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Published on January 16th, 2010 | by simeon

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What will THEIR video games look like?

I finished Men of War: Red Tide a couple days ago and I just sent in the review. One thing I touched on in the review that I didn't expand upon but would like to is the fact that Red Tide appears to be commercially unviable – yes, there is a brand established and all that, but who is going to scan the shelf at Best Buy, pick up a game about Soviet marines in a marginal theater of the second world war and say 'I've gotta have this'? Nobody.

The thing wrong with the above scenario is that nobody at Best Buy needs to buy Red Tide for it to actually become commercially viable. There's a game-playing audience in Russia now, with its own critical establishment, its own prestigious development studios, its own professional standards and awards and the rest of it. If Red Tide bombed (and it probably will) in the West, nobody at 1C would have any reason to care. They can now (and have been able for several years) to make games that only Russians will care about.

Without getting stuck in essentialism we can say that this means that Russian games and Western games will diverge and explore first different content and then different forms, because Russians and Britons and Americans and the French all have different visual cultures, different ideas about literature, the role of art, and most everything else. This is a consequence not of any kind of empirical difference between American People (whoever they are) and Russian People (same), but of the separation historically between the two peoples which was partially geographical bad luck and partially conscious exclusion, blah blah. You can read all of this in books.

Getting back to games: Cryostasis, Red Tide, and even S.T.A.L.K.E.R. are all examples of the former, lesser type of divergence (content) – a western studio would be less likely to make a game about a Soviet nuclear sub, a bunch of Russian marines, or a Ukranian nuclear accident. But western studios have made survival horror games, tactical combat games, and first-person shooters which resemble those games named in form if not in content. In many ways these Russian developers aren't making something totally original so much as responding to games they've played before, when westerners had the run of things. What will happen when the Russians start making games that are as wildly different from ours in form as their poetry is?

I don't think the Russians even know yet. And perhaps the new art form, games, will be more homogeneous across cultures, because its development coincided with the arrival of the internet. It's important to not make too much of this – Russians get on the internet, as Americans do, and chat generally with people that speak their own language and share their own culture. But surely it means something that basically all media regardless of origin is at your fingertips now?

I know what it means for the present: having to wait for localization patches.


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