The Let's Play Archive


by TheGreatEvilKing, Xander77

Part 50: Propaganda and Politics

Propaganda and Politics

: We just took a look at the game’s attitude towards sex, adultery, and murder. Let’s move on to the far more pleasant (or at least less TW) subject of politics.

I’m going to treat this game’s take on elections and propaganda as though it’s making an allegory for 2013 Russia. I’m sure that’s not at all what the developers intended, because naturally this game has nothing to do with anything ever, but… the author is dead, and this is the most coherent and least charitable take I have to give.

You need to remember that when this game was written, pre-2014, Putin’s government was mostly considered a quietly corrupt kleptocracy, rather than a genocidal fascist dictatorship. So the takes on propaganda and politics are indicative of certain trends, but not quite seeing where said trends will inevitably lead.

Let's start with the Trudograd journalists hanging out at the KRZ hotel.

: Just 12 rubles for every “makulatura”. Finally a use for all that wastepaper of Soviet dialectics scattered around the Wasteland. Never managed to get 500, so no idea if there’s a bonus associated.

: This is more pertinent (or possibly even more germane).

: How is it, being a journalist nowadays?

: Just like in any other job, everything runs smoothly if you manage not to turn into a fanatic. If they ask for a piece on, let's say, corn, go to the fields and describe everything that goes on there as best you can. If they ask a piece on carnivorous mutants, well, look for someone who's met with them, make up a plausible story that involves you, and relax.

: Are there any rumours that seem interesting to you?

: One fellow was investigating the local legends about a brain worm that gets inside your head through your pupil and subdues you. But while his investigation was in full swing, he dashed to Georgia all of a sudden. Said he wanted to visit his family. Weird. He never said he had any relatives in there.

: Reasonably sure that urinals are affixed to a public toilet wall, while chamber pots... whatever, not the worst translation error in this game. Interviewee #1 can be found outside Fidel’s bar at night.

: Maybe you should sober up a little before you talk, winebag?

: I might be a bit drunk, don't let it disturb you. I'll tell you the whole story as it is! But I should warn you there will be no gory details... Just think, my boy! Peace is what all warriors truly aspire to... Peace... Not bloodshed. Perhaps this is why we screwed up so mightily that day.

: Jesus, that's a pointless reference overload. At least the Fallout one is making a point of sorts - note it for later.

: Serving in Berlin was a cushy job. Hiccup! East Germany was ours, but it was still totally foreign. All these alleys and fashoinable fraus... Ahem... Still, intelligence, I don't know which, American, or West German, or maybe the Englishmen stroke back... still, they did us a lot of harm. Under the guise of a peaceful demonstration... So, people gathered at our part of the wall posters in their hands, slogans... Ambrose Truffelev - hiccup! - was our boss. Kulikov and Sveklenko were a sniper and a pointer, res... pes... respectively.

: Come on, more to the point.

: So, people were shouting, singing, calling out to unite the two Berlins... I noticed one cute German girl... Fair-headed beauty... hiccup... Her poster featured a heart, half painted as the East Germany flag, half as the West... Smart, eh? But Kulikov, who had a wife, noticed a man that tried to lay a mine under the wall in all that turmoil. So he shot at him! At the foreign provoker.

: Provocateur is apparently too complex? Or too on the nose?

: What was your comrade in arms Sergey Maslov doing that day?

: [Drunk Navigator hits himself on his chest, his cheeks puffing with anger]

And I almost forgot... Maslov! Sergey Maslov..! Bloody liar. He says he was fighting at our side at that time. Serving at the checkpoint But we never had an officer with this name! He wasn't anywhere near the wall! I might be drinking, but I have no problems with memory! And his uniform! Ask him someday to put it on. He only wore it once to press the Chamber of Commerce to pay his pension. It's three times bigger than mine!

: Who was it that fired a gun at civilians? Maslov?

: This lying... hiccup... dog... curse him... I think he'd have gladly shot at people from the wall, except he wasn't there! There was no officer with this surname at the wall!

: What do you do for a living?

: What do you think I do? [The old man lifts one of his legs with his hands and then lets it go. The leg falls back down like a dead weight...] Do you suppose I run marathons? Nope. Krasnoznamenny is paying me a pauper's pension! Damn it to hell…

: What do you think about Krasnoznamenny?

: They have respect for the old and the crippled. But not too much, of course. Just enough to stop me from wanting to assemble a mine and blow up their damned government bunker on one nice sunny morning...

: Any rumours you'd like to share?

: What's the use of sharing them? People have been talking for I can't remember how many months now, about that some shady people in Peregon are doing God knows what under the disguise of a barbeque shop. But our local politicians still go there to eat!

: It all started like a usual West Germany-approved 'love rally’. It was all pretty standard: ‘we want peace, we want union, the wall is bad, blah-blah-blah...’ At times I would even feel for those protestors. I would think - indeed, why do we care to hold on to this piece of the country? But it looks like for somebody love and beautiful speeches weren't self-expression enough...

: So, what happened there?

: At some point, Lesha Mamedov and I began noticing very suspicious people in plain clothes among the crowd of the peaceful protestors. They communicated with each other with gestures and it seemed as if they were directing the crowd...
They provoked the protestors to move ever closer to the wall! That was when Serezha Kulikov, our sniper, noticed that one of these people in plain clothes was carrying something under his trench coat. And now he crouched down and was attaching this ‘something’ to the base of a wall, while hiding behind the hippies that surrounded him...

: Explosives, right?

: It was C-4..! After that, everything went to the dogs. I remember it second by second. First, Kulikov neutralised the man with the explosive because he saw him attaching the detonator already. Right after that, one of the agents in plain clothes killed Kulikov with a shot from a gun concealed in his sleeve, right from the centre of the crowd. I can still see the poor guy falling from the wall and holding onto his neck After that, the crowd that didn't figure out what had happened, rushed to the nearest checkpoint, attacking us for their murdered 'friends'...

: What was your comrade in arms Sergey Maslov doing that day?

: [Ambrose frowns and rubs his forehead]

Maslov... Maslov... No, I don't remember him. I didn't have anybody with that name.

: So what stopped you?

: Rascals! Rascals among us! A group of turncoats headed by division commander Petrenko, my immediate, so to speak, superior, detained me for defection... for bargaining with the enemy. It was then when I came up with my famous utterance: "An eye for an eye is not a way of the noble but the way to get blind...” People saw just now right it was when the first bombs touched the ground...
What do you want now, comrade? I’ve answered your questions already.

: To accuse you of lying, fake!

: [The man suddenly looks scared] I suppose it was one of my unfortunate fellow soldiers who fed you this story? Yes, the boys are not what they used to be. Illnesses, alcoholism and old wounds have got the better of them. Of course, as their comrade in arms, I do everything in my power to help them. But they seem to ignore it and constantly accuse me of lying!

: What a dilemma!
Edit - OF COURSE Sergey Maslov's name is a reference. What else would it be. Anyway, should we reveal the truth or

: Who cares. Communism stolen valor is just a red herring. The story establishes that in universe, WW3 was started by nefarious Western provocateurs using "peaceful" protesters to attack Soviet borders and soldiers.

1. A direct polemic - a "take that", if you will - to Fallout's "who knows or cares who fired the first shot that led to WW3 now that they're all dead? If it wasn't our side, we've done our share of provocation and escalation". Nope, just evil Western invaders.

We all know just how much Russia's enemies apparently love to hide behind civilians and kill their own population to make Russia look bad. To be fair, at the time the game was written there was no way of knowing that... outside Chechnya (1 and 2)... Georgia...Syria...

2. The framing of the question \ moral quandary is very much in the style of Russian propaganda. My dad, RIP, used to watch a lot of Russian talk shows. Solovyov and all that sort of garbage. They had a fairly common way of framing issues. "Since we know that [insane fact du jour] – for instance, that the reptilian ZOG government is coordinating the destruction of Russia and everything holy – what should we do about this obvious fact? Should we conquer the west with conventional weapons, or nuke the lot?
Since we know that trans people only transition to earn money, should we exterminate them or just deny them human rights?
Discuss amongst yourselves".

Once the “fact” is well established as the foundation for further arguments about means and ends, the actual discussion is beside the point.

This is why the journalist is just as happy to accept a story praising heroic soldiers or a scandal about stolen valor and military pretenders – that's not the point once the basic story is accepted.

If anything, WW3 would have the same in-setting cult as WWII has in RL Russia.

3. The value of propaganda. In-game, most propaganda distributors and consumers are deeply cynical. Whether writing for newspapers (shame we don't actually get involved in TV news), repairing televisions, getting interviewed or consuming the new cycle, the prevailing opinion is that those in power know they're lying, and the consumers know they are being lied to. Would anyone take this nonsense seriously? Is anyone actually getting brainwashed?

Yeah. They do. They definitely do.

Not necessarily saying that KRZ should be conducting a(n even more) genocidal cleansing against mutants and "enemy" settlements in the area, but...

: Ok, this was kind a lot. Let's move on with the game and see what else there is to see. Right next to the fake veteran we have an aspiring writer.

: Tell me, honestly, you're Trudov?

: Yes. In the flesh. A man and a bathyscaphe.

: "However, this bathyscaphe will only agree to dive in the abyss if the world ocean turns into alcohol"!

: I can see someone here has read my early collection of prose - "Student columns".

: Of course! It's a great book!

: What did you introduce them for? Their babbling will never stop now!

: Quite the contrary, thank you! If only you knew what a great honour it is for me!

: I have a hunch Hexogen will not talk about anything but this encounter as we travel.

: Trudov, the great writer!

: Oh no, I'm not worthy of these words. Great... You can apply this word to Kharlamov, the legendary ice hockey forward! The legend of the Summit Series USSR - Canada, 1972! Call me simply "Ballistic rocket Hexogen-6". Or better even, "maestro".

: Legend No. 17 came out the year this game was made. And the summit series was barely 40 years old, so that’s an entirely timely reference!

: Yes, maestro! Oh! I'll never forget this meeting!

: “Strawberry” is one of the Russian words for light erotica. I’m not actually sure why.

: This sounds just terrible. And that means something, coming from me...

: Wait! It's not that simple!

: Well, it's not the worst idea I've ever heard. This bullshit might actually get quite popular in the Wasteland.

: 30th century. Soviet humans, reborn from the ashes of the nuclear apocalypse, explore space and meet other sentient beings. Young, strong and well-built Central Committee member Dick Popov flies to "‘Strawberry" to represent the interests of the Soviet Earth!

: But how can a simple red-blooded guy keep the presence of mind, like any worthy Soviet citizen should, when surrounded by exotic beauties, such as blue-skinned generalissima Liarna Pildak from Ganymede, or lascivious Lizorra from Venus?

: Another classic reference, sorta.

: Let alone menacing stripper robots from Uranus that appear once in a cycle to seduce men or all civilised races!
Gubtsov smoothes out his neat beard dreamily and sighs] And the strangest thing is, as soon as this idea occurred to me, the editor-in-chief -of ‘”Shoot to Kill Print House" came to town for some business! This publishing house prints hundreds of materials, from survival, manuals to fiction
Alas, I failed to persuade him that publishing my stories was a good idea... But if you think my plan is worthy... Maybe you could talk to him..? He's staying not too far from here, in the hotel! His name is Vladislav Zhirenko.

: Of course! We're bound to help the young talent, this seed that'll yield previously unseen literary harvest!
[Hexogen turns to you and continues his speech in a whisper]
Hexogen: Tell him to go screw himself, son! He's a moron!

: I think I forgot about this bit? We'll finish it at a later date, though I'm pretty sure it's just a "publishers sure are greedy" gag. Soviet literature didn't really have an erotic streak - after a short sexual revolution in the 1920's, the USSR regime was really quite puritanical. As the Soviet Union was falling apart, a lot of perestroika films used the lifting of censorship restrictions to get some titties on screen, but... they weren't really erotic (due to lack of skill and practice) and weren't really into space opera as a genre (due to lack of budget). A LOT of modern Russian sci-fi is Revanchist time travel nonsense which I imagine would be far more popular post-apocalypse, but... that's not where the game goes.

tl;dr posted:

: I really admire Pasternak Trudov Hexogen, and am writing some pulp-Soviet-scifi-erotica!

: That's cool (fuck this guy!)

: Soviet literature didn't have a lot of erotica, and post-Soviet pulp with a lot of sex was mostly action\spy stuff, so I'm not sure what this is supposed to mock.

: Let’s move on to Peregon. TGEK didn’t really spend a lot of time there, but there are some things of interest. As long as we’re here, let’s take out the BBQ crew. Before we do, their cook has a warning for us:

: BBQ meat is probably the best food item in the game, which would matter more if food was ever even slightly a concern.

: Mildly amusing. Probably going to review some other encounters that are resolved by appealing to luck – I like the idea. Some of them actually take care of the encounter completely, which allows your character to remain a strict pacifist.

: Wait, what?! Well, I was right! It's writer Trudov himself! But how? What brings you here? After all this time in camps... After being exiled to America...

: Despicable! As if I would've let anyone exile me to that rotten godless empire of withered capitalism..! The only thing they did was run that story full of lies in their useless newspapers! In reality they just drove me from Moscow and left me there. And trust me, there was no America there, it was good old city of Zaraisk, cheerful and full of light!

: I can't believe what I am hearing... I've been reading your books for all my life. "Tobik and the shockworkers", "Mishka's borsch', "The adventures of Lazyus”, "Lazyus on the red planet"... The scene where the humpty-dumpties tear Lazyus apart with their bare hands for overthrowing the Communist regime on Mars is haunting my dreams till this day...

: As long as we're talking about weird communist sci-fi, check out The Wizard of Oz with Aliens

: I've written that for the occupying forces! To remind them of how beautiful their Vaterland is! So they would return there. Who knew that damn Vlasov would be so impressed by it he would defect with a whole army?!

: Well, yes. That's what I thought.

: Just jokey joke jokes, obviously. The real Solzhenitsyn went to the Gulag for criticizing Stalin, and wasn’t a German collaborator on any level. Except for the “criticizing Stalin is the equivalent of working with the Nazis”. Which the makers of this game don’t believe of course. Hexogen isn’t Solzhenitsyn at all, while we’re at it.

: And then there was this book... "They conquered Berlin". In the book the hero liberators were some English guy with a Japanese sword and a woman with rakes for hands!

: It's my creative vision, you scoundrelly ill-wisher!

: Why did he choose to live a life of an outcast for so long?

: Well.. After all, he sold his book about life in gulag, the "Vorkuta tricks", to an American publisher, even though the Khrushchev's government offered him to publish it for free, to combat the personality cult...

: Mfff..! Mhh..! I... I have to support my addiction to cheap tobacco and a self-made drug from tea leaves that I acquired in the mincing machine that was the Stalin's regime...

: Omitting some hiiiiiiiiiilarious “Hexogen was in prison, so that must mean…” dialog...

Hexogen may take his name from a 1990's anti-Semitic thriller, but the in-game character draws from a number of dissident writers who hated the Soviet Union but also "Western Values" and had an abrupt nationalist turn towards the end of their career, looking for a strong leader to bring back Russian-Christian values blah blah blah.

: The Peregon election quest starts out in this cargo container, which I completely missed on my first playthrough.

: If they're so paranoid, things could escalate. What would you say if I killed them all in the process of 'inspiring' them? Would that negatively impact your plan?

: Very much so. Replacing all those people would be quite an undertaking. Don't get me wrong, I understand the risks, but what else can I do? It's all or nothing.

: Do you think it's wise to send shady adventurers to solve a critical social problem that could at any moment lead to all-out war?

: I don't even know of a place where people ‘don't’ think it wise. Why, only a few years ago, we sent six adventurers from the Dale of Icy Winds to dispose of an army of bandits plaguing the trade routes. And they did everything we asked.

: I'm not sure they'll enjoy such a surprise, but as proletarians we have nothing to lose but our chains. I agree! Where do I look for them?

: Good show! They're both right here in Peregon. The head guard, Nikolai Siplovsky, sits in my former office in the Inland navigation building. The head merchant, Lyonya Abramov, is in the hull of this very ship. They will resist at first, but do your best to persuade them.

: Let’s head over to Lyonya first.

: 10 to pistols and SMGS

: Lyonya Abramov is of course a Jewish oligarch in the Berezovsky \ Abramovich model.

: I found this interesting list of names in a meat roasting joint over yonder. I noticed your name on it as well. Maybe it will change your mind?

: [Lyonya Abramov smiles a friendly smile, in spite of your words, and leans back in his chair] Barbecue joint? You mean "The Gourmet's Delight"? Yes, of course. Where else would you find it? Good work! Now tell me, why did you do this?

: A mailman in Krasnoznamenny directed me to it.

: Ah, I see. The muted scout horn... Single loop.
[Uttering this odd phrase, the merchant calmly rises to his feet, then yells out loud:]

: This aggros the entire map. Let's rewind and try again.

: [Intellect] Use your brain for once. Someone needs to resolve the disputes people have in Peregon. You can't simply push them away. If neither of you does it, your neighbors will.

: [Lyonya Abramov gives this some thought. Seems like your persuasion technique has worked a small wonder]
That's true. I became too emotionally invested. All right As long as Maximovich doesn't mess up my deals, he will probably even be helpful. It won't hurt to delegate him some of my work.

: Simple as that. The guards are stationed in a side building that we don’t really have a reason to enter if we’re not messing with the election.

: I'm communist number one, amigo, but even I believe such superstitions...

: Yeah, killing the spider actually does drop our luck. No other point to this interaction that I can see.

[Entering the room, you hear a telltale click. Turning around, you find a mustached man in a cap aiming a gun at your belly]

: [Streetwise] Don't spin me that bullshit, monkey mouth! You're a thief through and through, just like me!

: I wrote a breakdown on Russian mafia rules back in the KGB LP, so if you want to know why “thieves” can’t serve in the army – there you go.

: [The head of the guard looks at you a long while, until he coughs and pushes his cap to the side of his head]
So where's your Cadillac parked? Siberia? Magadan?
Be quiet, okay?! All right, I didn't serve in the army. But after me and the boys stopped looting people on the river, we had to come up with a pretty legend.

: What kind of a thief are you if you don't want to fool all these plebs? You don't need to kill them, you need to make them trust you.

: [Nikolai Siplovsky thinks this over for a while. It seems like your words have convinced him] Huh. That's actually true. Someone has to show some wit around here, and why can't it be me? Dang. Go tell that simpleton Maximovich that I'm in with all his cooperation shtick.

: Alternately, you can blackmail him with the BBQ list.

: You could also silently murder both faction heads. But you know – pacifist. The pedophile murderers get to live.

: And then he takes a loooooooooooong treck across the level

Only to end up at the entrance.

: At least it’s a moderately appropriate reference? The previous Twelve Chairs reference was also to the point.

But what if we really didn’t tolerate pedophile serial killers?

: Lyonya’s bodyguard needs an excuse for the noise not to agro the entire ship, Siply’s bodyguard is glad he’s dead, which is the most characterization the entire building full of guards gets.

: Mother of God! I knew it was a possibility, but I had hoped it wouldn't come to this. I was foolish, it seems. Nothing to be done about it now. It's not a pretty solution, but it's still a solution, and you are the one to thank for it.
I don't even know. You disposed of the people who kept the situation in Peregon from becoming a true nightmare. Money will likely become a real problem in the near future. Take these 500 rubles, three tins of food, and ten 9mm cartridges, as well as this Kasparamid pack.

: Restricting ourselves to a single death:

: I don't know. You disposed of a man without whom managing trade in Peregon may become a problem. I'm worried money will become scarce in the near future. Take these 700 rubles, 4 tins of food, and fifteen 9mm cartridges, as well as these two packs of Kasparamid.

: Scintillating differences. Finally, as all sides ask you to murder the others:

: Fyodor actually has a decent stash of cash and a LOT of alcohol on him

: For a moment I thought it was a bit of characterization, but that’s probably just his shop inventory.

: Siplovsky doesn’t actually do the long walk to announce his new authority. The main change that happens – the guard no longer stops us as we go in \ out of Peregon proper, free of charge. Woooo.
What we've got here is failure to communicate a conflict between Oligarchs, Siloviks and Nomenklatura \ Bureaucrats. A sort of microcosm of the upcoming conflict in Russia without a "strong leader" like Putin. The idea that you could appoint a neutral technocratic leader from among the bureaucracy is very appealing to vaguely "liberal" Russians. Sure, all state employees are corrupt, but there's ostensibly a caste for whom corruption is not the goal of being employed by the state, but are being forced to participate in the corruption by the prevailing culture, and would surely - surely - cut back on stealing and oppression once they are in power. Surely.

Which is why this is the good option.

tl;dr posted:

: How about you guys hand over real mediation power to a has-been bureaucrat?

: Why?

: I don't actually have any arguments, but I do have skillchecks!

: Fuck.

: What would have happened if I didn't have skillchecks and were forced to kill those guys in self-defense?

: Slightly worse quest completion reward.

: And what would have happened had I accepted their offer to kill you?

: Slightly better quest reward, but think of the stain on your conscience!

: ............ Nevertheless, this is a pacifist playthrough.

: Didn't we already establish that in-dialog kills actually don't affect your stats and are technically pacifist?

: ... Fuck. Still, let's not strain the technical definition of pacifist any further.

:Finally, let's take a ride with Ivan Ivanovich and support Grankin in the Otradnoye elections.

: [Ivan Ivanovich casts a quick glance at Grankin, who's sweating buckets, and nods]
It's true he's experienced. But he's also a coward, a doormat and a liar, if my initial impression of him is correct. However, with Denis Denisovich by his side I believe he will implement beneficial policies for the village.
You might be interested to learn that there are two people in the village dead set against his candidacy. First of all, Vasya, the barman from the pub, who obviously supports his sister. Second, a certain Akhmed, a big moustached man, a former tractor driver. He himself is against Grankin, has set his wife against him, and is generally muddying the waters for everyone else. You've got to find these people and... convince them to change their minds.
[The man slicks back his receding hair and moves closer to you] - The elections have to go smooth as silk, by which I mean one hundred percent turnout. Like it was in the USSR, may it rest in peace. But the problem is that two men in the village refuse to vote! Worse, their recalcitrance is confusing the other villagers.

: So supporting either candidate doubles your workload. Well, Dan did send us two dudes to settle any problems, so we can get this done even if none of our skills are up to snuff.

: I need you to chat up a local named Akhmed.

: That guy with the mustache? He's the fighting type, eh? He's been giving us the stink-eye the whole time we've been here.

: Let's pay him a visit... ...after which he'll be paying his doctor a visit to treat his many new ailments.

: That’s one.

: Old Semyon won't vote! Talk him into it!

: We'll talk, but we're not going to harm the old guy.

: Oh, come on! Why not?

: It's a matter of principle. Let's go.

: Ye damn bashtards, ye want to make me vote, dontcha?!

: Huh. Seems like-this one has less dementia than we thought. Vote for you know who, got it?!

: God damn bastards!

: You can also scare Semyon with your demon:

: Yan:

: But… but…

: We have nothing to talk about. Oh, and we don't serve drinks to people like you.

: Get out of our establishment. You're not welcome here anymore!

: What’s the hardest thing about leadership?

: For me - it's the despicable light-heartedness with which the former leader dealt with tax evasion. Almost everyone evaded taxation one time or another! Not just the poor or the needy! Everyone from the local merchant to your friendly bartender got away with it! With me at the helm - such nonsense will not go on! Everyone will pay...

: This one is fairly self-explanatory.

tl;dr posted:

: Vote for you know who, got it?

: Nah.

: :commissar:

: ok :smith:

: And in fact, when we return to the village:

: Semyon had a grave reserved for him ever since we first visited Otradnoye, and now he's finally occupying. it. On paper, this could be touching. He may be one of our first quest givers, handing us a gun and a lesson in Wasteland survival. He's got that backstory with the two other elderly hunters, and now he's never going to be reunited with them. It's just, you know, the rest of the game...

Next time - Mafia and organized crime, with practically no meaningful differences between different paths.