Friday, March 13, 2009

Comrades! Pay Attention!

When the experimental cellist Zoe Keating posted on Twitter that she'd contributed her music to the second module of a downloadable freeware adventure game, I had to check it out.

Turns out it's the funniest effort in the old adventure-gaming genre that I've seen in decades, since the old Infocom games like Leisure Suit Larry and Zork were produced and popularized. Soviet-Unterzoegersdorf, from the Austrian art-technology company Monochrom, has me in stitches -- and I'm not even out of Sector 1!

Soviet 1960's retro-kitsch has always been good for a cheap laugh, from Kommissar!, the 1966 Selchow & Righter board game; to The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming, also in 1966; to the Beatles' 1968 hit "Back in the USSR". Why present three-dimensional characters or nuanced cultural analysis when a hack stereotype will do? Who needs Arkady Renko -- let's make fun of the Russkies!

Like "Back in the USSR", Monochrom's game works as parody on several levels. It simultaneously mocks, through mimicry:

1. The heroic slogans, stilted language, stiff attire, and physical decay associated with postwar Soviet culture, depicted in a latter day microcosm of the fallen empire;

2. The kitschy, cartoonish humor in multiple media -- including cartoons -- produced by Western humorists parodying these quirks and foibles of Soviet communist culture;

3. The clumsy attempts to incorporate graphics during the early evolution of gaming, between the peak popularity of Infocom's intriguing, text-only mazes in the 1980's and this millenium's multiplayer contests and obsession with lethal firepower.

At the player's direction, Party Secretary Gomulka marches stiffly, with all the precision and blockheadedness of a Terry Gilliam cutout animation, accompanied by old Soviet inspirational tunes being broadcast over the loudspeaker from a seriously dysfunctional LP record player, around the decrepit Red October Yard in front of the Central Administrative Office for Inner Party Processes -- basically an old barn -- picking up trash and telephoning the Supreme Soviet for instructions.

The small touches, like the noticeable warp in the audio track during the playing of "The Internationale" during the opening titles, make Soviet-Unterzoegersdorf a multidimensional parody laced with knowing jokes. Knowing that Zoe Keating's stirring cello awaits me in Sector 2 -- if I can only figure out where in Soviet-Unterzoegersdorf to secure the nation's last living chicken, at the stern direction of the Supreme Soviet -- is motivation enough to complete Sector 1. Along with the fact that I cannot wait to offer my services to the glorious fatherland, of course.

1 comment:

  1. Do not fear, Comrade!
    You can even play Sector II without finishing Sector I! Just follow orders and watch the whole intro!



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