When Games Matter is a weekly exploration by Drew Dixon of meaningful moments in games. Operating under the assumption that games do in fact matter, Drew seeks to highlight those moments that have much to say to say about who we are and the world we live in.

Metro 2033 didn’t impress everyone, but it provided one of the most memorable game worlds I have ever experienced.  The game is based on a book set in postapocalyptic Moscow and nuclear fallout has forced a very small group of survivors to seek shelter in the Metro Tunnels.  Trips to the surface are dangerous and consequently seldom made.  Unlike other postapocalyptic games, there is very little brevity in the world of Metro 2033 and rightly so–the world is falling to pieces and the few people left continue to kill each other while being attacked by ravenous monsters created by the fallout.  Most of the game is made up of treks between small settlements in the tunnels which sometimes require brief trips to the surface–these treks are difficult because of confrontations with warring parties, monsters, and the fact that you are often armed with constantly malfunctioning equipment and low quality ammunition.

Time in the tunnels is so eerie and chaotic that the peaceful moments in various settlements are a welcome if not necessary break from the madness.  In each settlement you are free to wonder around for as long as you like–your character never talks but as you explore people will talk to you. They will share bits and pieces of their survival stories, some of which are gripping.  There is very little joy in these settlements as the sting of tragedy is still clearly felt and the promise of more is all too real.

The most meaningful moment in the game came in one such settlement when I came upon a small group of people huddled around the fire listening to a man play the guitar. There was nothing particularly special about what he played other than it having a distinctly Russian feel to it.  In short, it was nice.  What made this moment meaningful was the realization that the survivors were trying to preserve art and culture in a world where there is very little beauty.

We live in a dark world–a brief scan of current events, namely wars in third world countries or own nation’s politics confirms this.  We must give a thoughtful eye to these events, but sometimes when we do, we can be overwhelmed by a sense despair.  This moment was a welcome reminder that there is beauty in the world worth preserving.  The player is free to breeze right past this guitar player, some people may not have even noticed him, but the world of Metro 2033 was so lacking in hope, I elected to stay until he finished playing.  It seemed like the right thing to do.


  1. I’ve only played to the very first settlement, but I did appreciate the fact that your character is a collector of postcards from all over the cold, dead world. Much more poignant than Fallout New Vegas similar, but much more mercenary use of snowglobes.

    A similarly affecting moment for me occurred in Fallout 3 actually. In the Capital Wasteland, there is no flora living anywhere. The land truly is wasteland and without hope of rehabilitation. Almost. After spending hours and hours wandering around, I found a single flower blooming in Arlington Cemetery. It was affecting wholly due to the fact of the sure weight of the Wasteland’s oppressive deadness.

    So art preservation of a different kind.

  2. I like your description of Fallout NV’s use of snowglobes!

    I remember you telling me about that moment in Fallout 3. You should consider picking up Metro 2033, I think you would really like it–it is very linear but it reminds me a good bit of Far Cry 2 because the combat is so varied and challenging. The best attribute of the game is the world though–they definitely nailed what a war-torn postapocalyptic world should feel like.

  3. Oh yeah, I definitely plan on picking it up again. The last three months, however, my game time has been exclusively devoted to New Vegas (which I played once for an Independent New Vegas and then once for Caesar’s Legion). Now I’m mostly taking a break for a little just because I’ve got a couple big projects that require more time than usual, so when I do have a little time, I’ve been exploring Starcraft II for the first time.

    But yeah, hopefully in a month or two I’ll be able to get back to Metro 2033 because what I saw in the thirty minutes I played was pretty awesome. Also, I don’t mind linearity—the Half-Life games are some of the best gaming experiences ever designed.

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