The Post-Soviet Whimsy of Runflexio4 min read
It’s an unfortunate fact that no Russian writer since Solzhenitsyn has penetrated the Western consciousness; no composer since Shostakovich, and no playwright since Chekhov, either. But Russian and Eastern European games succeed, and endure: Tetris (developed by a Russian-Soviet software engineer), Metro 2033 (developed in Ukraine, based on a series of Russian novels), and The Witcher (developed in Poland, and based on Polish novels inspired by Slavic folklore), come to mind. Whatever was lost in the Eastern European pen has been found in their keyboard.
If the developers at catagama games succeed, their latest project, runflexio, will join Tetris and the Metro series in the canon of Russian video game classics. runflexio, which is still in development and slated for release late this year, is a love letter to the post-Soviet aesthetic. Although it is structured as a runner (think Super Mario), the developers promise that the pace will be slow, and the action peaceful.
The artwork from runflexio is soft and mellow. Early animations show a jackal sitting in a Soviet-era passenger train with a slice of pie and a cup of tea held in a podstakannik, a clever device developed in Imperial Russia which keep hot drinks from spilling on bumpy train rides. The animation is charming and, for me, nostalgic; it conjures memories of long train rides to provincial towns, a dessert shared with strangers, and my own much-loved collection of podstakanniki.
I reached out to the creators of runflexio (who wanted to remain anonymous, and describe themselves only as a “small team, with boys and girls”) to ask about the vision behind their project.
Louis: Your game introduces players to “the romance of the post-Soviet states.” Please forgive my bluntness, but: what romance?
catagama: The romance of panel buildings, the romance of everyday life and, ultimately, the romance of our homeland. The creators in our team were born and raised in the post-Soviet space. Everyone thinks about the reform era of the 1990s as a difficult time, but we were children 20-30 years ago, and we looked at what was happening naively – we looked at the future brightly. So the experience that we want to convey to players is full of pleasant feelings and emotions, like when we were kids.
Louis: Why did you choose a video game format? Why not photography or video?
catagama: Among all art forms, video games are closest to cinema. Both media deal with fictional worlds. In movies, the story is linear and contains only one narrative ending. In games, every player has a unique experience, and their game can end at any moment. This means that we now have a medium more multifaceted than cinema. Although, in fact, games borrow a lot from cinema.
Louis: Tell me a bit about the gameplay. I sit down at my computer, I load the game, what can I expect next?
catagama: …tranquility. Although our game is a runner, which implies high speed and dynamics, we’re doing the opposite. We want to convey a meditative and relaxing attitude. After launching the game, the player will immediately plunge into the world of the post-Soviet space. They will be able to personally go over the roofs of panel buildings, between the pines of the Taiga forest, and even manage a visit to St. Petersburg.
Louis: I imagine you won’t be including any politics, then? No trips to Nagorno-Karabakh or Donbass?
catagama: No, nothing political. That’s not what our work is about.
runflexio is still in development, so there are many questions that won’t be answerable until closer to its release. But my conversation with catagama got me thinking about aesthetic solidarity: the notion that two people a thousand miles apart can bond through their mutual appreciation of beauty. Even at the height of the Cold War, Americans couldn’t be convinced to deny the expressive vigor of Prokofiev or the visual poetry of Tarkovsky. Our lives are separated from each other by experience, belief, culture, politics, and circumstance – but appreciation gives us a chance to come together.
catagama games can be found at catagama.com
The work of runflexio’s art designer can be found at instagram.com/mother_of_jackals