Russia’s war on Ukraine is not a game – but some game developers are trying to make it one


The global video game industry is larger than both the movie and music industry combined. It’s a startling fact as the industry does not get as much mainstream attention, both where it can be praised and criticised.

Despite more general criticism of violence in video games, usually focused on crime, one area of concern that has slipped relatively unnoticed is how war propaganda can become normalised.

We are often faced with the question of how to explain difficult and bad events to our children. After all, children will eventually find out what is going on in the world somewhere, even if we try to protect them from it. It is all the more important to ensure that the information comes from a maximally objective source, and to always provide them with additional explanations and the necessary context.

Roblox, the most popular gaming platform among children, has 43.2 million daily users, 67% of whom are under 16 years old. There are about 15.5 million daily users in the European region. On the surface, it is a a relatively wholesome gaming platform, with over 40 million games including building games for children, animal games, rally games, etc. In September, however, it came out that games have started to spread on the platform where children can play either Russians or Ukrainians and kill each other to win. It is worth noting that 2 million of Roblox’s daily users are from Russia.

One such game was called “War on Larkiv: Ukraine” (set in Kharkiv), which was played more than 90,000 times in two weeks, after which it was removed from the platform. However, the game “Battle for Ukraine” managed to remain up for several months. It enabled children to watch the bombing of Mariupol and other cities. To date, these two games have been removed from the platform, but it is increasingly difficult for moderators to identify such games and remove them promptly.

In 2019, a similar controversy surrounded the cult game Call of Duty. At the time, both Russian media and social media condemned that the game had chosen ‘bad Russians’ and ‘good Americans’ as two parties, and that the game was distorting history. Today, it is possible to play the shooting game in ‘Donetsk’, an area inspired by the city of Donbass, Verdansk, where you can similarly choose whether to play with the Russian or Ukrainian flag.

Since the outbreak of the war, Ukrainian developers have also created several games that work directly against Putin. A good example of this is the game fArmy, where Ukrainian farmers are tasked with stealing the tech and equipment of Russian forces and deliver them to allies. The game includes, among other things, scenarios that involve escaping from bombings and other atrocities of war.

The depiction of war trauma in games has long been an ethical problem. For example, dozens of games have been made in the US where you have to kill and bomb people in Iraq. Such games can create a very distorted understanding of war in children and distort the blurred boundaries between the different parties to the war, which is dangerous both for their mental health and for society in general. However, war games will not disappear anytime soon, which is why it is more important to pay attention to the games that children are playing and always offer additional explanations.