Chernobyl in Games and the Internet


Fallout 4 is coming out later this year, so fans are most likely replaying older Fallout games right now. In the meantime, let’s look at one of the most radioactive places in the world for some inspiration. Chernobyl was nothing short of a complete fuck-up, but it’s now a ghost town noteworthy for some of the most beautifully haunting photographs ever taken and even some games. There’s also a woman who likes to walk around in the damn place like a frolicking school girl while making videos about it. Also, I’m not patient enough to wait for the 30th anniversary of the disaster to post about it.

Video games are all well and good, we’ve had some good ones that shows Chernobyl in various ways. Videos of real people in the real Chernobyl though make my skin crawl and bones hurt. It was kind of funny watching the hosts of Top Gear drive through it, but I’m sure they were safe enough. However, one of the following doesn’t seem safe enough.

I’m leaving photography out for this one as I don’t feel qualified enough to talk about them. They’re all over the Internet, so a simple Google search is all you need to appreciate them, thanks to the brilliant (and brave) people who took them.

Bionerd23 on YouTube

I read this Mental Floss article on this woman and her YouTube channel dedicated to radioactivity, which subsequently inspired this post.

She mostly points a Geiger counter at stuff in 2-5 minute videos, like sand from a beach in Brazil that turned out to be quite radioactive. But it’s the Chernobyl videos that really catch attention since people aren’t supposed to walk around in that place (or is it?).

It’s (morbidly) fascinating to watch her walk around the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in what looks like little to no protective gear on, giving a tour around a place that no sane human being will ever tread in thousands of years.

But maybe she knows something we don’t about the true nature of radioactivity and how it really affects these places.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Trilogy

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.Perhaps the most well-known game set in Chernobyl, the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. trilogy seems to not get enough credit for being one of the most atmospheric games you can get your hands on. The Fallout series tends to get all the praise, but those who yearn for more who haven’t played a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game yet should certainly try one out.

Known here as “The Zone”, the setting is more than just a radioactive wasteland, but also a character in itself with anomalies and other dangers that keep stalkers from reaching the Wish Granter—basically like Shenron in Dragon Ball, but with a dark sense of humor. The Wish Granter and the Zone itself are made possible by something called the C-Consciousness, which is a central focus in the game.

If you want to experience surviving in the Zone, which has since become a sort of no man’s land with different factions vying for control, then you should give the series a shot. The Ukrainian developer GSC Game World is said to be working on S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2, but that’s still tentative at best (or just plain cancelled).

Meanwhile, you can start with Shadow of Chernobyl (aptly named), then Clear Sky and Call of Pripyat. They’re not games for those looking for a quick fix, but for gamers who are into immersive experiences with exploration and lore.

“All Ghillied Up”

Before the franchise became Activision’s go-to cash cow, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare seemed like a shot in the dark that turned out to be a lightning in a bottle. Its most crtically acclaimed mission is the one where Captain Price (in a flashback as a lieutenant) follows Captain MacMillan through Pripyat to assassinate Imran Zakhaev.

It really was the best mission in the game, and perhaps in all of Call of Duty, due to its design. Contrasting the running and gunning in most other levels, this one has you observing stealth and patience as you follow Capt. MacMillan through the ruins of Pripyat, avoiding patrols and staying as hidden as possible along the way.

The level design takes a lot from the actual city, including the infamous Ferris wheel and all the empty buildings that used to house the power plant workers and their families. Perhaps it’s safe to say that the immersive quality of this mission hasn’t been matched since for the rest of the Call of Duty series thus far.

Articles Comparing Chernobyl with Hiroshima/Nagasaki

This article on BigThink discusses the differences between the current state of Chernobyl with that of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While Chernobyl is uninhabited and being slowly taken back by Mother Nature, the bombed Japanese cities are now thriving metropolitans.

Reading that and this other BigThink article on excessive fear of radiation does put what we seem to know about the subject into question. Maybe this is why Bionerd23 can walk around Chernobyl like it’s a school field trip without much fear. Maybe.

BONUS: Stalker (1979)

Since I mentioned the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Trilogy, I might as well mention the movie that inspired it. If you haven’t watched it, then do so if you’re not the type of person who yells “I’M BORED!” every 30 seconds. It’s not exactly about Chernobyl (it was released 7 years before the accident), but it can add to the experience since it’s actually a pretty good movie if you can see past its seemingly drab exterior.