Thirty years on, Chernobyl disaster spawns unlikely gaming culture

Thu Apr 21, 2016 4:05pm EDT
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By Maxim Shemetov

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the world's worst, brought death, misery and radioactive contamination. Thirty years later, it has become the unlikely inspiration for Russian weekend gaming enthusiasts.

As the anniversary of the catastrophe approaches, people in affected areas in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia are still coming into daily contact with dangerously high levels of radiation from the April, 1986 explosion at the nuclear plant.

But in Moscow and other cities across the former Soviet Union, others spend their weekends pretending they live in Chernobyl's "dead zone" for fun, part of an unusual legacy the accident spawned including films, books and computer games.

The Moscow gamers can be spotted running around the Russian capital's abandoned construction sites, hiding in dark stairwells, and navigating obstacles as they try to outsmart rivals in a quest for what they call magic "artifacts".

According to the game's scenario, the artifacts possess special qualities and can also be a cure for the various diseases the players contract.

Dressed up as mutants, zombies, and warriors, the gamers cut an unusual figure in urban Moscow and its outskirts. Split into teams and given nicknames, they come from all walks of life.

During the working week, they toil as bar managers, computer designers, cameramen, artists, lawyers, and mathematicians.

At the weekend, they imagine they inhabit the irradiated "dead zone" around the infamous power plant after a new Chernobyl nuclear disaster which occurred in 2006, 20 years after the real thing.   Continued...

German, "Irbis", 29, Mikhail, "Molokh", 30, Dmitry, "Mirt", 25, and Viktor, "Kar", 20 (L-R)  dressed in stalker costumes which identify the group "Dolg", pose for a portrait in Moscow, Russia, March 27, 2016. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov