War Games: How Russia Prepares its Citizens for Combat Through Play

May 11, 2024
Moscow revives Soviet combat games in an effort to militarize and prepare its people for war.

In Russia, the echoes of Soviet-era combat games resound anew as the Kremlin employs age-old tactics to militarize its society and prime it for the realities of warfare.

Through these experiences, Russia shapes the perceptions of its people, fostering an environment in which war and aggression are not only acceptable but also glorified. In exploring the intricate nexus between entertainment and militarization, military tactical games serve as a poignant reminder of the power of narrative in shaping societal attitudes towards warfare.

What is the Zarya Organizing Committee?


The Zarya Organizing Committee conducts military tactical games: airsoft, paintball, and laser tag. Since 2011, with the support of the Russian Ministry of Defense, the Zarya Organizing Committee has been organizing military-tactical games on military district training grounds.

The military-tactical game "Zarya" is a modern interpretation of the famous Soviet military-patriotic game "Zarya". However, unlike its predecessor, Zarya is intended to simulate real-world combat conditions as closely as possible. This makes it a unique but a potentially dangerous activity.

Soviet military-patriotic game "Zarnitsa"

Modern military-tactical game "Zarya"

Official website 

"The goal of the game is to develop patriotism and increase motivation to perform military duty, promote a lifestyle among young people and the social rehabilitation of military personnel who have passed through "hot spots", Deputy Chairman of the Voluntary Society for Assistance to the Army, Aviation and Navy of Russia Andrey Holovatyuk said.

Although the developers of Zarya claim that the game is aimed at increasing military training and patriotism, such game simulations actually aim to desensitize players to violence and combat. 

In addition, real military assets such as T-72 and MT-LB tanks, "Ural" vehicles, and a specially modified Mi-8 helicopter are used to deploy troops within battle zones.

This immersion in actual military hardware produces a convincing illusion of being a part of real-world combat operations, increasing the risk of aggressive behavior or incitement to real-world conflicts, such as participation in Russia's war against Ukraine.


Through its blending of reality and simulation, "Zarya" leaves viewers less mindful of the harsh realities of combat. Given the impressionable age range (from 14 till 50) of its intended audience, exposure to lifelike combat scenarios attempts to foster a false sense of familiarity and comfort with violence, thereby causing stress, trauma, or desensitization among Russians. "The Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation fully supports the holding of mass military-tactical games that unite citizens of the Russian Federation, regardless of differences in level of education, nationality and religion, as an element of the system of military-patriotic education", said the First Deputy Minister of Defense, Army General Gerasimov in a letter to the ZARYA Organizing Committee dated July 14, 2015

Screenshot from the video

According to the Order of the Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation, the ZARYA games comply with the principles and approaches enshrined in the state program "Patriotic Education of Citizens of the Russian Federation for 2016-2020" and military-tactical games "ZARYA" included in the Departmental program of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation for the implementation of the state program "Patriotic education of citizens of the Russian Federation for 2016-2020".

Positioning itself as an organization dedicated to instilling patriotism in the Russian population, on the social media pages of this organization, сontract service in the Russian Army is actively promoted.

Service in the Russian Armed Forces under a contract, VK

"Then you can become the color of the nation by participating in a special operation to demilitarize and denazify Ukraine. Yes, there is a war there. Yes, it's scary; there's stress, blood, death, and adrenaline. However, in this war, among all this chaos, stress, and adrenaline, you can begin self discovery. And you'll become a hero. This is how members of our Organizing Committee who fought in the war became heroes. This is how our Motherland valued their military service. She, the Motherland, will also value you. For your military service in this war."

Impact on young Russians: How does Russia use Zarya's tactical games to promote violence behind patriotic mask?

As part of the Zarya military-tactical games project, set for 2021, a large-scale patriotic education program for Russian youth was launched and is currently being expanded. This project will allow young people aged 12 to 18 years to participate, with the aim of instilling  in them the necessary qualities for the development of their own potential and the future of the state.

According to the authors of the project, the project's main goal is to nurture patriotism and strengthen the spiritual and moral values among young people. Project participants will engage in a variety of educational and training activities aimed at developing physical fitness, strategic thinking, teamwork, and leadership skills.

As part of the Zarya military-tactical games, participants learn the fundamentals of military affairs, as well as tactics and strategy used in real-world military operations. This will help them better understand and adapt to modern challenges and threats that our society may face. According to Organization Committee, «We serve as a powerful lever for educating children and youth and contain target value guidelines for all citizens of Russia.»

Moreover, there are even regular competitions that are carried out between Russian youth. On April 4, VPK Zvezda published information about the outcome of one of the events.

Participants competed in drill training, passed standards for practical shooting, disassembled and reassembled a Kalashnikov assault rifle, unloaded and loaded the magazine of a Kalashnikov assault rifle, did pull-ups and push-ups, and participated in a paramilitary relay race.

To summarize, beneath the facade of entertainment lies a profound normalization of war and violence. The Russian modern military-tactical game "Zarya" presents several concerning aspects,making it dangerous. Firstly, "Zarya" immerses players in real-life combat scenarios by using authentic military equipment, creating a convincing illusion of participation in warfare. This may have adverse effects on the psychological well-being of participants, particularly by desensitizing them to the harsh realities of violence and war. Moreover, while the developers claim that "Zarya" aims to "promote military training and patriotism", its realistic simulations instead foster a false sense of ease and spontaneity in military actions. This led to aggressive behavior or incitement to real conflicts, including participation in the ongoing war against Ukraine.

Additionally, the promotion of "Zarya" as a tool for patriotic education and the active recruitment of young Russians into military service further is considered to be a problematic development. By positioning itself as an organization dedicated to fostering patriotism, "Zarya" is glorifying violence and militarism among Russian youth.

Overall, while Russian military-tactical games such as "Zarya" offer "entertainment and educational value", their realistic depiction of combat and promotion of military service warrant careful consideration of their potential societal and psychological impacts on the Russian people.

Alona Hryshko
Analyst at Internews Ukraine