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Life as a Video Game Fan in Ukraine

Roman Vasylyshen's home has been in the news lately, and not for the best of reasons.

Only one-in-six Americans can find Ukraine on a map, according to a recent poll. It’s likely most players have only heard of Ukraine because it’s where 4A Games, developer behind the Metro series, is located.

Ukraine has been in the news lately, and it hasn’t been for encouraging reasons.

Both 4A Games and Roman Vasylyshen, a 23-year-old university student working to earn his diploma in labor law, are located in Kiev. Kiev is both the capital and largest city in Ukraine, and it's been at the center of political and social unrest, as the instability in Ukraine continues.

Vasylyshen contacted me through a private message on Giant Bomb earlier in the week with a few questions, and we started chatting about various subjects. Upon learning he’s living in Kiev, I asked if he’d be willing to chat with me about his experience with gaming in Ukraine.

Given what's happening in Ukraine right now, Vasylyshen does (shock!) present some personal beliefs about the situation regarding Ukraine. Geopolitics don't come up very often here at Giant Bomb, so please be cool about that, should you choose to start typing in the comments.

(Full disclosure: Vasylyshen, who goes by SnakeVSGiant Bomb on the site, does not speak great English, so I cleaned up our email conversation to be more readable.)

Giant Bomb: Can you describe what it’s like in Kiev for you right now? Most people know Kiev because it’s in the news right now.

Roman Vasylyshen: It's interesting in Kiev right now. There are no people running with guns on the streets--most of the time. Sometimes there are certain incidents involving guns, but it's few and far between. Mostly, it's safe now. I mean, it's not February, when it was a little bit scary, to tell the truth. Little by little, we are trying to rebuild parts of Maidan [the central square in Kiev] that were destroyed during this revolution. There a lot of political campaigns from different politicians all over Ukraine. We have secured elections for May 25, but if Putin [the president of Russia] acts like he acted so far, it will be tough to elect someone. There is a lot of false information all over the news, all over the world, especially in Russia. I am not trying to say I know everything, but I know a thing or two about the situation in my country better than most news reporters.

GB: Tell us a little bit about your background. Did you grow up in Kiev? Have you always been playing games? What kinds?

Vasylyshen: I was born in a small town in the southwest part of Ukraine. I moved to Kiev when I was a year old, and been here ever since. Right now, I am finishing my time in university to get my diploma in law, specifically labor law.

A "Dendy" was a Taiwanese hardware clone targeted at Russia, and it reportedly sold more than one million units.

I started playing games around three or four-years-old. The first console I played was the Mega Drive, and it was amazing--Mortal Kombat 3 and Desert Strike. Then, about year later, I asked my parents for a console on my birthday. But since it was a difficult time in our country--plus, my parents didn't know anything about consoles--they bought me a "Dendy”. A “Dendy” was an Nintendo Entertainment System, but they were stripped out of plastic and put in other boxes because that how things were at the time. I loved this little beast, and played it every day.

Then, a few years later, I got a PC, which was my main platform for games until about 2006, when I bought a PSP. Now, I have a 3DS, Vita, PS3 (I sold my DS and PSP, Wii, and Xbox 360). I play almost everything, from RPGs to racing sims--you name it. The most recent fun I had with games is probably Dark Souls 2. Man, what a game.

GB: Do you find it weird that people suddenly care about Kiev? Or do you see this as an opportunity?

Vasylyshen: It's a little weird. As far as I know, until recent events, most Americans didn't even knew about Ukraine, and now everybody is head-over-heels about our problems. It's fine with me, but so far, big American and European politicians hadn't made a single valuable move. With sanctions, Russia doesn't care. Signing treaties is the same. I mean, international law doesn't work. As far as an opportunity, yes. We need to utilize our every resource, and be more open to the world. Let everybody see that most of our people are hard working, educated and decent folk. That’s not all of them, but nobody is perfect, right?

"Games are always, in a way, an escape route from the real world and its problems. But it's really hard to play games when some serious stuff going on in your city or country."

GB: I cannot imagine there are a bunch of game shops in Kiev, but maybe I’m wrong! How do you play games in Kiev?

Vasylyshen: There are a ton of piracy. It’s not as bad as 2000 or so, but still. I mean, imagine that only way you could get a game is buy it in a official store where it was burned on a disc 15 minutes ago. Now, there are some magazines that resell games that they buy either in the US or Europe. In Kiev, there are two GameStops, but they are mostly bad when it comes to games. Consoles? Yes. Games? Not so much. Most of my friends are pirating games, especially on Xbox 360 and PC. PS3? Not so much. And I am no saint. I used to do it to, but it was the only method to get games. Nowadays, I mostly use Steam and PlayStation Store to buy games digitally. Recent price drops are doing their thing.

GB: In Kiev, do you have a chance to connect with other gamers? Do you guys meet up and play games together, or just huddle online?

Vasylyshen: I met my first friend, who I’ve known for 17 years, when we exchanged cartridges for our "Dendies.” As far as connecting, I am not really a super-social Internet dude. I don't like online games. I don't have Twitter, Tumblr, or even an Instagram account. I am not a social outcast, and I like to spend time with my friends or new people face-to-face. Recently, we started tournaments on the couch, with Samurai Gunn being everybody's favorite.

GB: You try to buy some games legally through Steam and PlayStation Network. What do your friends think of you doing that?

Vasylyshen: Not a lot of my friends play games, but the ones that play games are 50/50. Some approve, some disapprove. Because of the recent growth of free-to-play (mostly due to DOTA), a lot of them started to use Steam. Some even buy games. The main problem is that minimum wage is $200-a-month for most working folks. For example, right now a new PlayStation 4 game costs around $80. And on top of that, right now there is a crisis. Prices are getting higher, pay is not. All of the games I have now, I legally own them. Having studied law for six years, and being a normal human being, I know that I have to pay for my products, whether it's games or movies or whatever.

GB: Can you talk about what platforms most people play on? My suspicion would be the PC.

Vasylyshen: Yes, PC all the way--most pirated and most played. Next, I would say PSP, PS3, 360, 3DS. After that, probably PS1 and PS2--yes, people still play those in my country.

GB: Do you find that games are an escape for you, given the political turmoil in your country right now?

Vasylyshen: Yes and no. I mean, games are always, in a way, an escape route from the real world and its problems. But it's really hard to play games when some serious stuff going on in your city or country. As I wrote on the Giant Bomb forums, the first thing I thought when all of this started to happen is to leave and go somewhere else. Then, I thought about it and decided I should probably stay. It's not super bad over here, and I love my country too much to leave it. Maybe later but not now.

GB: Looking at the list of games made in Ukraine, there’s a certain theme: war, fighting. Why do you think that is?

Vasylyshen: There are a lot of war-influenced games made in Ukraine, that's true. But almost every one of those game have a special meaning behind them.

The atmosphere in the Metro series is unlike anything else.

Take Cossacks, for example. It’s a game about a democratic semi-military people who fought for Ukraine. (If anyone cares to read up about our history, there is always someone trying to invade us or kill our people.) We are by no means aggressive or violent people, but when your neighbors are taking parts of your country (like Crimea), you have to think about what you going to do next.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Man, what a game. So many bugs, but such a powerful atmosphere. (Which is a double for us, since Chernobyl is no joke.)

Last and not least. my favorite is Metro. Enough has been said about this game by many game journalists before me, and I have only one thing to add: it was made in Ukraine.

GB: You told me privately there’s a bit of an indie scene in the Ukraine. What’s that like? Any games we might know?

Vasylyshen: Yeah, there few games here and there. For example, Humans Must Answer, which was Quick Look’d by Brad, I believe. The Inner World is an adventure game. There are a bunch of others here.

GB: Do you think there is a future for video games in Kiev and Ukraine? What’s that future like?

Vasylyshen: I think there is a future for video games in Ukraine. A lot of our games are good but buggy, since there is not really a lot of testers or money. There are not a lot of big-time companies like 4A Games, but there some smaller ones. Most of the games are being outsourced or developed on mobile platforms. Many of our guys are working in big companies across the world. My hope that is with rise of platforms like Steam, and with Microsoft and Sony trying to be more open, more games will be made. One of the biggest problem is there are almost no game journalists in Ukraine. There some amateurs or sites, but most of them are Russian, and most of them just stealing the news, or just translating games.

Patrick Klepek on Google+
95 Comments
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Edited by HammondofTexas

Please stay safe duder.

Edited by Viking_Funeral

I'm glad you linked the Vice video. I find them to be one of the best sources of information, or at least to be better at presenting a more 'on the ground' view of what is happening in the east of Ukraine.

Posted by Owlhead

Scoops bringing the news like always!

Edited by telliot

Wow, great read. Amazing to see a totally different perspective on gaming than those of us in the states are used to. Thanks Patrick!

Edited by Soviet666

23-year-old student in Ukraine can afford 3DS, Vita, PS3, gaming PC and games for all of this? No offense, but this guy is some extra 1% dude. It's an interesting article but I don't think we should look at like a picture of a standard gamer from Ukraine.

Also, The Inner World is from Germany.

Edited by Hassun

It was interesting to see that major DotA2 tournament happening in Kiev recently. I know Kiev is not where most of the recent trouble is happening but still.

@patrickklepek

"It’s likely most players have only heard of Ukraine because it’s where 4A Games, developer behind the Metro series, is located."

I highly doubt most gamers know who 4A Games are and where they are from. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and more importantly DotA2 team Na'Vi are probably way more familiar names.

Posted by Fobwashed

A single game costing 40% of your monthly wage is really crazy =[

Very interesting read and always good to know more of what's going on elsewhere in the world. Thanks to both Patrick and @snakevsgiantbomb for this.

Posted by splitshock

Oh, man! Please, don't go into politics, Patrick!
Роман: желаю Вам и всей Украине всего самого хорошего в будующем. Я в России начинал играть с того же, что и Вы... Не думайте о Нас плохо.

Edited by NissanSkyline

As someone else from Ukraine(Kiev too actually) i can tell you that dota2 is huge among my friends. Also steam games are really cheap, usually half or third the price you have in US. And its even cheaper on sales, basically small chance that someone not heavily invested in gaming gonna buy consoles and much more expensive games for them.

Posted by Casty

I like reading these atypical articles on gaming or gamers in interesting situations. More of these types of articles please!

Posted by Marcsman

Nice article.

Posted by Sweep

Fuck vice. Sensationalist bullshit.

Great article though, nice to hear about fellow duders elsewhere on the planet.

Moderator
Posted by porjos

I'm glad you linked the Vice video. I find them to be one of the best sources of information, or at least to be better at presenting a more 'on the ground' view of what is happening in the east of Ukraine.

Interesting interview. I hope duders don't go full retard in the comments.

Definitely agree - in this era of information manipulation, it's a breath of fresh air to see news directly from the source - which is what makes Vice awesome sauce.

Posted by zlo2

Interesting piece. I was also born a grew up in Ukraine. A few of my friends had Dendies and I had no idea it was not an official Nintendo console until a few years ago.

Also, "magazines" should be "stores" or "shops". It's a common mistake.

Posted by Godmil

Interesting article. Thanks Patrick and SnakeVS.

Edited by Video_Game_King

We have secured elections for May 25, but if Putin [the president of Russia]

Give us some credit, Scoops.

Edited by James_Hayward

A humanizing read.

Thanks for the perspective Vasylyshen and good idea Patrick for bringing it to us to choose to read should we be interested.

I'm glad GB is a place that has space for things like this as well as all the wonderfully dumb stuff.

Thumbs up.

Online
Posted by Abendlaender
Edited by Christoffer

Man, the more I read up on the situation and the history of Ukraine the more convoluted it becomes for me. Every part has a motive, every part has a ugly side, every part has an understandable side. I really hope the outcome is the best for the Ukraine people, but I can't in the slightest try to put myself in the position of a Ukranian.

Keep on gaming, buddy.

Posted by nilcalion

@fobwashed: Yeah, I always bring this up whenever Australians are complaining about their 80 dollar prices. In most eastern european countries minimum (and average) wage is about 1/10th to 1/5th that of the US. Rent is proportionately smaller but nothing else is. Hell, utilites costs are about twice as much here in Hungary (~$250 for water/heating/electricity). Consumer electorincs are usually priced at a 1:1 USD:EUR ratio, which means that a $60 game is about 82 bucks and a $400 PS4 is $550 here. Piracy is rampant and widely accepted but it's getting better as our generation gets older.

There is a mass exodus going on to western europe and I don't think anything's gonna stop it in the near future.

Online
Posted by Migsse

Will there be an audio version of this article?

Posted by havelava

I just really wanna know what's up with gamebomb, that's all I want.

Posted by Ltwood12

It's really cool to share and love something that people half way across the world do too. All the best to you and your country Roman.

Posted by patrickklepek

@migsse said:

Will there be an audio version of this article?

Nah, it was all email.

Posted by Duxa

I am a Russian, both of my grandmothers were from Ukraine, but then the whole Bolshevik Revolution happened and they had to walk from Europe to Siberia (took years of walking and walking).... just because they were educated and had money.

I play DOTA 2 a decent amount and there are Ukrainians on all the time, I run into one at least every day (and this is on US West server). So they are doing OK (as far as the gaming scene is concerned).

Edited by SpaceButler

If anyone is interested in the Dendy, check out this series of videos. You can turn on English subtitles from the closed caption menu.

Posted by vikingdeath1

I'm only half Ukrainian, and have never been to the country myself, but it has been rather strange to have so many people talking about Ukraine in recent months when before I had never heard it mentioned except by my mother's family.

I bet it's even stranger to you duder, Keep playing games! And good luck with Putin, fucker is pretty horrible.

Edited by natetodamax

Great story. Amidst all the political posturing and tension, it's nice to hear from normal people in the middle of these events happening around them. Keep on keeping on!

Posted by soulcake

Gamebomb.ru approves this message.

Posted by csl316

Good read.

I always thought Cossack was just something Vulcan Raven said.

Edited by SaturdayNightSpecials

That survey seems a little flawed. Placing Ukraine in Southeast Asia, Africa, or Western Europe is a believable level of stupid, but anyone saying it's in Kentucky or Florida has got to be either joking, misunderstanding the question, or high as a kite.

Edited by Uberjannie

Wtf is up with all that garbage lying about on that statue picture?
Stay safe over there. Lets hope this resolves itself before going full conflict.

Edited by Rowr

Great write up.

Seems like some real talent and passion come out of Ukraine in regard to the gaming industry. I really hope to see it develop more in the future.

Posted by Fredchuckdave

Really excellent article.

Posted by poisonmonkey

Brilliant article, thank you Scoops and @snakevsgiantbomb for sharing. The name "Dendy" just sounds cute, like someone should name a Koala bear Dendy or a Panda!

Posted by Itwongo

I miss GSC Game World.

Stay safe duder

Posted by EatBolt

That was a good write up. I think this is just the sort of thing Giant Bomb is best at: Not solely news or criticism, but the larger picture and the context of gaming. Good stuff.

Posted by blacklab

Nice to hear about this issue from a normal joe rather than the overhyped and inaccurate news we often get. Keep your head down and stay safe, bud.

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