S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Memory Shock Therapy
The subtle propaganda of hope and the mistakes of the past
This article is dedicated to all who were brave enough to venture into the Chernobyl NPP and stop the biggest nuclear incident, known to man from spreading further into the globe. Thank you!
This article expresses my viewpoint of what S.T.A.L.K.E.R. symbolizes. Apart from an open-world RPG shooter, I think there is more to it. For me, the series is much more than a video game. Even if what I will say wasn’t done intentionally, I think there is some fundamental truth to my observation.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. was made at a time and place which nobody expected would bring us such a fruit of labour. The series comes from Eastern Europe, a place torn down after the fall of the USSR in 1989. A place with many crises and little to look forward to.
The period it was created was the 2000s – 10 years after the economic turbulences in the Eastern Block. Even today my homeland, Bulgaria, is in a period that we call "post-recession". We are still trying to chase the bad spirits and ideals, which were created and established heavily in the past.
And it’s incredible to see a game with such a scope and execution coming from the East. Yes, today the territory has some big players in the gaming industry, especially free to play ones. But creating an open world RPG shooter with emphasis on Chernobyl is fascinating to me.
The way I see it is that S.T.A.L.K.E.R. was never supposed to come in the first place. Ironically, Shadows of Chernobyl was known as a vapourware for a long time. And when it came, I was surprised that something this unique could be created by people who are from East Europe. (Note: I know the game was created by GSC Game World, who were in Kiev, Ukraine. I’m referring to most locations as East Europe for your and my ease.)
But was it that surprising though? Today, the more I look at S.T.A.L.K.E.R., the more I justify its existence. If we assume that its developers were in their 20s or 30s when they made S.T.A.L.K.E.R., that means they saw the end of the USSR and the worst it had to offer.
The new generations don’t know what was like then (including me) – the Iron Curtain and the Cold War. It was an interesting world to live in and more importantly, to put behind and move on.
All of the optimism, based on vast industrialization, space pioneering and new technologies were reflected in the science fiction literature in the USSR. Some of it was positive, but some criticized the nature of the times they were living in, much like the situation that was going on in West and especially the United States.
One big event that changed people’s opinions about the era was the Chernobyl incident, in 1986. It showed how real the dangers of nuclear power are, and how little control we have over nature if we push the limits of science too far and too fast.
All of these factors are the inspirations for what would become S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 20 years later. The Zone is a grim world, where you can’t trust anything. Strange phenomena and creatures dominate what was once a peaceful land. Its exaggerated universe counter-attacks the extreme notions of the past.
I believe S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is a radioactive detergent, meant to clean the horrors of the Cold War, created by those who witnessed the events, for those who are supposed to never experience them.
Few casualties on the way out
It is very unfortunate that S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 was cancelled so abruptly. I feel like it was going to be something with the depth of MISERY mod for Call of Pripyat and much more. But there is a hope, in the form of Survarium, a F2P game, developed by ex-GSC Game World employees.
Of course, there is also 4A Games, whose founders worked on S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Their Metro series is definitely inspired by their past work in GSC Game World. Its plot and the way it delivers its content is different, but many of the themes do resemble S.T.A.L.K.E.R.s.
That’s why I don’t worry about the future. With more Metro games and Survarium on the horizon it seems like our taste for more radiation will be satisfied.
Do you guys agree? Are you looking forward for more East European games based on similar themes?