Amidst the grandeur of Moscow’s imperious palaces, striking churches, and stark monuments, one museum provides a respite from the city’s serious façade: the Museum of Soviet Arcade Machines.
A short walk from the vibrant domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral on Red Square, a treasure trove from a bygone era sits among the shops of an open-air mall. Visitors are greeted with a melody of beeps, dings, and sirens from antique machines from the 1970s and 80s that, against all odds, are fully functional.
The games aren’t just for entertainment—they also provide a window into Russia’s political history. While some were simplified versions of Japanese and American arcade games, every machine was required to align with Soviet ideology. Fantasy games were forbidden in favor of games that promoted “real-world” skills that the government thought would train the next generation of the Soviet military. The games were even created in military factories, which meant the manuals were classified documents. This made repairs and maintenance especially difficult after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In 2007, a group of students created the museum, driven by nostalgia to recreate the arcades of their youth. Museum visitors are given a matchbox filled with soviet-era coins to use in the machines. There are more than 60 games, ranging from car racing and target practice to admittedly less exciting games like “Repka,” where players tug on a handle to test their strength.
The popularity of the games took off and the museum quickly expanded into a larger space, and opened a satellite branch in St. Petersburg. While most Russians would never wish for a return of the Soviet Union, it seems the past is often viewed through rose-colored glasses—or in this case, neon screens.