A Finnish newspaper is celebrating World Press Freedom Day today by walking the walk. Helsingin Sanomat, Finland’s biggest daily paper, created a Counter-Strike: Global Offensive map containing a secret room. Inside the hidden blood-red chamber, players find real-world multimedia storytelling about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — sneaking some much-needed journalism into a country inundated with propaganda.
The developers that the newspaper worked with on the map left some clues for Russian players to find it. First, it takes place in an unnamed battleground location imitating “a Slavic city.” Additionally, the map’s name, de_voyna, is a reference to the Russian word “voyna,” which translates to “war.” (That description is prohibited in Russia when describing the invasion; Putin's government insists on calling it a “special military operation”).
The obscured room also has several hints to help Russian players find it: It’s located near an eternal flame monument (a burning car), a traditional practice commemorating WWII (or “the Great Patriotic War” as it’s known in Russia) that will be familiar to Russians. A light also hangs above the entrance, another breadcrumb indicating the dark passageway may differ from others nearby. Finally, players can spot the room by moving the camera around after an in-game death.
After walking down the stairway entrance, players see a darkly lit room with red lights hanging from the ceiling, casting a foreboding crimson tone over the space. Next, players see a headline on the wall opposite the entrance, reading: “Counterstrike of the Free Press.” Nearby, a map reveals civilian targets hit by Russian armies. Additionally, three walls are covered with images from real-life news stories showing some of Russia’s atrocities: the Bucha massacre (where the Russian military executed Ukrainian civilians in the street and buried them in a mass grave), a story of a man whose family was killed by a Russian cruise missile and a count of the estimated 70,000 Russian soldiers killed in the war. Finally, a Russian-language radio voice-over tells each story when moving closer to a news item.
The unnamed (to avoid harassment or worse) game designers that Helsingin Sanomat worked with had experience designing hundreds of CS: GO maps. They pitched in “to be able to be involved in making such a map with a humanitarian purpose connected to the real world,” they told the publication. “Russia’s senseless aggression on Ukraine has killed tens of thousands of civilians, including children. The least we can do is to bring Putin’s war crimes and Russian propaganda to light.”
Helsingin Sanomat editor-in-chief Antero Mukka told Reuters that his paper didn’t ask for publisher Valve’s permission to include the map since the game encourages user-created content. “If some young men in Russia, just because of this game, happen to think for a couple of seconds what is going on in Ukraine then it's worth it,” he said.
If you want to assist with the cause, Helsingin Sanomat recommends playing the de_voyna map, which should help increase its in-game visibility. Although it’s hard to imagine the locale remaining playable for long after Putin’s government learns about it, it’s an inspiring — and highly creative — way of defying the authoritarian regime’s free-press restrictions.