Noisy, flashing, funky arcade machines to entertain workers? Surely not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about the USSR during the Cold War era…
The idea of light hearted ‘fun’ and ‘entertainment’ within a Soviet context is generally not widely discussed and seems somehow at odds with the competitive ambiance of the Cold War. This is why I set off to find out more about Soviet ideas of fun and visited the “Museum of Soviet Arcade Machines” in St. Petersburg.
Arcade machines are well known in the West and reached the peak of their popularity in the middle of the 20th century. One of the first, and maybe still to this day the most famous, was Pinball. By the 1950’s, numerous companies had developped a variety of different game machines – such as Duck Hunt, Sea Devil and Safari – that made their way around the world. Well almost. Initially they didn’t make it to the USSR. This, however changed in 1971 when an exhibition of foreign arcade machines was held in Moscow’s Gorky Park and Izmaylovsky Park.
The exhibition was not only a great success with around twenty thousand visitors a day, but it also allowed the Soviet authorities to make some money. Every game cost around twenty kopeks, just as much as a bottle of beer and a scoop of ice cream. Since then, arcade machines have been a leisure activity, especially for the younger generation.
The great success of the exhibition set the stage for a home grown Soviet arcade machine industry. In 1975, the Ministry of Culture decided to construct copies of Japanese and American machines as well as Soviet only games based on Russian fairy tales. Repka (The Turnip) and Konyok-Gorbunok (The Little Humpbacked Horse) are two prominent examples. From the mid-1970s, 22 military factories exchanged guns for games and produced over 100 types of arcade machines for the whole Union. Production only stopped when the USSR collapsed. Arcade machines were gradually replaced with computers. Lost, sold in pieces and forgotten, it seemed like the arcade machine era had come to an end.
Until the 2000s it seemed like these Arcade machines were just another relic from the Socialist past. In these years, however, 3 young people had the brilliant idea to revive the machines in a specifically dedicated museum and set off to collect remaining arcade machines all over the former Soviet Union. Finally in 2007, the world’s first “Museum of Soviet Arcade Machines” opened its doors to arcade enthusiasts. The museum’s founders did not only succeed in preserving the Soviet youth spirit for future generations but also created a place that evokes a whole generation’s childhood dreams and memories. Today over 50 different games are preserved in three different Russian cities.
Gamers, do you want to go analogue Soviet style? The good news is, you can! The “Museum of Soviet Arcade Machines” has three branches full of exciting games in Russia:
Moscow, Kutznetsky Most 12, +7 (499) 261-11-47
Open every day: 11am -21pm.
Saint-Petersburg, Knyushennaya sa,. 2B, +7 (812) 740-02-40
Open every day: 11am -20pm.
Kazan, Kremlevskaya 21, +7 (843) 292-16-88
Open every day: 11am -20pm.