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In Soviet Russia, games play you

<p>Tetris is a piece of Russian propaganda?! Adrian Yeung discusses the links between board games and politics.</p>

There has long been debate over whether there’s a correlation between violence in video games and violent behaviour in young people. However, the simpler games of yore are not the innocent, wholesome amusements that we may think they are – nay, they are in fact insidious pieces of government propaganda.

Due to all of Putin’s recent antagonism towards the West, it’s no surprise that many are concerned that the Cold War is reigniting (read: ‘Winter is coming’). Some speculate that the Cold War never really ended to begin with. However, long before the Berlin Wall came down, the Soviets had already infiltrated the minds of young Westerners with something so innocuous and ridiculously addictive that we didn’t even notice. I am, of course, talking about Tetris, which was designed in 1984 (gasp!) by Soviet game designer Alexey Pajitnov.

Tetris is a piece of communist propaganda. No matter what shape or colour, all blocks are created equal, each consisting of four squares. The aim of many other games is to accumulate as many points as possible, and come up on top as the winner. This is a very capitalist way of thinking, is it not? In contrast, Tetris tells you that, no matter how far you go, no matter how many points you get, you can never win. It should be noted that Tetris is a never-ending game, so trying to get points and beat high scores means just chasing goals that are ultimately meaningless, as you always lose.

But the game also reflects communistic thinking by not encouraging creativity. You aren’t being asked to adventure or innovate. Instead, you are just allocated resources from some faceless central source. And they’re not particularly exciting things that you get but the same blocks and shapes over and over. This is symbolic of the stagnation of innovation in communist countries, where everything remains the same, as opposed to the constant technological advancement in capitalist societies.

One of the strengths of capitalism over communism is that competition and the profit motive lead to more innovation and higher productivity. People are more motivated to work hard and achieve their goals because they will be rewarded accordingly. However, to this day, kids waste countless hours on Tetris – a game that is still popular even with the plethora of video game consoles – time that should have been spent studying in order to better become productive members of society. I remember many of my fellow high school students wasting countless hours in class playing Tetris. Not only did our teachers fail to tell us off, they would often join us.

So there you go. Tetris is a piece of Soviet propaganda. And yet the capitalists also had their propagandistic games too – not surprising, as a fundamentally immoral ideology needs all the help it can get convincing the masses that it is the only acceptable system under which to live. Monopoly, where players win by accumulating the most wealth while bankrupting everybody else, goes against the egalitarian principles of social democracy, where everybody gets a fair go and economic monopolies are condemned. Ironically, the game was designed by anti-monopolist Elizabeth Magie who wished to explain the negative consequences of property ownership concentration. Doubly ironically, it was later acquired by businessman Charles Darrow, who then claimed he was the sole inventor of the game. Fittingly, Monopoly has now become the world’s bestselling board game. Magie received only $500 for her invention and until recent times was not recognised as the creator of the game.

On a larger scale, Monopoly reflects America’s strategy during the Cold War, in their attempt to encircle and ultimately bankrupt the Soviet Union. The control of land was an important part of American foreign policy, as seen in the stationing of military in NATO and East Asian countries, and the upset of losing Iran and Vietnam. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States now has an uncontested global monopoly on wealth and military power. But Elizabeth Magie may yet have the last laugh, as monopolies do not last indefinitely. In their dominance they begin engaging in unethical practices and collapsing under the weight of their own power, having long abandoned their founding principles. Al Qaeda attacked the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon after all, not the Statue of Liberty or Harvard University.

As for the libertarians? Well, there’s Cards Against Humanity…

Farrago's magazine cover - Edition Three 2021


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