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One of the coolest museums I have visited to date is the Museum of Soviet Arcade Machines in Moscow.
When I think of Soviet Russia, what always comes to mind are those typical Cold War Movies in the West.
Secret meetings and army generals calling each other comrade. Spies everywhere, keeping watch on everyone. One wrong move could see you taken away to the Vorkuta Gulag never to be seen again!
Of course, there is no denying those sorts of things did happen. But, what those movies never portray is the popular culture of those times in Russia.
Not everybody was in the army or trying to undermine the government. The people in Russia also had ‘normal’ jobs and kids were very much kids who found joy in playing games and liked to drink soda!
The Museum of Soviet Arcade Machines really surprised me, mainly because it gives you a unique insight into life during the USSR. But, also it’s not just a stuffy museum of old arcade machines, you can actually play them too!
Here’s why you MUST visit one in Russia.
The history of Soviet arcade games in Russia
Although there were tensions between the USA and Russia, it didn’t mean that popular trends from the USA were unheard of.
In fact, there was a famous American Exhibition held in 1959 at Sokolniki Park in Moscow. It brought in thousands of people and the government could see how popular things like soda and arcade games were.
Although it has never been proven by historians its thought that after that exhibition a Cold War Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, made a trip to the United States. This was with the commitment to sell more consumer products in Russia.
While there, he was so impressed by the concept of an arcade that he ended up inviting the world’s best game machine makers to Russia. Here, they could showcase their best creations.
He ended up buying all of them and then sent them off to the military factories to take them apart and see how it all worked in order to recreate them.
Then, he took ideas for new games from Soviet Leaders and sent the blueprints off to the military factories to build.
The military factories in Russia were normally used for nuclear testing and weapons. But, they were also the only places with the right machinery in order to create these arcade machines.
This made the machines far more expensive build as they didn’t have access to lighter materials. Also, the instructions for those arcade games became military classified documents!
Unlike the West, the games had to follow Marxist ideologies and became Communist propaganda to support their regime.
What type of Soviet Arcade Games were made?
Although American kids would be playing things like Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and Space Invaders. There was no room for fantasy in a Soviet Arcade during the USSR.
Also, there was no such thing as a high score, arcade tickets for prizes, or getting your name on a leaderboard.
All the games were made to promote Marxist thinking and ideology. They were created to instill a sense of patriotism in the cause.
The games were mainly inspired by military training. They allowed you to work on your hand-eye coordination, aim, reaction, and quick thinking.
Instead of entering space or fantasy worlds, the arcade games would see you using strategy to take down battleships and aiming for targets using a sniper rifle. Or, it would test your strength by using a hammer or pulling turnips!
They were games that were meant to do good and add value to future generations. This fact made it easier for Russian families to pop what Soviet Kopek coins they had into the slots.
How did the Museum of Soviet Arcade Machines start?
Although the Soviet era in Russia has long gone, the nostalgia during that time has not left the people just yet.
Small luxuries and things that brought joy like Soviet Vending Machines, Soviet Clear Cola, and Radios take people for a trip down memory lane.
The idea for the museum was founded by 3 friends who remembered the good times they had playing Soviet Arcade Games in their childhood.
It started with one specific game called Morskoi Boy or Sea Battle. They started to do some research and found that many of the machines still existed, if in need of a little repair.
So, they discovered a couple lying around in an old theme park in Moscow. But, the challenge came when they had to fix them.
As before, instructions for the games were classified files. Not to mention, the parts required for the machines were made during the Soviet Era. So, a lot of parts were discontinued. It took a huge amount of research and effort to find the relevant materials to fix them.
These games were just the start of their collection and the museum has now grown rapidly. Against all odds, they now own over 250 Soviet Arcade machines!
Over the years, they have now opened three popular Soviet Arcade Museums in both Moscow and St Petersburg that you can visit.
Why you must visit in Moscow & St Petersburg!
Although most museums in Russia that allow you to travel back to the Soviet Past relate to the army, Stalin, and the Gulag.
The Museum of Soviet Arcade Machines shows you a unique perspective of what life was like for families and children in those times.
Plus, it’s not just any museum. You won’t find a couple of arcade machines tucked behind a thick sheet of glass gathering dust.
You can actually follow in the footsteps of kids during the USSR and play these Soviet Arcade games for yourself!
So, how does it work exactly?
You can visit either one of the museums in both Moscow & St Petersburg. Anyone is welcome.
When you arrive you will pay a small entrance fee to enter and this ticket also gets you a handful of 15 Soviet Kopek coins to operate the arcade machines.
As the machines are in Russian and use the Cyrillic Language, the museum will give you an instruction manual if you’re a foreign tourist.
This will have the names of the arcade machines in English and will tell you what the aim of the game is as well.
Despite this, I did find it a little difficult sometimes to understand what controls to use! But, that’s kind of the fun part of it.
Just put your kopek coin in the slot and see what game you can play!
What type of Soviet arcade games can you play?
Most of the games are centred around the battle, military training, and skill. So, you won’t find anything resembling Mario here.
But, it is still super fun. Here are some of the games that you can look forward to in the arcade;
- Morskoi Boi / Sea Battle – This machine tests your accuracy. You are looking through the periscope of a submarine. You then send torpedos to take down enemy ships on the horizon of the seas!
- Gorodki / Little Cities – This is based on an ancient Russian sport kind of like bowling but you have to take out groups of skittles, called little cities or towns, with a wooden bat. Once you take out one group of skittles, that little city/town is considered banished. The person who takes out the most cities wins. This sport was popular during the Soviet Olympic Games and made a renaissance as a video game in the Soviet Arcades. It’s still played as a sport even today.
- Repka Silomer / The Turnip Strength Tester – Unlike the other Soviet Arcade games, this one is to test your strength. It involves the player tugging as hard as they can to pull a turnip from the ground. This game is based on an old Russian children’s story where a family including the mother, father, children, granny, cat, dog and mouse try to take it out. You’ll be given a strength score between ‘lowly mouse’ and ‘old man’.
- Snaiper – 2 / Sniper 2 – This one does what it says on the tin and tests your aim. You take your sniper rifle and aim at enemy targets!
- Vozdushniy Boi / Dogfight – This is where you’re in the pilot seat engaged in a dogfight. You simply dodge the bullets as they fly towards you in the air.
- Magistral / Highway – This is a soviet car racing game that is similar to Atari’s Grand Prix. You steer the wheel of a car and avoid obstacles on the road.
Soviet Arcade Museum tours
If you would like to learn more about the history of Russia during the USSR and these arcade games, you may wish to go on a guided tour.
There are tours provided every hour that are in Russian. But, if you’re English these can be organised as well.
It is a great way to learn more about the history of arcade culture during the USSR. Plus, you can learn how they created the museum by locating and fixing these vintage machines against all the odds!
You must try their vintage Soviet Soda Machine!
One of my favourite parts of visiting this museum was being able to sample some real Soviet Soda from their authentic Soviet vending machine!
Vending machines are like institutions in Russia and became very popular during the USSR. The machine would supply things like magazines, newspapers, perfumes, hamburgers, and snacks.
However, the most popular phenomenon was the Soviet Soda machines.
They would be standalone in communities and the streets of Russia in the summer months. The steel box with a Soviet symbol on it would have a coin slot and a few buttons to select your drink.
But, you wouldn’t get a bottle or a can of soda from the machine. No, no.
If you can believe it, you had to use a glass to collect your soda that was chained to the machine! So, everyone that bought soda had to drink out of that one glass.
Then, after you had your drink, you were expected to clean your glass using the fountain provided in the machine for the next customer.
These drinks would usually be carbonated water with syrup where you could get ‘pear’, ‘tarkhun’ (tarragon), and ‘cream-soda’.
Luckily, at the museum today, you don’t have to do this. You’ll get a clean cup just for you and you can try one of these Soviet Cola drinks! It will cost you 3 of your kopek coins.
I tried it and it wasn’t bad. Not as good as Coca-Cola. But, there is a shocking story about the history of Soviet Cola or White Coke during the USSR.
The odd history of Soviet White Coke and the Russian soda market
The story goes that after World War II a Marshal of the Soviet Union, Georgy Zhukov, was introduced to the popular American drink Coca-Cola.
Although he loved the caramel-based drink, it was seen by Russia as a symbol of American Imperialism.
Coca-Cola played a huge role in morale-boosting during World War II for American troops. It embodied everything the USSR stood against and so Zhukov could not be seen endorsing such a product.
Despite this, he was a “Coke-addict” and still wanted to bring Coca-Cola home to his country. So, he made some enquiries that reached American President Harry S. Truman.
He asked whether they could produce a clear Coca-Cola that resembled Russian Vodka. In exchange, Zhukov would relax strict regulations in Soviet-occupied Austria.
Instead of the iconic bevelled bottle, the red label and cap. This clear Cola had a straight bottle and a white cap with the Soviet Red Star on it.
50 cases of ‘White Coke’ were then shipped over to Russia.
Vodka, Soviet Warships and Pepsi in Russia
It may surprise you to know that Pepsi was the first American consumer product to be produced, marketed and sold within the Soviet Union. But, what’s even more shocking is how that trade deal came about.
For Pepsi, knowing that Coca-Cola was not sold in Russia yet was a golden opportunity. So, they were eager to get in on the soda market.
Kendall who owned Pepsi at the time knew that President Nixon was going to meet Khrushchev. Khrushchev is the one who travelled to the US in the hope of obtaining more consumer products (like arcade games and soda) after that famous American exhibition.
Nixon handed Khrushchev a glass of Pepsi and he was hooked. There is even a famous photo of him drinking it that the press used in the papers. It had the headline “Khrushchev wants to be sociable”. This promoted the “Be sociable, have a Pepsi.” campaigns.
It wasn’t until 1972 when Pepsi signed the deal and started to produce its products in Russia. But, there was one small issue of payment.
Soviet Roubles or Kopek coins could not be accepted internationally due to Kremlin currency control. So, Pepsi was paid in other ways.
At first, it was the national drink of Vodka. This saw over 1.9 million decaliters of Stolichnaya vodka shipped to the USA totalling around $25 million dollars.
Then, when Vodka sales plummeted they looked for something else to barter with. So, they were paid in submarines, tankers, and warships which were sold for scrap!
By the 1990s, the Soviet Union had disbanded and Coca-Cola finally made it onto the scene of the Russian soda market. They were given permission to build their own bottling plants.
This made things like ‘Soviet Colas’ and ‘White Coke’ a thing of the past. But, the Soviet Arcade Museum is a great way to relive this old phenomenon.
Although Coca-Cola is very popular, carbonated soda drinks using traditional flavours like Green ‘Tarkhuna’ are still very popular in Russia today.
Other things to do in the Soviet arcade museum
As well as playing Soviet arcade games and sampling some old Soviet Cola. You can get some vintage photographs taken in their PhotoAutomat machine (Note: This has been imported from the West).
Also, they have the Soviet Arcade Museum café where you can treat yourself to a small pick me up.
On the menu, they have coffee, milkshakes, and snacks. Including salads, hamburgers, and that all-important Soviet Soda to wash it down!
They also have a cool souvenir shop where you can check out some of their merchandise. You can buy t-shirts, pin badges, and even Soviet Era postcards.
Where is the Museum of Soviet Arcade Machines in Russia?
There are three Soviet Arcade museums that operate in Russia. Two are in Moscow and the other is in St Petersberg;
Moscow Prospekt Mira – The Soviet Arcade in Moscow can be found on Prospekt Mira opposite the Vostok Rocket in Pavillion 57. Nearest metro is Prospekt Mira.
Moscow Rozhdestvenka Street, 12 – Between the Nike Store and Restaurant Il Forno. The nearest metro station is Kuznetsky most.
St Petersberg – the Soviet Arcade in St Petersburg can be found just a little further on from the famous Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. It’s a two-minute walk from there and can be found on Konyushennaya Ploshchad.
Museum of Soviet Arcade Machines opening times & entry fee
Moscow (Prospekt Mira): Tuesday — Sunday 11 am 7.30 pm
Moscow (Rozhdestvenka Street, 12): Daily 11 am – 9 pm
St Petersberg: Daily 11 am – 9 pm
The entry is 450 rubles (£4.50/$5.50) which includes 15 Kopek soviet coins to play games and use the Soviet Soda Machine. You can purchase extra coins if you run out.
You pay normal Russian roubles for the café & souvenirs.