Learning Russian is tough.
You've got the Russian case system, weird verbs of motion. And don't get me started on Russian numerals…
And today, I want to share my ‘super secret' method I've used to put in a ton of extra hours learning Russian with you.
Can you already guess what it is? Okay, I admit it, I blew my secret in the title of this article.
… playing Russian video games.
Exactly. I've been roaming apocalyptic lands, shooting mutants and even saving damsels in distress.
All the while improving my Russian skills.
I can talk for hours about why video games work so well for learning Russian (as long as you avoid Call of Duty on a Russian server), but I've got a feeling that you'd prefer to see which games are the best for learning Russian, right?
But before that, here's the cliff notes on why gaming is such a great time investment:
- It makes learning Russian FUN
- You can easily spend hundreds of hours learning
- You need to understand the language, otherwise you can't finish your mission
- You absorb more knowledge because you're laser focused
- And if you're a beginner: Russian audio + English subtitles = a killer combo
Look, some very big organisations (CEFR), say that you need to put in approximately 1100 hours to become fluent in Russian (B2). If you're going to make such a commitment, you might as well make it fun.
So, without further ado, here are my top five Russian video games/series:
Note: there are many more games out there, but I've picked the ones that have Russian audio and are fun to play. I've tried playing some games with only Russian texts, but I couldn't get into as much as games with spoken Russian. If you just want to read, I suggest you start with Harry Potter as your first book.
5 Russian Video Games You Can Lose Yourself in for Hours
These games all have a good story. I've noticed over the last few years (as I've gotten more mature/busier, maybe?) that my focus has shifted to story games instead of games where you need to level up your character to infinity. Level up games often don't have much dialogue, whereas story games do, making them ideal for language learning.
Games with a good story are almost like watching a good movie. Only interactive. You can play for an hour a day (after work/school), and finish it in a couple of weeks – without losing your social life.
1. Metro 2033 (and its successor Last Light)
This is the absolute king when it comes to Russian video games. You play Artyom in an apocalyptic Moscow. An atomic war has killed all human life on earth, except for 40,000 people who managed to hide from the nuclear missiles in the deep underground Moscow metro.
The game follows a linear plot in which you travel between the metro stations (each of which has its own culture and alliances), shoot mutants, and even go above the ground to enjoy breathtaking views of a ruined Moscow.
This game is especially awesome if you've been to Moscow before and have traveled by metro. You'll see familiar places – only in a completely different light.
Most people will spend around 10 to 20 hours on this game, which makes it a perfect game for those who like to play videogames for a good story, but don't want to spend too much time leveling up their character or running around doing side missions.
2. The Witcher Series
Metro is great for people who want a bite-sized story. But if you want an open world to explore where you can spend hundreds of hours, then the Witcher series is for you.
The games are about Geralt, a Witcher (mutant), who gets paid to do dirty jobs and kill monsters. The world takes place in a medieval setting with monsters and other magical things.
I have only played the second game, but friends say that the third installment is absolutely worth playing. So if you're into magical role-playing games, then Witcher is for you.
Note: there are three games, but you don't necessarily need to play them in order from one to three. They can each be played on their own. Although the first one is really starting to show its age.
Since the Witcher was based on Slavic (Polish) mythology, the game comes to life with Russian audio. So I highly recommend you turn on the Russian.
Another great thing about the Witcher series is that the games are already popular. So chances are that you've played them before. This might seem like a bad thing, but it's actually a good thing. The games have a high replay value, and the fact that you already know the plot more or less makes it a LOT easier to understand it when it's only Russian.
If you've already played it, I challenge you to play with both Russian audio and text!
One of the highest rated Russian science fiction books from the Soviet Union is Roadside Picnic. After an event called the “Visitation”, six places on earth are changed into supernatural places. These zones exhibit strange phenomena, that are not understood by scientists. They bring new dangers to those that enter them. Also, there are weird, but valuable, artifacts to be found.
The Stalker games are based on Roadside Picnic. And in the games, you play a Stalker (that's what they call the guys who go into the restricted zones and try to loot valuables).
In the games, you'll walk around the zones, fight with mutants and other stalkers. The games are a bit older, but can be a lot of fun.
Another good thing is that there are many side missions, so you can make the game as long as you'd like.
This is by far the WEIRDEST game in this list. The game is situated in a little town where people get sick with the “sand plague”. You have to discover what is going on and how to stop it. You can play as one of three characters, the Bachelor, Haruspex or Devotress. The storyline is the same for each, but from a different perspective.
The game can be quite scary, and your only goal is to survive 12 days in the town.
I won't spoil anything of the great plot, but if you're in for a game that is completely different from many others and doesn't hold your hand all the way through, try Pathologic.
5. Bioshock Infinite
If you've played video games before, chances are high you've played at least one of the Bioshock games. For those who don't know Bioshock Infinite, it takes place in a flying city called Columbia. It was built in the previous century as a Utopia for its citizens, but things went wrong and now you've got to save the town. Or destroy it?
What not a lot of people know is that the game is available with Russian audio as well. Although it might be tough to buy it if you're not in Russia (or any Russia speaking country). I recommend you Google around and see if you can find it somewhere. And if you already own the game, try switching the languages according to the gamemaker.
The game can be compared to Metro as far as it's a shooter with a great storyline that can be played in around 10 to 20 hours.
Which Russian Video Game Will You Try?
Alright, there are the games. Five Russian video games that are great to play if you're learning Russian. Watch the trailers for more information and here's a quick recap about each game:
- Metro 2033 – post-apocalyptic shooter that takes place in the Moscow metro
- Witcher series – an open world role-playing game in a magical medieval world
- Stalker – post-apocalyptic shooter
- Pathologic – horror game in a creepy town where you have to survive 12 days
- Bioshock Infinite – shooter located in a flying utopian city
Now you might be wondering…
Isn't Gaming a Waste of Time?
Even though gaming is becoming more popular, many people still see gaming as a time waster. And it's true up to a certain point. If it's the only thing you're doing, then it's a good idea to reevaluate.
But if you're doing well in your day job or school, then playing a bit after work or on the weekends is perfectly fine.
Still, if you're anything like me, you (sometimes) experience some guilt when you play video games. After all, there are so many other activities you can do and other ways to learn.
If you do enjoy playing games, but can't get into it as much as you did before, I highly recommend you try playing one of the above games in Russian. It helped me a lot to ‘persuade' myself that I was spending time with purpose, while actually was doing something fun and useful.
Turning the language to Russian has allowed me to switch my mindset from:
Playing video games is a waste of my time → Playing video games allows me to practice my Russian listening & reading skills, learn new vocabulary and relax at the same time.
And let's face it, what's more fun? Going through your dusty grammar book for hours at a time… or losing yourself trying to save the world?
And finally... One of the best ways to learn a new language is with podcasts. Read more about how to use podcasts to learn a language.