for that place. If I remember correctly, it took around two hours to get there from Moscow. That dacha cooperative settlement was established by the Soviet Military; families of military servicemen spent summers in that place. It is located near military facilities, I think, near one of numerous ballistic missile defense compounds that surrounded Moscow. There were really tall buildings with triangular roofs coming from the very ground, and with huge gates for big military trucks access on the way to that location.

This is a map of the Soviet-era ballistic defense system surrounding Moscow. The place I spent the summer of 1996 is in the southwest, near Kubinka (Кубинка).

June was rather boring, as kids were starting to gather only at the end of the month. I met one guy two years older than me. We played video games, mostly FIFA, which he was a big fan of, and some Mortal Kombat, but I do not think we played a lot of it. There were also a couple of girls, sisters, and I got them to play Mortal Kombat 3 with me. I was surprised that they liked the game, particularly the female characters, Sonya Blade and Sindel. They even fooled around pretending to be them and doing some mocked up fighting, and even performing finishing moves. Yes, I showed them fatalities. One of the sisters especially liked Sindel’s hairspin finisher. Cool stuff.


But the real deal started in July when the place got invaded by kids. Our landlady introduced me to the boys who lived next door. We soon became friends, we played football (soccer), went on long bike rides, and played lots and lots of video games. I brought my whole game library which at that time comprised around ten titles with Mortal Kombat 3 as the crown jewel of my collection. Now I was the cool kid who had this fighting masterpiece which every teenage boy wanted. However, our gaming routine didn’t only consist of blood spilling and bone crushing (which, to tell the truth, we enjoyed more often than other things), but of throwing cluster bombs in Worms for Sega Megadrive (Genesis), hitting aces in Davis Cup World Tour. It was the ultimate summer of video games with fighting tournaments and heated gaming discussions. When we got bored of Mortal Kombat 3, I asked my father to bring me a copy of the newest Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3. Alas, the quality of the Megadrive version was poorer than vanilla MK3 for the same console, but it didn’t prevent us from having a good time while using Noob Saibot’s cheap moves or trying to perform extremely difficult Brutalities (I still cannot do it).

Moreover, one of the boys got a Super Nintendo with a copy of Killer Instinct for his birthday that summer. So, you can imagine that we completely lost our minds. We were like zombies starving for more flesh. I think our gang suffered from group video game obsession and no doctor could help us. There was no medicine, no pill to relieve our condition. That summer we became electronic entertainment schizo-maniacs with a severe case of video game hallucinations. We thought about games, talked about games and dreamed about games. I miss that summer. It surely is my fondest childhood memory.


Like the summer Ray Bradbury pictured in his fantastic novel, my summer of 1996 is full of memories - happy and sad; experiences - unpleasant and meaningful; and days - bright and boring. It is the very essence of my childhood. Besides giving my such vivid recollections, that summer season brought my realization that my mother’s disease (she had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis two years before) would not go away, and we as a family would have to deal with it. Peaceful and happy summers were greatly important for my mother’s health. So, my positive emotions took her pain and weakness away. She liked when my friends gathered at our place: she would bake pastries ‘gamer’s treats’ for us, talk to us, laugh at our silly jokes and criticize us for bad language if it slipped into our rants over unfair win or cheating. She was not interested in video games at all, but, I think, she saw the social aspect of them and was glad that they filled the house with kids’ happy voices.

That summer holidays were so filled with interesting and memorable experiences that it can take an entire blog to share them. In my mind that summer is like a cozy quilt of flashbacks and video games are threads that saw memory rags together. That’s my favorite blanket and it provides me with warmth and comfort even on the dullest days.


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