St. Petersburg's Best-kept Secret Is a Soviet Arcade Museum
Just around the corner from the picturesque Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg, Russia, is a place where you really can turn back time.
Walk into the Museum of Soviet Arcade Machines, and you’ll be transported to 1980s Soviet Russia. The local currency is the 15 kopek coin, featuring a hammer-and-sickle. The boxiest soda machines you’ve ever seen dispense fizzy drinks in flavors like tarragon. The price of admission — 450 rubles (about $7) — buys about 15 coins and two to three hours of entertainment.
The museum was founded by a group of engineering students from Moscow State Technical University who had set out to find the arcade games of their youth. After finding and restoring a handful of games, the group opened a museum in Moscow in 2007, and added a St. Petersburg location in 2013.
The St. Petersburg space is more arcade than museum and provides a rare peek into the city’s Soviet past. Inside, there are about 40 games, Soviet Russia’s answer to Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and Frogger. Unlike The Hermitage, visitors are encouraged to play with the exhibits.
Most games allude to the military or physical strength in some way. All games had to align with Marxist ideology and sidestep fantasy, role-playing, and overt competition.
“The main idea of arcades in Soviet times was to train your body in things like hand-eye coordination,” said Oksana Kaplunenko, one of the museum’s managers. “These games had to be useful as well as fun.”
If you don’t speak Russian, some games will be difficult to understand, while others transcend language barriers. Morskoi Boi simulates a submarine experience in which players torpedo enemy ships from underwater. In Winter Hunt, players brave winter snow to shoot at rabbits, an experience likely to conjure up memories of Nintendo’s Duck Hunt.
Morskoi Boi and a two-player basketball game are the most popular games nowadays, Kaplunenko said. “About 90 percent of people come looking for these two games.”
Most of the museum’s visitors are from Russia, she said. Like the museum’s founders, visitors often are nursing a nostalgia for their youth. The museum caters to that nostalgia by keeping games in their original condition as much as possible, a feat complicated by the fact that the factories that once churned out replacement parts have long been closed.
It even provides a vintage photo booth, and sells the iconic Nokia 3310 phone.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Price: 450 rubles for entry + 15 coins
Address: Konyushennaya sq., 2b, St. Petersburg, 191186