2011-06-23

Chernobyl in popular culture - Part I

I asked if you know of any public works or popular culture inspired by Chernobyl and the disaster, a considerable amount of people will instantly think of the computer game series S.T.A.L.K.E.R (S.T.A.L.K.E.R is an abbrevation for Scavenger, Trespasser, Adventurer, Loner, Killer, Explorer, Robber). The series are created by the Ukrainian developer GSC  Game World, and perhaps it wouldn't have been such a success if it hadn't been done by Ukrianians (needless to say that everything else would have seemed like a respectless way to profit from the disaster).

Since the first part of the series, S.T.A.L.K.E.R - Shadow of Chernobyl was released in 2007, the games have constantly gained increased popularity, and the latest addition to the series, The Call of Pripyat was a given success selling over 2 million copies all over the world only seven months after it was released. 

The plot of Shadow of Chernobyl takes place in an alternative timeline, in 2012, where a second Chernobyl disaster  occurs. This game lends inspiration from the Strugaskiy brothers' novel Roadside Picnic (Пикник на обочине) as well as the movie Stalker (1979), by Andrey Tarkovskiy. Tarkovskiy's movie, only loosely based on the brothers Strugatskiy's novel, suggests disturbance of the physical reality in what is known as The Zone, and this was - perhaps not strangely - adopted in the computer game. (Nowadays "The Zone" is an overall popular nickname for the 30 kilometers exclusion zone of the Chernobyl area.). 

In the movie Stalker, the three main characters are alone in the silent zone, which seem peaceful, but where many dangers are said to lurk, but in the Shadow of Chernobyl, the environments are far more violent: For example, powerful mutants may be anywhere, leading the player into one unpleasant surprise after another...

Another evidence of the immense popularity of the games, is that it's now to become a  low budget TV series. Behind this, is still GSC Game World. The news were announced in November 2010, but although nothing has been heard about that since then, it's said that the project is ongoing. I will not talk much more about the S.T.A.L.K.E.R games, as there is enough information about those games to fill several articles, but if you're interested in finding out more about the games at the official S.T.A.L.K.E.R website and below, I present to you the official trailer of the TV-series: 



Even though it has little to do with Chernobyl,  it has some things in common with the S.T.A.L.K.E.R concept, and thus I will take the opportunity of mentioning the Russian author Dmitriy Glukhovsky's Metro novels. The first one, Metro 2033, was first published online in 2002 and then printed by an established publisher in 2005. In order to gain practical understanding about the effects of a nuclear disaster, as well as inspiration, Glukhovskiy paid a visit to Chernobyl, also did research on radiation, and the outcome was (amongst other things)...mutants.*

The year is, of course, 2033 and the stage is set to the post apocalyptic Moscow, Russia. There has been a worldwide nuclear war;  the devastation is total and the face of the Earth is heavily contaminated, but in the metro of Moscow (which was actually constructed to be a safe haven if a nuclear war would break out), survivors live in small societies - every metro station is like a town itself, but the road between these are dark and frightful. Due to the many dangers, not anyone may try to reach the surface, but this is something reserved for the... Stalkers, which are very much alike the Stalkers of above mentioned computer games, so we're probably looking at another exchange of inspiration here.

Metro 2034 is a detached sequel to Metro 2033, where we get to follow the Stalker Melnik, but there doesn't seem to be any plans for further novels as the Metro series in the form of computer games have also became quite popular (as a side note I will mention that A4 Games, who developed the Metro 2033 computer game, was founded by a former GSC Game World employee about one year before the first S.T.A.L.K.E.R game was released). Also, by now, the Metro universe has come to a life of its own, in the shape of anthologies of fans' short stories.

*Radiation as a cause of various mutuations is deeply integrated in the modern popular culture, and obviously a trigger of imagination, but of course it's important to keep the facts in mind as well. Many would say that computer games like S.T.A.L.K.E.R give young people the wrong view of history, but for those who care about history, games like these have also been proven to raise curiosity and encouragement to find out what history really is like.

 

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