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Power Button - Episode 58: Kombo Reunion

Let's Visit A Soviet Arcade

Soviet arcade

While Americans were enjoying Pac-Man and Donkey Kong in the early 1980s, our Soviet counterparts were amusing themselves with turnip-pulling simulators and target shooting titles described by the military as existing “for the purposes of “entertainment and active leisure, as well as the development of visual-estimation abilities.”  Dah, comrade!  Times have changed, governments have collapsed, and technology has moved on, but there's still a place in this world for pulling virtual turnips.  Thirty yeras later, one Soviet-era arcade still stands and remains open for business in Armenia.  Gather up your Kopeks and let's go visit the last authentic Soviet arcade.

In a secluded corner of Gyumri’s Central Park, sits a small room full of enough Soviet-era arcade games to dizzy up visions of Brezhnev, propaganda posters and the KGB keeping tabs on your every move. But while it might appear to be a preserved, colorful museum exhibiting what child’s play might have been like during the mighty CCCP, it is actually a fully functioning game room that has remained the same – through the collapse of the Soviet Union, tragic 1988 Gyumri earthquake and Armenia’s transition into independence under three separate presidents – for 30 years.

The games, ranging from a “Turnip Strength Tester” (“Репка Силомер” or “Repka Silomer”) adapted from a story about a large turnip that needed three people, including family pets to pull it out of the ground to target shooting and car racing contraptions and even one basketball are flanked by large anthropormphic versions of a wolf, fox and rabbit – characters from old Russian childrens’ tales that Sahakian knows from memory.

Growing up in the 1980s at the end of the Cold War, American media always presented the Soviet Union as the evil mirror universe version of our own culture.  Consider the Soviet space shuttle's similiarities to our own Columbia and Challenger, for instance, or the events of Spies Like Us.  Their take on video games of that era is different than I expected.  Based on misconceptions and stereotypes, I would have assumed they would have a game where a yellow disc eats his share and only his share of dots for the good of the empire or a title where a proud bear throws rolling turips at the American invader attempting to climb his mountain and steal his vodka.   

(via Metafilter; photo © K. Shamlian)