Little Blog Adventure

A gaming "sketchblog"

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Soviet-Unterzögersdorf: A Very Serious Game (?)

Here's a description of the impossible-to-pronounce Soviet-Unterzögersdorf, straight off the game's website:
Soviet Unterzögersdorf (pronounced «oon-taa-tsee-gars-doorf») is the last existing appanage republic of the USSR. The enclave maintains no diplomatic relationship with the surrounding so-called «Republic of Austria» or with the Fortress «European Union». The downfall of her motherland -- the Soviet Union -- in the early 1990s had a particularly bad effect on the country’s economic situation.

It is a great challenge to secure survival for the small but proud confederation. External reactionary forces put the country in danger. It’s a lack of respect due to a morally corrupted and perhaps even non-existing unity of the peoples. The goal of a glorious future is almost unreachable.

But there are a handful of people who don’t give up on a vision for a better tomorrow. Let us tell you the stories of the brave citizens in the beautiful little country of Soviet Unterzögersdorf.

It’s a story that will go into history.
Stirring, no? Except for the fact that the country of Soviet-Unterzögersdorf is completely non-existent. The game, which I'm going to abbreviate as SU because typing the full name is an exercise in (cut-and-paste) frustration, is part of an art project by the international self-described art-technology-philosophy group monochrom. It's a very postmodern production, being a simulation of a history that never existed, designed to comment on and parody Eastern-European Communist countries of yore (and implicitly criticize the current dominant Capitalist system as well). Interestingly enough, they chose the medium of the traditional Lucasarts-style adventure game because they felt that this "almost extinct form of computer game would provide the perfect media platform to communicate the idea of «Soviet-Unterzögersdorf»."

So what's the game about? You play as Vladislav Gomulka, party secretary of the tiny, 2.5 square kilometer large country of SU, the last bastion of Communist ideals (in real-life, situated smack in the middle of Austrian wine country). The game starts as Vladislav wakes up at 7:00am in the morning, to be rudely greeted by the horrendous sight of garbage all over the country's Red Yard, not to mention graffiti! Vladislav's first mission is to clean up all this garbage (and wipe off the graffiti) and then find out whodunnit! No prizes for guessing that it was young punks from the neighbouring village of... bah I can't spell it. Just imagine a jumble of consonants with a few precious vowels thrown in, and possibly an umlaut.

So does the game work? While it's worth as a postmodern examination of the cultural history and the political struggles of Cold War-era Europe will depend on the player's knowledge of the history of that era (though I would assume that this is pretty much general knowledge), it's very compelling as a game. Mostly because it's so darned funny. It's very aware of the something rather-tired tropes of the adventure game genre and it uses them to great comedic effect in furthering the game's story and themes. I particularly enjoyed having Vladislav comment on various in-game objects (he delivers such classics as "Doing this won't destroy capitalism" and "Doing this won't lead to a glorious future!" in droll, dead-pan Russian). The conflict between Communist and Capitalist worldviews is also brought out with some sparkling humour in the game.

So there we have it, a game that aspires to more serious goals than your average videogame and does so in a mostly-successful manner. I can honestly say it's the first pure adventure game I've enjoyed in a long time and I quite appreciated the game's subtext as well. The only problem is, the game ends in a cliffhanger (it's a part 1 of 3, you see). This interview at is quite revealing- going into the philosophical reasons behind the game's creation and the developers' future plans for the next 2 installments.


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