Smuggling News into Russia: The “Counter-Strike” Map

"Learn how Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat is using gaming to smuggle news into Russia and break the information blockade

Since the war in Ukraine began, the Russian government has been blocking independent news outlets, social media networks, and even human rights organization websites to suppress independent reporting. As a result, some media have resorted to creative solutions to smuggle information about the war in Ukraine into Russia.

In the past, Google reviews and rating portals like Tripadvisor were used to relay messages until US companies put a stop to it. Now, Helsingin Sanomat, a Finnish newspaper, has developed a map for the popular computer game “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive,” which has around four million users in Russia.

How Helsingin Sanomat is using “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive” to Circumvent Russian Censorship

“Counter-Strike: Global Offensive” is an online tactical shooter game where players compete against each other as terrorist or anti-terrorist units. Helsingin Sanomat hired professional game designers who developed a Slavic city for the game and named the map “de_voyna,” which translates to “war” in Russian, a word that Russian media are not allowed to use.

The map was released on May 3, International Press Freedom Day. Players fight their way through streets lined with gray, prefabricated buildings. In a virtual cellar, indicated by a large monument and a burning car, players find a hidden room. Inside, they find news in Russian about the war against Ukraine, gathered by Finnish war reporters.

The messages deposited in the virtual basement include texts and pictures about the massacre in Bucha, as well as personal stories, like that of a father whose baby, wife and mother-in-law were killed by a Russian cruise missile in Odesa while he was out shopping. There are also stories about the 70,000 Russian soldiers who have died in battle.

Eyewitness Accounts to Expose Fake News

Antero Mukka, the editor-in-chief of Helsingin Sanomat, said that the newspaper has been reporting the developments since the beginning of the war, publishing news in Russian on its website. Helsingin Sanomat has long been banned in Russia, and its website is blocked there too.

“We wanted to show something that our reporters and photographers in Ukraine saw with their own eyes and documented,” explained Mukka. The idea was that the brutality of the war should be in plain view, and the truth should be brought to light. “Officially, Russia claims that the massacres in Bucha and Irpin are fictitious and the product of fake news. We want to tell the players that unfortunately, they are true,” he added.

The Finnish media company believes that there are people in Russia who are ready to take a different position and support the free world’s efforts to keep Ukraine an independent country. Among the four million “Counter-Strike” players are many young men who have a direct connection to the war. Many are at an age when they could be drafted by the Russian army and lose their own lives in battle.

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