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VICE vs Video games

Investigating ‘Archanoid’, the Russian Newsgame Revealing Moscow’s Destroyed Past

A small but dedicated team has put together a new smartphone title that documents the city's architectural heritage.

Just released on iOS and Google Play, Archanoid is a familiar-looking block-buster of a newsgame that carries with it some significant history. And not just because it's an unashamed clone of 1986's Arkanoid by Taito, itself modelled on Atari's Breakout of a decade earlier.

As the player breaks the many bricks of Archanoid's ten levels, earning a very game-y array of perks and power-ups as they go, so they explore historic districts of Moscow, home to the game's supporters, the news site Meduza. Each block smashed represents a building that no longer stands, running to several hundred; and many of these, when "unlocked" through their destruction, become part of an in-game encyclopaedia, featuring text information and photography. The end result: an educational time-filler, an arcade classic given contemporary socio-political context. Some buildings fell through age, others as a result of alleged corruption, and gradually a picture of a Moscow that no longer exists comes into focus.

Annons

I spoke to one of the game's creators, Dmitry Golubovsky, previously editor-in-chief of Esquire Russia, about its production and purpose.

VICE: Why use Breakout as the vehicle for a newsgame exploring Moscow's architectural heritage?
Dmitry Golubovsky: We chose Breakout – in Russia it's better known as the early clone, Arkanoid – for two reasons. First of all, it's a very well known mechanic, basically intuitive. We've all played some kind of Breakout at some point. Secondly, it fits the theme very well – bricks, destruction. The metaphor is quite simple, but we hope that this simplicity reads well. And bricks are a perfect medium for data visualisation: one brick, one historical building.

Should video games be doing more to preserve culture and educate their players? We all learn through play, but it's surprising how few developers appear keen to embrace this.
I'm pretty sure that games are already doing a lot for education, and in many ways. On the one hand, you have specialised educational games and newsgames. For example, you can really learn a lot about a civil war in general and the Sarajevo siege in particular from This War of Mine. But it is fiction, so there is a certain distance between the user and the information about the real world. In our case, we tried to make this distance minimal. The user interacts with raw, real-life data.

On the other hand, you can learn even from strictly commercial, big-budget games. A friend of mine told me he found out a lot about Paris during the French Revolution while playing Assassin's Creed Unity. Or take the classic Civilization – it gives you a basic but very solid picture of how human progress works.

Annons

But, of course, much more can and should be done. And a lot depends on shifting people's perception of games as a means of education.

Does making this game put you under any scrutiny from Russian authorities? You say that some buildings have been lost due to corruption, after all.
Well, anything you do in Russia nowadays can put you under scrutiny from authorities. They're even checking the Torah for extremism at the moment. Activists and independent media are under constant pressure. But if the authorities do react to this game in some way, it would be very funny.

We've long since reached the stage where a "game" doesn't need to be "fun", as Archanoid arguably shows. Do you think that the language we use in relation to gaming needs addressing?
The whole reason we picked the form of a game [for this project] was to try to engage people in the issue, provoke them a little bit, of course, and make them think. There are groups of very courageous people like archnadzor.ru who fight for preserving Russia's architectural heritage, and we have great respect for them. They arrange rallies, try to work with authorities, sign petitions, and sometimes even block excavators. Unfortunately, their voices are often not heard. We are just trying to raise awareness in a different way.

More information at the game's official website

@MikeDiver