Imagine this: you’re engrossed in a fast-paced game of Counter-Strike, the globally popular first-person shooter video game with a massive following in Russia. Suddenly, you stumble upon a secret room that reveals a side of the Ukraine war you’ve never seen before. The room shares shocking news about the war, a stark contrast to the narrative spun by Russian state-controlled media.

In the face of rampant misinformation and censorship in Russia, Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat has found a unique way to bypass the information blockade: embedding real-life war news within a Counter-Strike map. It’s a bold attempt to expose the millions of young Russian men who play this game to the harsh realities of the war in Ukraine.

Helsingin Sanomat commissioned two renowned map designers to create a unique Counter-Strike map, mimicking a Slavic city. Within this map lies a secret room, waiting to be discovered by unsuspecting players. This room houses stark news headlines and images of the war, a shocking contrast to the everyday virtual battles they engage in.

The secret room’s contents include graphic depictions of the Bucha massacre and the story of a Ukrainian man, Yuriy Glodan, whose family was killed by a Russian missile while he was out grocery shopping. It also displays an estimate of the Russian death toll in the war – a figure largely suppressed in Russian media.

The idea is as ingenious as it is daring. With Russia’s stringent laws against “false information” about its military operations in Ukraine, many independent media sources have been silenced or forced to suspend operations. The state media, which remain, are primarily outlets for government-approved narratives that paint Russia’s actions in Ukraine as a heroic battle against terrorism.

By contrast, the secret room in Counter-Strike presents a more harrowing vision. It forces players to confront the brutal realities of the war, with images and stories that will likely differ starkly from the information they are accustomed to receiving.

The secret room was released on 2 May 2023 and is just starting to gain attention. The designers of the map have chosen to remain anonymous, fearing potential backlash from the Russian player community. Nevertheless, they expressed pride in their work, viewing it as a meaningful contribution to unveiling the truths obscured by the fog of war.

Helsingin Sanomat’s innovative initiative is a testament to the importance and resilience of free press. It’s a reminder that in an era of rampant misinformation and censorship, the truth can find its way to those who need it most, even through the most unconventional means.

If you’re a Counter-Strike player interested in supporting this effort, look for the map named de_voyna. By playing and sharing it, you can help shed light on the realities of the war in Ukraine and stand up for press freedom in Russia.

After all, in a world where virtual battlegrounds can reflect the horrors of real wars, every player has the potential to become not just a warrior, but also a witness to the truth.