“Nothing is waiting for you.” Just a broken radio, loneliness and endless snow. ”That’s how Ilia Mazo, the brain behind It’s Winter, introduces potential players to its game on Steam. He’s pretty sharp, even for a Muscovite — but he’s still not far from the mark.
At the bold price of $ 9.99, you’ll get a game deliberately devoid of plot, purpose, or characters. It’s a sandbox recreation of a lonely night spent in (and around) a khrushchyovka: one of the ugliest, prefabricated complexes synonymous with mass housing in the USSR. It’s a “sad post-Soviet 3D” job, he tells me, a sort of immersive exercise in melancholy.
Get into the shoes of your Soviet self, and you’ll find almost everything interactive. The radio – you have to be able to make it work – reveals a mixture of industrial atmosphere and Russian songs. It’s Mazo who sings. Despite a confessed lack of musical talent, he composed and released three intertwined albums throughout the game.
And that’s not all. There’s also a short film, a poetry anthology, and an animated flipbook, each more sinister than the last. From my own intermediate experience with the region, none of this content gives any indication to the setting. “You could be in Vyborg,” a Russian friend tells me, “You could be in Vladivostok, or you could be anywhere.”
It’s kind of a point, I think. Uniformity is the scar left by the architecture of the era apparatchiks. (Mazo, a little jokingly, later confesses that the block is a clone of a friend’s house in Petrozavodsk.)
So there’s a pile of ’60s furniture, a fridge full of food, and a shower to keep you busy. Look in the right places, and you’ll also find a few disturbing clues as to the type of state you’re in, mentally. It’s not good. A half-old box of antidepressants, hidden under the sink. Note to himself, scratching his hand in spidery cyrillic.
For an indie cartoon, this level of detail is absurd – you can swipe in your neighbor’s trash for the indication of his life, or you can simply simmer and microwave a tomato. If you’re anything like me, though, you’ll quickly stop chewing around. The real draw lies at the departure for the night, and exploring the neighborhood in all its dystopian glory.
It’s about everything It’s Winter offer – and, if you’re into this kind of thing, tap your fingernail on your head. Playgrounds, stairs, shop windows … each scene is more abandoned and depressing than the last. It is the ruin of porn at the most primary-instantaneous of a world that has been, for so long, sealed from Western eyes.
According to the army of fans of the game, it’s the real deal. “It’s a very accurate representation of a typical Russian house, on a typical Russian street,” says one player. “If you’re from a First World country, play this game. Play, embrace its atmosphere, and be happy you weren’t born in this cold, lifeless ghetto.”
It’s sort of the key to appreciating it It’s Winter; it should rightly be considered as a work of art rather than a play, a fleeting experience with life in the icy north. According to internal statistics, even the most ardent fans have a maximum of about two hours of play. (There are still value outliers, though: One player had achieved 36.3 hours of engagement.)
It’s Winter it might be a bit sophisticated, but it’s not the first of its kind. Walking Sims, as they are a little worse known, are generally light and bizarre, like Dan Golding Game Without a Goose. They can also be heavy: Take Mary Flanagan [domestic], a reconstruction of a house fire that the author experienced as a child. Or Ddu Dragon, Cancer, an autobiographical play that recounts the experience of a parent watching as an infant child struggling with the disease of the same name. It’s Winter it lies right between these two camps – it’s certainly not that deep, but it offers some opportunities for contemplation.