30 years on, Chernobyl disaster spawns unlikely gaming culture

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30 years on, Chernobyl disaster spawns unlikely gaming culture
Elena (R) applies make-up to her daughter Liza, dressed in a costume of snork mutant, at the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Convention in Moscow, Russia, April 2, 2016. A game known as S.T.A.L.K.E.R., named after a popular computer shooter, is fast winning the minds of intellectuals across the former Soviet Union who take on roles of mutants, zombies and warriors on unfinished construction sites. As the 30th anniversary of the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl is marked on April 26, enacting a post-apocalyptic world is a philosophy that warns of the perils of uncontrolled use of nuclear power, the game's enthusiasts claim. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov SEARCH "S.T.A.L.K.E.R MAX" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Valentin, 26, an actor in a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. quest game, poses for a picture in a mutant costume in Moscow, Russia, April 8, 2016. A game known as S.T.A.L.K.E.R., named after a popular computer shooter, is fast winning the minds of intellectuals across the former Soviet Union who take on roles of mutants, zombies and warriors on unfinished construction sites. As the 30th anniversary of the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl is marked on April 26, enacting a post-apocalyptic world is a philosophy that warns of the perils of uncontrolled use of nuclear power, the game's enthusiasts claim. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov SEARCH "S.T.A.L.K.E.R MAX" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Nikolay, "Kok", 30, poses for a picture in stalker costume during a scene in a role-play game at an abandoned factory on the outskirts of Moscow, Russia, April 9, 2016. A game known as S.T.A.L.K.E.R., named after a popular computer shooter, is fast winning the minds of intellectuals across the former Soviet Union who take on roles of mutants, zombies and warriors on unfinished construction sites. As the 30th anniversary of the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl is marked on April 26, enacting a post-apocalyptic world is a philosophy that warns of the perils of uncontrolled use of nuclear power, the game's enthusiasts claim. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov SEARCH "S.T.A.L.K.E.R MAX" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Participants in snork mutant and gangster costumes attend a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. convention in Moscow, Russia, April 2, 2016. A game known as S.T.A.L.K.E.R., named after a popular computer shooter, is fast winning the minds of intellectuals across the former Soviet Union who take on roles of mutants, zombies and warriors on unfinished construction sites. As the 30th anniversary of the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl is marked on April 26, enacting a post-apocalyptic world is a philosophy that warns of the perils of uncontrolled use of nuclear power, the game's enthusiasts claim. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov SEARCH "S.T.A.L.K.E.R MAX" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Oleg, "Drakon", 30 (L), helps his friend Artyom, "Tank", 31, to put on a hand-made exoskeleton during a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. convention in Moscow, Russia, April 2, 2016. A game known as S.T.A.L.K.E.R., named after a popular computer shooter, is fast winning the minds of intellectuals across the former Soviet Union who take on roles of mutants, zombies and warriors on unfinished construction sites. As the 30th anniversary of the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl is marked on April 26, enacting a post-apocalyptic world is a philosophy that warns of the perils of uncontrolled use of nuclear power, the game's enthusiasts claim. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov SEARCH "S.T.A.L.K.E.R MAX" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
A participant demonstrates a hand-made prop of a radioactive detector during a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. convention in Moscow, Russia, April 2, 2016. A game known as S.T.A.L.K.E.R., named after a popular computer shooter, is fast winning the minds of intellectuals across the former Soviet Union who take on roles of mutants, zombies and warriors on unfinished construction sites. As the 30th anniversary of the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl is marked on April 26, enacting a post-apocalyptic world is a philosophy that warns of the perils of uncontrolled use of nuclear power, the game's enthusiasts claim. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov SEARCH "S.T.A.L.K.E.R MAX" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Artyom, "Topol", (L) and Artyom, "Tank", 31 perform a scene from a role-play game during a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. convention in Moscow, Russia, April 2, 2016. A game known as S.T.A.L.K.E.R., named after a popular computer shooter, is fast winning the minds of intellectuals across the former Soviet Union who take on roles of mutants, zombies and warriors on unfinished construction sites. As the 30th anniversary of the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl is marked on April 26, enacting a post-apocalyptic world is a philosophy that warns of the perils of uncontrolled use of nuclear power, the game's enthusiasts claim. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov SEARCH "S.T.A.L.K.E.R MAX" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Elena, her daughter Liza and boyfriend Maxim (R-L) pose for a picture in snork mutant costumes at the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Convention in Moscow, Russia, April 2, 2016. A game known as S.T.A.L.K.E.R., named after a popular computer shooter, is fast winning the minds of intellectuals across the former Soviet Union who take on roles of mutants, zombies and warriors on unfinished construction sites. As the 30th anniversary of the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl is marked on April 26, enacting a post-apocalyptic world is a philosophy that warns of the perils of uncontrolled use of nuclear power, the game's enthusiasts claim. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov SEARCH "S.T.A.L.K.E.R MAX" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Denis, "Maloy", 21, wearing a zombie costume (R) and Nikolay, "Kok", 30, play a role-play game at an abandoned factory on the outskirts of Moscow, Russia, April 9, 2016. A game known as S.T.A.L.K.E.R., named after a popular computer shooter, is fast winning the minds of intellectuals across the former Soviet Union who take on roles of mutants, zombies and warriors on unfinished construction sites. As the 30th anniversary of the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl is marked on April 26, enacting a post-apocalyptic world is a philosophy that warns of the perils of uncontrolled use of nuclear power, the game's enthusiasts claim. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov SEARCH "S.T.A.L.K.E.R MAX" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Leonid, "Kartoris", 28, wears a stalker costume which identifies the group "Monolith", as he poses for a portrait in Moscow, Russia, March 26, 2016. A game known as S.T.A.L.K.E.R., named after a popular computer shooter, is fast winning the minds of intellectuals across the former Soviet Union who take on roles of mutants, zombies and warriors on unfinished construction sites. As the 30th anniversary of the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl is marked on April 26, enacting a post-apocalyptic world is a philosophy that warns of the perils of uncontrolled use of nuclear power, the game's enthusiasts claim. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov SEARCH "S.T.A.L.K.E.R MAX" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Valentin, 26, (R) an actor in a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. quest, performs in a mutant costume during a game in Moscow, Russia, April 8, 2016. A game known as S.T.A.L.K.E.R., named after a popular computer shooter, is fast winning the minds of intellectuals across the former Soviet Union who take on roles of mutants, zombies and warriors on unfinished construction sites. As the 30th anniversary of the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl is marked on April 26, enacting a post-apocalyptic world is a philosophy that warns of the perils of uncontrolled use of nuclear power, the game's enthusiasts claim. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov SEARCH "S.T.A.L.K.E.R MAX" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
A participant of a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. quest (L) searches for the key on the body of a mutant during a game in Moscow, Russia, April 8, 2016. A game known as S.T.A.L.K.E.R., named after a popular computer shooter, is fast winning the minds of intellectuals across the former Soviet Union who take on roles of mutants, zombies and warriors on unfinished construction sites. As the 30th anniversary of the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl is marked on April 26, enacting a post-apocalyptic world is a philosophy that warns of the perils of uncontrolled use of nuclear power, the game's enthusiasts claim. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov SEARCH "S.T.A.L.K.E.R MAX" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Participants play a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. quest game in Moscow, Russia, March 27, 2016. A game known as S.T.A.L.K.E.R., named after a popular computer shooter, is fast winning the minds of intellectuals across the former Soviet Union who take on roles of mutants, zombies and warriors on unfinished construction sites. As the 30th anniversary of the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl is marked on April 26, enacting a post-apocalyptic world is a philosophy that warns of the perils of uncontrolled use of nuclear power, the game's enthusiasts claim. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov SEARCH "S.T.A.L.K.E.R MAX" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Natalia, "Shell", 28, poses for a picture in a snork mutant costume at an abandoned factory on the outskirts of Moscow, Russia, April 9, 2016. A game known as S.T.A.L.K.E.R., named after a popular computer shooter, is fast winning the minds of intellectuals across the former Soviet Union who take on roles of mutants, zombies and warriors on unfinished construction sites. As the 30th anniversary of the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl is marked on April 26, enacting a post-apocalyptic world is a philosophy that warns of the perils of uncontrolled use of nuclear power, the game's enthusiasts claim. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov SEARCH "S.T.A.L.K.E.R MAX" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Valentin, 26, an actor in a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. quest game, performs in a mutant costume during a game in Moscow, Russia, April 8, 2016. A game known as S.T.A.L.K.E.R., named after a popular computer shooter, is fast winning the minds of intellectuals across the former Soviet Union who take on roles of mutants, zombies and warriors on unfinished construction sites. As the 30th anniversary of the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl is marked on April 26, enacting a post-apocalyptic world is a philosophy that warns of the perils of uncontrolled use of nuclear power, the game's enthusiasts claim. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov SEARCH "S.T.A.L.K.E.R MAX" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
German, "Irbis", 29, dressed in stalker costume which identifies the group "Dolg", poses for a portrait in Moscow, Russiaof Moscow, Russia, March 27, 2016. A game known as S.T.A.L.K.E.R., named after a popular computer shooter, is fast winning the minds of intellectuals across the former Soviet Union who take on roles of mutants, zombies and warriors on unfinished construction sites. As the 30th anniversary of the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl is marked on April 26, enacting a post-apocalyptic world is a philosophy that warns of the perils of uncontrolled use of nuclear power, the game's enthusiasts claim. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov SEARCH "S.T.A.L.K.E.R MAX" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Artyom, "Topol", Oleg, "Drakon", 30, and Artyom, "Tank", 31, (L-R) take a selfie in stalker costumes during a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. convention in Moscow, Russia, April 2, 2016. A game known as S.T.A.L.K.E.R., named after a popular computer shooter, is fast winning the minds of intellectuals across the former Soviet Union who take on roles of mutants, zombies and warriors on unfinished construction sites. As the 30th anniversary of the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl is marked on April 26, enacting a post-apocalyptic world is a philosophy that warns of the perils of uncontrolled use of nuclear power, the game's enthusiasts claim. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov SEARCH "S.T.A.L.K.E.R MAX" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Eduard, "Ed-Zero", 32, dressed in a handmade stalker exoskeleton which identifies with the group "Monolith", sits on a tyre in Moscow, Russia, March 26, 2016. A game known as S.T.A.L.K.E.R., named after a popular computer shooter, is fast winning the minds of intellectuals across the former Soviet Union who take on roles of mutants, zombies and warriors on unfinished construction sites. As the 30th anniversary of the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl is marked on April 26, enacting a post-apocalyptic world is a philosophy that warns of the perils of uncontrolled use of nuclear power, the game's enthusiasts claim. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov SEARCH "S.T.A.L.K.E.R MAX" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Nikolay, "Nicolas", 32, Leonid, "Kartoris", 28, Alexander, "Prizrak", 32, and Eduard, "Ed-Zero", 32, (L-R) dressed in stalker costumes which identify the group "Monolith", perform a scene from a role-play game in Moscow, Russia, March 26, 2016. A game known as S.T.A.L.K.E.R., named after a popular computer shooter, is fast winning the minds of intellectuals across the former Soviet Union who take on roles of mutants, zombies and warriors on unfinished construction sites. As the 30th anniversary of the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl is marked on April 26, enacting a post-apocalyptic world is a philosophy that warns of the perils of uncontrolled use of nuclear power, the game's enthusiasts claim. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov SEARCH "S.T.A.L.K.E.R MAX" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
German, "Irbis", 29, Mikhail, "Molokh", 30, Dmitry, "Mirt", 25, and Viktor, "Kar", 20 (L-R) dressed in stalker costumes which identify the group "Dolg", pose for a portrait in Moscow, Russia, March 27, 2016. A game known as S.T.A.L.K.E.R., named after a popular computer shooter, is fast winning the minds of intellectuals across the former Soviet Union who take on roles of mutants, zombies and warriors on unfinished construction sites. As the 30th anniversary of the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl is marked on April 26, enacting a post-apocalyptic world is a philosophy that warns of the perils of uncontrolled use of nuclear power, the game's enthusiasts claim. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov SEARCH "S.T.A.L.K.E.R MAX" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
Role-players in stalker costumes speak during a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. convention in Moscow, Russia, April 2, 2016. A game known as S.T.A.L.K.E.R., named after a popular computer shooter, is fast winning the minds of intellectuals across the former Soviet Union who take on roles of mutants, zombies and warriors on unfinished construction sites. As the 30th anniversary of the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl is marked on April 26, enacting a post-apocalyptic world is a philosophy that warns of the perils of uncontrolled use of nuclear power, the game's enthusiasts claim. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov SEARCH "S.T.A.L.K.E.R MAX" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
A girl dressed in a stalker costume sits at a table during a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. convention in Moscow, Russia, April 2, 2016. A game known as S.T.A.L.K.E.R., named after a popular computer shooter, is fast winning the minds of intellectuals across the former Soviet Union who take on roles of mutants, zombies and warriors on unfinished construction sites. As the 30th anniversary of the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl is marked on April 26, enacting a post-apocalyptic world is a philosophy that warns of the perils of uncontrolled use of nuclear power, the game's enthusiasts claim. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov SEARCH "S.T.A.L.K.E.R MAX" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
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MOSCOW (Reuters) -- The Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the world's worst, brought death, misery and radioactive contamination. Thirty years later, it has become the unlikely inspiration for Russian weekend gaming enthusiasts.

As the anniversary of the catastrophe approaches, people in affected areas in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia are still coming into daily contact with dangerously high levels of radiation from the April, 1986 explosion at the nuclear plant.

But in Moscow and other cities across the former Soviet Union, others spend their weekends pretending they live in Chernobyl's "dead zone" for fun, part of an unusual legacy the accident spawned including films, books and computer games.

The Moscow gamers can be spotted running around the Russian capital's abandoned construction sites, hiding in dark stairwells, and navigating obstacles as they try to outsmart rivals in a quest for what they call magic "artifacts."

According to the game's scenario, the artifacts possess special qualities and can also be a cure for the various diseases the players contract.

Dressed up as mutants, zombies, and warriors, the gamers cut an unusual figure in urban Moscow and its outskirts. Split into teams and given nicknames, they come from all walks of life.

During the working week, they toil as bar managers, computer designers, cameramen, artists, lawyers, and mathematicians.

At the weekend, they imagine they inhabit the irradiated "dead zone" around the infamous power plant after a new Chernobyl nuclear disaster which occurred in 2006, 20 years after the real thing.

Gamers generally pay small amounts of money to organizers who run the game, known as S.T.A.L.K.E.R., after a popular computer game of the same name.

Players say it is not just light entertainment for bored city dwellers, but an intellectual challenge which forces them to use their brains to solve impossibly difficult riddles.

For some, the exercise is also a dark reminder of the dangers of nuclear power.

"They keep adding fantastical elements to this and similar games each year," 'Nicolas,' one of the players, told Reuters. "The games reflect the danger posed by the uncontrollable use of nuclear power."

Another player, Nikolai Gorshkov, was just one year old when Chernobyl's reactor number four blew up. His grandfather, Vasily Mikhalin, was a policeman in Ukraine at the time and like many others was sent to the disaster-hit area to evacuate people.

For him, there was no magic cure of the type the gamers search for. He later died of cancer.

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