Title: The Affective Landscapes of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Domesticating Nuclear Disaster in a Video Game
Abstract: Chernobyl has been the subject of historical documentaries, crime thrillers, and haunting photo installations – all focusing on both historical and ecological features of the nuclear catastrophe. Similarly, the gaming industry has been invoking the ghostly area of Chernobyl with striking regularity.
The paper explores the main instigator of this trend, the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game series, which combines the elements of survival horror and ego-shooter against the backdrop of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Since 2008 the game has had three iterations with over 15 million total sales and supports an energetic fan community all around the globe. Although ego-shooters are not famous for their ability to deliver extensive political or philosophical messages, the game’s roots in the Soviet science fiction allows it to treat the ecological apocalypse in a way that differs from Western “doomwriting literature” (from Isaac Asimov to Roberto Vacca) and its contemporary pop versions, which are usually pervaded by a sense of anxiety over planetary problems such as the nuclear disasters, overpopulation, and ecological crises. Instead, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. offers a holistic portrayal of the “domesticated” apocalypse by transforming the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone into an affective landscape, where catastrophe is reincorporated into the ordinary.
Specifically, this paper focuses on the combination of global and local (i.e., post-Soviet) aesthetic models within the game’s design. It seeks to understand how the game effectively transforms the experience of ecological disaster into a ludic experience, and thus into a (highly problematic and ambiguous) form of entertainment and satisfaction.
Bio: Oleksandr Zabirko holds a PhD in Slavic Literatures and Cultures from the University of Münster. Currently, he is a senior researcher (Post-Doc) at the Slavic Department of the University of Regensburg. His major fields of intereset are literary models of spatial and political order, contemporary literature(s) from Russia and Ukraine, and fantastic literature in general. His recent publications include Literary Forms of Geopolitcs: The Modelling of Spatial and Political Order in Contemporary Russian and Ukrainian Literature (in German, 2021), Figurations of the East (in German, co-edited, 2022).