Russia spreads war propaganda in Minecraft, Roblox, World of Tanks, and other video games
Russian propaganda continues to take many forms, even spreading into the world of video games like Minecraft, Roblox, Russian version of World of Tanks (“Мир Танков”) by Lesta Games, War Thunder, and many others. These games and adjacent discussion sites like Discord and Steam are becoming online platforms for Russian agitprop, targeting mostly younger audiences, to justify the war in Ukraine, The New York Times reports.
- In Minecraft, a popular sandbox game owned by Microsoft, Russian players re-enacted the battle for Soledar, a city in Ukraine that Russian forces occupied in January. The whole thing was coordinated through the Russian-state-controlled social media platform VKontake.
- In May 2023, the players of the Russian version of World of Tanks, a multiplayer tank warfare game, recreated the Soviet Union’s parade of tanks in Moscow 1945, glorifying the Soviet army for the 78th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany.
- In another popular gaming platform Roblox, a user created an array of Interior Ministry forces in June to celebrate the national holiday, Russia Day.
Molfar OSINT agency identified more than a dozen instances of pro-Kremlin propaganda in Minecraft, Roblox, Russian version of World of Tanks, World of Warships, Fly Corp, Armored Warfare, War Thunder, and others. Almost all extolled the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany.
These examples are only reinforced by the use of current war propaganda against Ukraine, like using the letter “Z”, a symbol of Russian invasion, in various multiplayer games or creation of groups in Discord and Steam to glorify the Wagner group, a Russian paramilitary terrorist organization.
- A recent example is Atomic Heart, a game financed by Gazprom, which strongly relies on communist agenda, facilitating the myths of Russian military superiority. In March, Atomic Heart‘s characters even appeared on shopfronts of Armrus, a Russian state military store. It also became known that the game cooperates with the FSB by collecting gamers’ data for the Russian agency via its website.
- Another similar Russian-developed game is Escape from Tarkov. The developers marketed their new DLC by showing a middle finger to the in-game model of a Ukrainian soldier. And on the game’s subreddit and forum, the moderators are erasing all references to the war in Ukraine, hiding the horrors of Russian invasion from the unsuspecting players.
The gaming industry is becoming more and more similar to the ideological battlefield, as pro-Ukrainian developers and gamers set off to combat the Russian misinformation campaign.
- In June, 2023, Finland’s largest newspaper Helsingin Sanomat hired two map designers to create a special de_voyna map in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. It contained a hidden room detailing the horrors of the war in Ukraine. Eventually the map was banned by Steam for unknown reasons, however currently it can be downloaded again.
- Another Finnish initiative came from the Rockodile Games, supported by the German publisher Lesser Evil. The studio created Death from Above, a game about a Ukrainian drone operator fighting against Russian invaders.
Hendrik Lesser, CEO at Lesser Evil, believes that it is time to be overtly political, rather than avoiding difficult topics like most companies in the game development industry do. The game developers should respond to the challenges when the democracy is under assault. Especially, when Russian propaganda is trying to take roots in gaming industry.