Photo gallery of vintage Soviet arcade machines

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Connal Hughes and Anjel Van Slyke's photos of a 1980s-era Soviet arcade machine reveal that even light-hearted recreation was a grim affair behind the iron curtain.

Museum of Soviet Arcade Machines (Thanks, Rachel!)


  1. I dunno, man. Search for “old arcade” in Google images, and you get some pretty grim affairs of our own.

  2. Grim? I dunno, man. Imagine these things new, unscuffed, unyellowed, their colors bright and inviting. Put ’em in a room that’s not as decrepid as the games. The playful cabinet of this Pong clone would look at home right next to the glittery blobject of a Computer Space cabinet.

  3. Wow… the People’s Farm Tractor of Fun looks horribly representative of what the Reagan Administration taught me about Communism.

    My world is shaken!

  4. Oh, I dunno…except maybe for the
    “motorized infantry company in defence” –which truly is “grim” — I’d say most of these are similar to what I saw in arcades and bowling alleys in the U.S. in 1970’s. And that turnip-puller is actually kind of charming.

    The games were a bit cheaper-looking, dingier, and probably 5-10 years behind the West, but still…

  5. Grim? Nyet. I’ve been in some pretty grim capitalistic arcades, comrade. Industrial blight, neglect, cigarette smoke and teenage boredom is universal.

  6. can’t resist: “in soviet russia you don’t play games, games play you.”

    Tankodrome looks sweet!

  7. yeah I think you’re starting from a “if it’s Soviet-era it must be grim” cold-war hangover.

    They look as fun (especially if you are imagining them new, not rusty) than a lot of the standard arcade-game boxes. that cool big space-bubble? I’ll take that over the pac-man table..

    1. From what I recall it’s a basket ball game. The buttons represent a spring at the bottom of each cone line indent which shoots the ball up. The goal was to land it in your opponent’s net.

      Kind of like Foosball, but basketball rather then football.

      And the only thing grim here is the editorial.

      1. Yeah, I played with loads of those basketball games at seaside resorts all over Europe in the eighties.

        I think Mark got it wrong this time.

  8. I was behind the Iron Curtain in the eighties and it freaking rocked. The beer was good, the vodka great, the commie chicks were fine, and willing. Radio Free Europe was the greatest Rock n Roll radio ever, when you don’t know what the hell you are talking about, shut up.

  9. I’m with Mark on this one. That first image, for example. It looks like it’s meant to be analogous to the Skill Crane found in every Chuck E. Cheese to this day. But instead of the decadent capitalistic embarrassment of riches filling up two thirds of the tank, you get a half-dozen Soviet Army men, a couple of jacks, some Ping-Pong balls, a handful of toy cars, a sprinkling of gravel, and what appears to be a couple of Chick comics (though that *can’t* be right). And maybe a toy flashlight. Even the crane itself looks beaten down. And the color scheme is straight outta my son’s diaper. The palette screams 1973 to me. Just look at its surroundings: apparently the kids relieve their oppression after a gaming session by taking bites out of the doorway as they pass through.

    Maybe other commenters have gone to the wrong arcades, but even allowing for the smoke and teenage angst, the arcades of my youth were colorful wonderlands of lights and beeps and laughter and spilled Coke. The neon colors! The cascade of glittering quarters jingling out of the change machine like Scrooge McDuck’s nocturnal emissions! Pin-bot! Centipede! And Tempest… oh, dear god, Tempest!! The Miami Vice color scheme of Moon Patrol, whose jaunty theme music is still stuck in my head today!

    Would anyone really rather drop their kopeks into that Leninist-beige tractor? Or whatever-the-hell Orwellian mind-monitoring youth-control device is pictured at lower right? It looks like it came straight from RobCo Industries in a Fallout game, only with more oppressive coloring.

  10. Put me in the ‘why so serious?’ camp too. I grew up in a seaside town in northern england in the ’70s. Honestly, that looks like exactly like it.

  11. Every time there’s something about the Soviet Union on Boing Boing, it’s a “grim affair”, or “people’s lives were miserable”, or “children were taught to expect death at any moment”…

    At the end of the day, it’s just another form of racism.*

  12. That first one is not an arcade game. That is where you put your kid when going shopping. You put your money in and the door opens at the end, you place your rug rat inside and close the door and take your key and simply retrieve your child later, they are wonderful they filter the air so that people around don’t need to smell the dirty diapers and are 100% sound proof. The biggest problem with them was the self cleaning cycle as they where set mechanically, sometimes some poor tot’s parent would forget to take the youngster out in time and well the scolding hot water and soap………. I’m kidding BTW (no pun intended).

  13. Yeah, why so stereotyped in here?

    It’s been 20 years since the Wall came down, and the people of East Europe learned the West was not quite as how it had been portrayed to them. It’s well overdue that westerners learn that the way the Soviet Union was portrayed in the West was not exactly the unvarnished truth either.

    The people who created these games weren’t party ideologues intent on making overtly ideological and things. They’re the same kind of people as design games anywhere else, just working under a lot worse conditions. Communism sucked, and nobody knows that better than those who lived under it. Dumping on their work to illustrate how Communism sucked is a dick move. It wasn’t their fault if it sucked.

  14. “Grim”: Maybe. “Utilitarian”: Yes!

    Watch some of the videos and you can hear people playing the other machines in the background. When the “museum” was full of people, it was no different than being in a local arcade when I was a kid. Absolutely awesome!

    Also, it’s an easily overlooked link at the end of the article, but don’t miss the mind-blowingly awesome game posters (eg: spider monkey on a skateboard).


    1. восхитительная видеоигра год сбора винограда!

      And the online version is too! ‘tanks for posting!

  15. Great to see a gallery of pics with these being played. The last time I saw photos of these machines they looked abandoned in bare spaces, with almost clinical style pics of the machines. Melancholy pictures of good times passed.

    Seeing them in their natural environment, being played is much less reflective, and fun!

  16. My favorite arcade in the world is at Oskar Blues in Lyons, CO. You can get a pint of Dale’s Pale and head down to the arcade where every machine has a cup holder.

  17. I took a look at the photostream… “Good Shot” looks just like something we had in the arcades, as does “Winter Hunting”.

    Having never been to the USSR, I was particularly intrigued that the signs on the Traffic Sign Quiz are very similar to British ones (especially the “road narrows sign”…

    Anyway, if these were in English rather than Russian, many of them would not have seemed out of place in mid-1970s Scarborough, Filey, Bridlington, Hornsea, Withernsea, Cleethorpes, Mablethorpe or Skegness. Pockets loaded down with heavy 10p pieces. Ah, happy days.

  18. The only thing grim about these games is the fact that they’re painfully behind their western counterparts of the same vintage. While we were playing 8-bit home consoles, they were playing Pong in a state-sanctioned fun-zone.

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