The Last Train for Europe:

Rewriting History in the Video Game The Last Express

(Unpublished manuscript, graduation paper (short version), Department of Ethnology and Anthropology,
Faculty of Philosophy, University of Belgrade, 2002)

It is usually said that the winners write history. But what happens if you weren’t even present in the moment when the described event happened, so you are unable to be neither winner nor loser? The only solution is to try to imagine that you were present in the event you want to describe, add few things, proclaiming this fairy-tale for relevant historical fact and convince the rest of the world that you had the crucial impact that made this event end up the way it has ended. This paper will be a short analysis of the video game The Last Express (Jordan Mechner, Smoking Car Productions) produced in the USA in 1997 and inspired by the last travel of famous European train, the Orient Express. The most important thing will be to see how creators of this game re-presented American part in the history of the First World War (in the war they did not even participate in), or at least in the days that preceded it. The analysis will also be focused on new theoretical assumptions about the creation of the image of the Other (in this case Europe) that usually led to process today known by the term orientalization. Researching this video game as a product of contemporary ‘industry of fun’ should bring us closer to the conclusions about today’s, post-modern phase of process of orientalization. If you ever had doubts about the possibilities to orientalize Europe, this video game will probably be a good example of how this is possible.

            The situation in the academic research of video games some people compare to early 1970s, when first attempts to analyse television, as a new media, were made.[1] The majority of works on video games phenomenon is still at the beginning in the theoretical approach to this part of our everyday life and culture. The researchers themselves started to send a kind of an appeal to the academic circles to investigate games without prejudices and with no fear of being accused for being ‘immature’. In other words, ‘Games have been ignored, to a large extent, I think, because they are sending the wrong signals. To an educated person, literally alien signals of low culture, fun and insignificance’.[2] Nevertheless, it seems that with this new generation of ‘educated persons’, belonging to the generation of boys and girls that had spent their childhood playing in front of the funny screens instead in playground, we have a new energy for research that can clearly point out the fact that we are not dealing with ‘immature’ things. On the contrary, computer games have become not only a very commercial business, but also a part of the training in schools for pilots and important educational tool in the most developed armies of today.[3] As we can see in today’s world, the profitability and the army industry are more than enough reasons to consider certain thing very seriously. We all know that games are never just games.


The Last Express: Description of the Video Game


A clue in every car. A stranger in every seat. Danger at every destination. It's 1914. The world is on the brink of war, and this train could push it over the edge. You are Robert Cath, an American urgently summoned by your old friend Tyler Whitney to join him aboard the Paris-Constantinople express, departing 24 July. Arriving late, you discover something has gone terribly wrong. Now, you must untangle a complex web of political intrigue, suspense, romance and betrayal. Every move you make could bring you closer to the truth … or your own demise. Bon voyage.


When you hold in your hands CDs with this video game, this is all the information you will get. After installation, you open the main menu with a map of Europe and the route of your travel: Paris – Strasbourg – Munich – Vienna – Budapest – Belgrade – Constantinople.[4] On the right part of the screen, you will see a golden-blue egg decorated with diamonds, probably a version of Faberge’s egg. It has the picture of an eye, hand and tower on it, and when you click on it, intro is starting: as in a ‘real’ movie, the Brøderbund Software is presenting you the production house and the author of this work– Smoking Car Productions and Jordan Mechner.[5] The train is starting from the egg, with sounds of ‘real’ train and vehicles. Soon, you are finding out that it’s July 24th, 1914 and you are in Paris. You see the rail station, people are boarding in, you hear French all over the place, and it’s 7:15 p.m. A blond man is seeking for someone from his train window. The train is finally starting, followed by a motorbike – a girl is driving a man late for the train. He jumps into the train and you realize – you are this man. The game starts.


The main characteristic that differentiates this game from the majority is the attempt to create something that should be an interactive movie. This means that interactive (game) and narrative (film) parts interpolate each other. After every short animated part, you are expected to ‘move on’ the game with certain actions, meeting other characters, fulfilling certain tasks, after what will the next ‘movie’ sequence start. When you see a filmed part, you will move on enriched with some new information, actively participating and influencing the game play. The fact that there is a precisely defined list of activities you have to make (sooner or later) if you want to successfully come to the end makes this game easier to analyze. If you don’t follow the game plan, intended by the creators, you will then be either arrested by police or killed by your enemy.


The Characters


In short, story in the game goes like this: you are an American boarding Orient Express in 1914, invited by a friend, Tyler Whitney, which had some secret business in Europe. Unfortunately, when you enter into his compartment, he is already dead. Someone has just murdered him, leaving strange scars on his face. Willing to investigate this murder, but still hiding from the police, you are putting on Tyler’s coat, also taking his identity. There is no way to hide him in the train, so you have to throw him out from the window. After a while, you will meet all the people in the train, realizing the plot behind. Tyler was a part of Serbian resistance movement in Bosnia, named ‘The Black Hand’, with the aim to liberate their country from Austrian occupation. For this, they needed a weapon, and Tyler was helping them to sell a golden egg ornamented with diamonds to mysterious Oriental prince, using that money to buy arms from German industrial magnate. Trying to act as his friend, you will have to cooperate with all these people, but nothing will go the way it was supposed to. Serbs will hijack the train, Russians will go mad, Germans will be too drunk for business, and you will fall in love. In the end, you will reach Constantinople, discovering that no one from the people in the train was a murderer, but a mechanical firebird, activated when pressing diamonds on the egg.        


Details about characters and their life history could be found on the official web site:[6]


Robert Cath (29) - education: B.A. Yale, 1905, Summa Cum Laude M.D. Ph.D., Yale Medical School; family: father John, deceased (doctor in Confederate Army), mother, age 54 (Russian gypsy dancer, since remarried, now a Countess); profession: Doctor (license suspended); languages: English, French, German, spoken Russian, reads Latin and Greek. Inquisitive, reclusive, and a ladies' man. Can get himself into trouble in four languages. Over the years Cath has managed to run afoul of the law both in his country of origin and around the world. A brilliant young doctor, he was kicked out of the medical establishment for his leanings towards mysticism and interest in ancient and esoteric forms of medicine. Barred from his practice in America, Cath has been living peacefully in Paris for several years. That is, until the trail of a long-lost manuscript leads him to Ireland, where he gets caught in the crossfire of a police raid on an IRA safe house. In the wrong place at the wrong time as usual, Cath flees Ireland in a stolen boat, is nearly drowned at sea, and washes up in Calais--only to find himself a fugitive wanted by the police of every country in Europe. Just when the situation is starting to look really bad, a telegram from Cath's old friend Tyler Whitney offers him a way out: a berth on the Orient Express to Constantinople. The timing couldn't be better. Could it be that his luck is about to change? Or is the trouble just beginning…


Anna Wolff (26) - marital status: single; born in Czernowitz, Bukovina (Austria-Hungary); Jewish; family: brother Paul (presumed dead), father (Austrian military doctor), mother; languages: German (mother tongue), English, Hungarian, Serbo–Croatian; profession: violinist; traveling companion: her loyal Siberian Husky, Max. Beautiful. Smart. Young. Angry. The Austrian Anna Wolff is jaded beyond her years, prodigiously talented and more than a bit suspect of the motives of the men she meets. Fresh from a virtuoso violin performance at the Paris Opera House where she dazzled the aristocracy with her interpretations of Mozart and Liszt, Anna and her faithful dog Max seem to embody the carefree glamour of international travel. But Anna is haunted by the death of her adored older brother—an army cadet, presumed killed in a secret mission, and estranged from her father. A cold and cynical Austrian intelligence officer with a taste for music and culture, Dr. Wolff considers his work an ugly business, and has tried to shield his children from it. He has failed…


August Schmidt (44) - profession: industrialist, ammunition manufacturer, arms dealer; allegiance: mother Germany and whoever will pay the highest price; languages spoken: German, English; marital status: married, two sons. Cozy with arms dealers and brokers all over the world. A dynamic entrepreneur, August Schmidt has built his father's one factory into a thriving empire. In the true international spirit of the New Europe, he has made millions in the German industrial boom, but is always willing to give a helping hand to smaller countries by selling them arms. Socially ambitious, and determined to escape his middle–class origins, August married up—to a beautiful but cold–hearted English aristocrat, whose impeccable taste is an excellent foil for August's money–earning talents, but has given him little joy in his personal life. August's love for art, music, theater, and beauty in all its forms takes him often to Paris and London. Protected by his high–ranking contacts in the German military aristocracy, August is ever eager to do a favor that will put him in the good graces of the powerful. One of these days, his zeal will get him into trouble…


Kronos - age: unknown; interests: art, antiquities, music, architecture, ancient legends; nationality: possibly Spanish or North African; rank: referred to as ‘Prince’ and ‘Excellency,’ though no one knows why; languages: English, French, Spanish, Arabic, German, others; base of operations: fortress in the Pyrenees; palace in Vienna; allegiance: neutral. A solitary and mysterious collector of art and antiquities, Kronos travels Europe in his lavish, eccentrically furnished private rail car, the ‘Saturn,’ accompanied by a female bodyguard. Kronos's birth and origins are obscure, and rumors about him contradict each other. Some say he is the illegitimate son of a Spanish bishop, who made his fortune in the Burmese ruby trade in the 1880s; others, that he is a highborn North African prince in exile. What is certain is that his wealth rivals any of the kings of Europe. For Kronos, steeped in all things from Machiavelli to Michelangelo, knowledge is power. Though he commands a private army, and an intelligence network superior to many governments of the day, he remains above the fray, rarely taking sides in the squabbles of European politics. Meanwhile, he pursues his own odd goals with implacable determination, as if they form part of a plan too long-range to be visible to others. Whether his purpose is to acquire a particular manuscript, or piece of land, or piece of antiquity, Kronos has never yet met the man who will stop him from getting what he wants…


Alexei Dolnikov (25) - marital status: single; profession: student; allegiance: anarchist; family: father Pyotr Nikolaievitch Dolnikov (friend to the Russian Tsar). Characterized by his strong convictions and ever-present cigarette, Alexei Pyotrevich Dolnikov cut short his studies in St. Petersburg to embrace the Anarchist movement. Politically committed to the overthrow of repressive authority in all its forms—and particularly in his native Russia—Alexei has repudiated his family and aristocratic birthright. After years of exile in London, Alexei is now returning to Russia. But for what purpose? And why has he chosen the Orient Express, that bastion of wealth and privilege? On board is his sworn enemy, his father's friend Count Vassili Obolensky. Did Alexei choose this train so as to be near the Count… or his teenage granddaughter?


Tatiana Obolensky (16) - marital status: single; nationality: Russian; schools attended: Sorbonne; languages spoken: Russian, English, French; profession: student; allegiance: to her family and grandfather—a pillar of the Russian aristocracy. Fresh from her first spring in Paris, Tatiana is now returning to Russia escorted by her grandfather, the stern and forbidding Count Vassili Alexandrovich Obolensky. On the train she spies a familiar face—Alexei Dolnikov, the son of a neighboring aristocratic family outside Odessa, for whom she still cherishes a childhood crush. Paris showed Tatiana new freedom and new ideas, and she is eager to experience everything life has to offer. But under her new veneer of sophistication, she is still an innocent and romantic young girl, unprepared to confront a terrifying and implacable evil…


Miloš (28) - nationality: Serbian; languages spoken: Serbo-Croatian, English; comrades: Vesna, Ivo and Salko; profession: revolutionary; allegiance: to Serbia… and a secret society known as ‘The Black Hand’. A born soldier and leader of great personal warmth and loyalty, Milos earned the trust of the Serbian High Command in many successful campaigns against the Turks. In 1912-13, under the rallying cry ‘Unity or Death,’ Bosnians, Serbs, and Croats fought side by side and finally accomplished their goal of 500 years—driving the hated Ottoman Empire out of Serbia. Their dream of unity is almost within reach. Only Bosnia still remains under the domination of the Austria-Hungarian Empire. Miloš and his three comrades Vesna, Ivo, and Salko would feel more at home in an army barracks than on a luxury express train. Yet here they are, traveling first class from Paris to Belgrade only a month after the assassination of the Austrian Archduke in Sarajevo. With tensions between Austria and Serbia at an all-time high, they would not have undertaken such a journey without some serious purpose—but what?


As we can notice, we have almost everyone in the train – Americans, Germans, Austrians/Jewish, Russians, Serbs, Orientals, French, English. When talking about creating characters in the video games, we can see that their attributes are quite ‘condensed’, with underlined main characteristics and clear lines of their relationship. Usually, they are portrayed according to usual stereotypes:


The French are shown as arrogant and they don't even bother to hide their contempt towards the annoying American. All the while, it's fun to play out the role as a scoundrel, breaking into other people's rooms and being rude. Let's also give kudos to the Russian. At that time Russia was approaching its revolution and that commie twist came in perfectly to add a little more spice to the building tensions.[7]


This game, compared to some others, tries to bring more 'realistic' atmosphere, giving us the opportunity to perceive our character, together with the others, in the most possible complex way. They often talk about daily problems (from the world outside train), they read, write, sleep, walk, talk, etc. Every conversation is becoming an interaction helping us to find out something new not only about the story line, but also about the character we are supposed to play. Maybe we can say that the highest peak of interaction between characters is the scene of love affair we have with the beautiful Anna Wolf, story that makes this game more similar to a successful Hollywood movie: politics, sex and violence.


The main (your) character, Robert Cath, is not at all an 'ordinary' American – we are finding out that his mother is Russian, meaning that he must be capable for lot of things that 'ordinary' Americans (and Russians) aren't. All this time, completely confident in finding Tyler’s killer, he is passing every obstacle on his way - all the way to Constantinople. The majority of the instructions how to play this game will advise you to behave the way you probably would never do in you ‘real’ life - a spy (or, better, 'an investigator'), a stealer, a killer.[8] Your main characteristics are superiority, domination, rudeness, and total control of every situation. But also, cruel rationality, condemnation of every 'leftist' or reactionaries idea. You see your aim very clearly and you know how to reach it. You are not distracted even with the old railway bridge in Serbia that is being destroyed after you pass it, nor the armed 'bandits'. You are an individual, ‘a free lancer’, a doctor kicked out of the medical establishment for your leanings towards 'alternative way'. None of the spy networks can make you work for them, you fight on your own, looking for the mystical revelations all over the world. You are leaving (accidental) traces all over world's war zones - but you are not doing this because you want so, it is the situation that makes you do this.


I have to admit that the first problem in 'becoming' this character I had at the very beginning, after finding Tyler's dead body. I found it quite difficult to throw away my best friend through the window. But, the scenario demands this from you (if not, you will be taken by French policemen right into prison). Here we find the attempt of radical gesture to exclude the 'real existence' of Tyler Whitney, whose jacket we are dressing up, in becoming him, but still being able to perceive 'ourselves' as Robert Cath. This radical gesture is showing us the essence of the process we are demanded to do every time we sit in front of our screen and start any video game: we have to 'bury' our physical body, to eliminate it, and enter the train that will lead us to the unknown. We dress up a 'jacket' of somebody else, we are 'becoming' him, and doing things what we believe 's/he' would do. We are still capable of making the difference, knowing that we haven't lost ourselves yet. In a moment, we have the chance to behave as somebody else, still remembering who we 'really' are. The projection of our own characteristics, habits, aims, desires, becomes inevitable in such circumstances, but it is being modified by the game narrative, just as my problem to kick out Tyler's body through the window. The creators of video game are here to teach us - you have passed the first lesson, so you can proceed - in this video game you can be a 'barbarian' as much as you want.

What kind of relationship do you have with other characters? This is a quite specific position, since every passenger could be a killer. You have to be careful and suspicious toward everyone. You have to be lucid enough and follow every potential clue – the killer must be found. Step by step, you label the 'good' and 'bad' passengers, although you don't trust anyone. As a man 'made of flesh and blood', you manage to fall in love with one of the most seductive artist in Europe - well, who could resist you? So, who is the killer? A German, August Schmidt is too cold and calculating to be able to do it, so you are not suspicious anymore. He just wants his gold. The mysterious Prince is in the beginning a big secret, but soon you will realize he is here for pure interest too: seeking for the Firebird he should gain from you - Tyler or Cath, he doesn't mind. After discovering Anna Wolff’s scarf besides Tyler’s body, she becomes the main suspect. Soon after, you will realize that you are following the wrong trace - she is just serving her country, trying to stop Serbian ‘bandits’ to gain weapon. The interesting point in this game is made with Russian characters: Alexei, the anarchist, is in love with young Tatiana, but fights against her grandfather, Count Obolensky. You can conclude that Russians are just occupied with themselves; they will help you to translate the old Russian manuscript about the Firebird, but definitely are not killers you seek. The only danger is their inner conflict and fight. But, you are intelligent enough, skilled and fast, so you disarm the 'anarchistic' bomb that was planned to fire up the train, with you in it. You are clearly pointing out to them the absurdity and senselessness of their situation. The old aristocrat class is ill, and you, as a doctor, can cure it up only with old Indian drugs made for the ritual of initiation, prolonging the inevitable moment of their death. You find it ridiculous to be idealistic and radical as young Alexei, ready to lose his life for his ‘cause’. His relationship with Tatiana is impossible so we see the end of both Russian fractions. As we hear from an English detective, ‘Russia must open up to the world’ if she wants to ‘survive’, e.g. has to overthrow anarchistic/leftist but also monarchist dreams, following the capitalistic recipe for development, and the Americans are here to help.

Maybe the most complex relationship you have is the one with Serbs - when you first meet Miloš, you will start to fight, trying to disarm him. The fight is followed by mutual almost friendly relationship. Serbs are all the time very suspicious, distrustful, quietly talking with each others, not communicating with anybody in the train but you. You will soon find out that Tyler (but not you, here we see the differences between two characters) was deeply involved in the activities of ‘The Black Hand’, Serbian bunch of people that led the fight against Austro-Hungary, turning on the flame of the forthcoming war. But you are not interested in their fight, which was Tyler's problem; you participate in this whole transaction as long as it helps to find the killer. The Serbian girl, Vesna, has realized this very soon and she is doubtful about your intentions and her character is the only one completely defined as an enemy. You even have to fight with her three times, you are a gentleman, but the duty (and need to survive) puts this demand on you. In fact, you have a quite nice relationship with Miloš, but the (Serbian) woman is the fact that makes your conflict inevitable. After some time, you realize that nobody from the Serbian group could be a Tyler's killer, but you are forced to fight against them since they threaten the possibility for you to get to Constantinople.

 French and English characters are quite benevolent: a pair of French and English ladies, traveling into the arms of their free, homosexual love; the French petite bourgeois family traveling to the heart of Orient, into the unknown, with the plan to exploit the oil; the babbling English detective, trying to chat with you all the time, but still using his old-fashioned ways to investigate murder: he is relying on 'slandering' - getting the information from other people, while you have a more direct methods, getting into the compartments of others while absent, together with eavesdropping. As we can see, a Turkish guy, the watchman of harem women traveling in the train, is here to 'spice' this story: he is more likely to be the part of the setting for the train traveling to ‘the Orient' than to be the active part of the story itself; not to mention women covered with a veil he is supposed to take care of - it is a closed world that exists for itself only. As you don't find a proof for anyone to be Tyler’s killer, you give it up. But, in that moment, your lucky star is back again: Tyler died as a victim of Firebird! The mechanical bird, halflive-halfdead, he didn't know how to control it! Nevertheless, you are not that naïve, you know many mysteries of this world, so you succeed to hypnotize and control it: the Firebird kills His Excellency and his servant, your enemies in the last sequence. As you have successfully solved this puzzle on Europe and its conflicts, you can continue your travel to Jerusalem, where the plan to find that mystical manuscript is taking you, but where you are to expect the next war zone, since that’s your 'luck': after Cuba, the fights in Ireland, Balkans on fire, you can go on. Next stop - Israel…


The Narrative


In this game, we are dealing here with the 'one way' narrative, meaning it’s a narrative that follows the railroad from Paris to Constantinople, made of several algorithms that are expected to be successfully solved by the player if s/he wants to finish the game. What is quite clear is a line that separates 'West' from the 'East' and the borderline is somewhere around Budapest. During the travel from Paris to Budapest we have the main plot happening and the mystery is almost solved. From Budapest to Serbian border we have to fight with Serbian 'bandits', leaving the majority of the characters that won’t be needed for the story anymore, disconnecting the rest of the wagons. The space from Serbian border to Constantinople (or, the very heart of the Balkans) is a journey that lasts for two days but we pass it in two minutes, which we spend in the passionate love affair.  In her book, Inventing Ruritania: The Imperialism of the Imagination (1998), Vesna Goldsworthy is reminding us on the words of Jonathan Harker, the hero from Bram Stoker’s The Dracula, who is travelling to the Balkans, and still trust in preciseness of train schedule with (‘typical’ Victorian) obsession with order, even though he sees the time completely disappearing around him: ‘It seems to me that the further east you go the more unpunctual are the trains. What ought they to be in China?'[9]

Indeed, if we take a closer look, the authors are giving us the precise schedule for the train from Paris to Budapest, informing us of the exact time and place: July 24, 1914: 19:39-Paris, 21:16-Eperney, 21:41-Shalon-sur-la Marne, 03:38-Strasbourg; July, 25 1914: 10:18-Munich, 12:45-Saltzbourg, etc. One of the principles ruling the Orient Express is travelling due to exact schedule. After Budapest, Serbs hijack the train, it seems that some strange, irrational force is now ruling the train, and schedule doesn’t exist anymore. The only information we will get here, travelling from Budapest to Constantinople, is that the train doesn’t stop anymore, and time becomes irrelevant. In other words, the ‘lesson’ here is about the East: “East as ‘free’, non-historical (timeless) kingdom of exotic pleasures”, equaling the ‘Western’ obsession with time as a sign of modernity and development.[10] Travelling by train is a symbol of this progress and modernity process, “trying to put Western concept of time to the Orient".[11]

The space of the Balkans is the space where time disappears, your ratio is neglected so you can freely enjoy in your urge to love. Here, you can relax, set your feelings free and for a short moment (two days?) you can pretend to be somebody else. With the disappearance of train schedule, you are liberated from this obsession of measuring the time, enjoying the hug of the Other – in this case, pretty and seductive young woman. Also, all tasks you are supposed to solve will happen before this borderline with the Balkans: from Paris to Budapest you are supposed to finish 130 activities, but during travel trough the Balkans you have only 15 of them. Everything happens from Munich to Vienna - the attempt of finding a rational solution for Tyler’s murder mystery. Grand finale will happen in Constantinople, where you are witnessing the resurrection of Eastern story about Firebird. You are not supposed to win this battle with some rational solution, but using power of hypnosis, mystical intuitive control of the Other known to the people from the ‘East’. Happy ending for you means that you get Anna’s dog Max, to protect you on your further adventures and who can help you to be the winner in the world of the living but also in the mysterious world of the death. Like in the Russian fairy-tale of Prince Ivan and his dog, trying to find Firebird.

The very end of the game is a closing sequence and ‘history lesson’ (as authors themselves have named this part) - we can see the changes on the political map of Europe from 1914 to 1994, seeing borders that are changing by themselves.[12] The only conclusion you can have here is that European borders have been changing all these time, as if it was its ‘natural’ state, and you, as a character of this video game, an American, have nothing to do with this. The reasons that have led to changes are irrelevant, it’s only important to have this notion of changes in your mind. In the beginning, you were forced to go back to the history, to 1914, and the task of the authors is to bring you back to the present, to 1990s, forgetting to mention the years in between. World War I had started after the time game was set in, but every war has to be ended in one moment; you have finished your task successfully, the borders were changing, ‘bandits’ had their wars, but you weren’t too interested in all that. The Balkans was again ‘in’ during 1990s and it seems like history is repeating itself, and you learn that you can do nothing to change that fact.

One of the things differentiating this game from the others is its use of the language. In this multi-cultural train you will meet people of various nationalities and everyone is using his/her own language. One of the reviewers of this game, Johnny Lee, has an interesting insight about this invention because in this way “you have the feeling of being in Europe and in contact with different kinds of people”. [13] Good, old Europe probably has never even dreamed about this moment when it becomes exotic place to its own ‘kid’, to America. The reception of this exotic part of the game we can also find in the words of the other reviewer, Andrei Plotin, saying that he is usually not interested in the stories about the real world, “It's science fiction and fantasy that usually turn my crank. But the Orient Express pulled me in, once I gave it a chance. All those kinds of people. Casual chatter in English, French, Russian, German, Serbo-Croatian, and Turkish. (You know French, Russian, and German, so those conversations -- or eavesdrops -- are subtitled.) Conductors in each car who stand and say: "Bonjour!" as you pass. Political discussions from the days when socialism was an ideal, not a Party. Everybody smokes. It's wacky."[14] Understanding of all these languages will depend on your own polyglot capabilities, and if you speak German, French, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Arabic, you will be able to understand every little conversation you hear. Of course, the knowledge of the English language is the first proposition for playing the game at all - without it, it’s impossible to play. All dialogues in different languages important for the story will be subtitled in English, but the rest of them, probably here only serving to make the atmosphere more ‘realistic’ will stay without it. We could probably argue more about the fact that all characters speak English, the fact that has nothing to do with the historical accuracy, since the overall use of English language is the main characteristic of our time, not of the time in 1920s.

The important source of information about this game you will get together with it, in the shape of a short ‘making of’ movie - The Last Express: Behind the Scenes. In ten minutes, authors have tried to explain how they did make this game, telling us all major details about technical and design process. Here we can see the faces of all the people that have made it look like this: designers, writers, dialogue writers, producers, actors, etc. The aim of this short movie is to convince us additionally in the ‘reality’, or the truthness of this game, showing us the way they have created it to look ‘real’ – using model of real Orient Express train, team of people was working on historical facts, designers were researching the fashion and made the same clothes for our heroes.[15] Answering the question on how much is this game based on the real last travel of the Orient Express in 1914, chief of technical staff Mark Moren answers that this game is quite truthful, but meaning on the facts about departure times, route, weather forecast, numbers of wagons, etc. They couldn’t find anything about the identity of the people that were on board that day, “so we had to make those up (based on what we knew of the historical period, of course). So, although the characters are fictitious, the stereotypes and dialogues are quite authentic from everything we can tell.”! [16] Graphics of the game was inspired by Art Nouveau style, especially with work of Toulouse-Lautrec. The authors are quite astonished when talking about their invention, line-art graphic, e.g. translation of live actor faces and figures to cartoon characters. The main point is said in the end - “People are playing the game, but they learn at the same time, and they learn about the world that has disappeared, the world we should remember”. The question that will remain with no answer is if the history itself hasn’t been transformed here in the same way, transformed into a cartoon, with no additional explanation or details, becoming shallow story that anyone can understand.

From American perspective, Europe is closed in the train traveling from Paris to Constantinople. Train is full of different nations – and they all speak different language. But how they communicate? Of course – they all use English! What is their occupation? Spies, arms dealers, revolutionaries, murders, fairy-tales tellers. And – they all smoke! They don’t like each other too much, but are forced to cooperate and trade for survival. Everybody has their own hidden agenda, they are all funny, but the funniest are Slavs with their romantic ideals and socialism of various kind. That is so childish! But it seems that the reason to remind us of this period of history was enough to make 300 people to work on this project for four years, spending budget of 6.000.000$.[17] The pay back of this investment will be someone else's task to explore.[18]


Orientalization in the Post-modern Perspective


The promotion of the concept of orientalization has happened in 1978, when Edward W. Said published his book Orientalism, which has become bestseller in years to come. But the evaluators and critics of his work are trying to tell us that during all XX century numerous authors have already made theoretical basis for the things Said is writing about, and their only fault was that they were part of some other, non-American or Western universities, meaning that the dominant/Western academic discourse was therefore blind for their researches.[19] Nevertheless, Said’s book has opened space for some other people in the discussion about orientalization process. Still, in the moment when we start to analyze every process, it means that system that reproduces it is already modified and able to survive every attack on its structure. The fact that West is able to talk about process of orientalization, its own invention, means that this process itself was transformed, improved, and ready for future transformations.

Concept of orientalism was ‘discovered’ as an mechanism of producing strong identity of Self, in this case of the West, in comparison to different image of the East, e.g. Orient. (In other words, “East Europe was identified as ‘underdeveloped’, Balkans with ‘violence’, and the West has defined itself in the same time as ‘civilized world’".[20]) Orient has become the space where the West can project its own hidden desires. Said has introduced us with the history of this process, dating from the early Antiquity, when Greeks invented term ‘barbarians’ to describe all people that didn’t speak Greek. Said’s greatest contribution was to ‘discover’ to Europe mechanisms of its world domination over the past few centuries, helped with process of orientalization; this is a story about history, but not about present. From his American perspective, Said is defining orientalism as strictly West-European practice, closing the way to explore this process in the American culture. In this way, inscribing orientalization to West-European tradition, Said is only showing up the new step in the process of orientalization, by orientalizing Europe itself. American academic discourse has accepted this point of view as the only relevant and safe one.


Nevertheless, the reply has soon come from the other side of the Atlantic – from Britain. In his concise study on orientalism, Ziauddin Sardar has tried to define todays, or post-modern process of orientalization, leading us to contemporary pop-culture products. When talking about video games, he says: “Computer games as Colonization, Merchant Colony, Empire, and The Settlers, are post-modern stores for old conventions in representing non-West; they are just simply bringing back 19th century’s European vision on colonies, packed as home entertainment. For example, Colonization, with no irony, demands the player to continue with this ‘civilization tradition’, to ‘colonize’ from the start exotic and stupid native people in order to ‘create a new nation’. (...) Other games, as Big Red Adventure, and Death Gate are renewing so-called ‘discovery expeditions’. In Prince of Persia we can see usual oriental women in their characteristic clothes, usual evil prince Jafar and Persian all-American hero, with his turban, who has the task to save imprisoned princess. From contemporary sources, children are able to appropriate the essence of continuity, one extensive tradition, position that incorporate coherent corpus of ideas."[21] Reminding us on the importance these products have today, he further says, “Our world is a world dominated with one superpower only; the world where the old colonialism has been replaced with neo-imperalistic politics of one superpower".[22] It seems that this superpower is forced to meet all different kinds of Orients – from satanized Islamic fundamentalist, to dehumanized, robotized Japanese. Coherence of this discourse has survived “Thanks to interconnection of all stereotypes developed to lose one Orient, allowing the idea created about one Orient to be borrowed and used on the other one. (...) In post-modernity, Orient is globalized: he is everywhere and everywhere could be orientalized from the dominant position that defines itself as West".[23]

The video game The Last Express is a good example how this post-modern imperialism of imagination absorbs all earlier defined stereotypes, the distinction between East and the West, or more precisely, East and West Europe with clearly defined border (as an effect of division of Europe on East and West during Cold War period). But, this picture that Europe has nurtured so long is brought back to it: America is clearly pointing out that Europe has to accept this ‘cruel’ fact that the Balkans and the East are still part of it, that ‘real’ borders could be found somewhere where Asia starts. America is finding points to define its own identity in distinction with Europe. If wee take a closer look what this America finds so ‘exotic’ when ‘talking’ about Europe, maybe we can also find points where it finds its weakness as well: European ‘high’ culture, aristocracy, bourgeois, spies, musicians, homosexuals, Toulouse-Lautrec, Climt, fairy tales, mystical tradition, frontiers, affairs, scandals, murders, different religions, ideologies, but, before all, cigarettes. American culture has found one of its defining points inventing mythology of health body, condemning tobacco consumering as the worst crime. So, playing this game, every young American can relief itself for a minute – in this train all characters are smokers, and also our main character, Robert Cath. Subconsciousness desires have been materialized in this screen. 

The last thing we should point out here is a key word for understanding this game, offered by its authors – the nostalgia: this game was inspired by nostalgia for the time ‘we’ have forgotten and neglected. Nostalgia is defined as “1. the state of being homesick, or 2. a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition".[24] It means that we cannot be nostalgic about something we don’t know, or what we didn’t experience personally. How come that these young people, authors of this video game, can be ‘nostalgic’ about the time and space that is so far from them that there is no chance that they could experienced it? Here we can see a clear intention of appropriating Europe, its culture, tradition, history, as American one, but not the history that has really happen – it is transformed to line art, to cartoon. Superiority is usually just one way to express inferiority. American problem is that it doesn’t exist as a part of European history, in the first place in the history of the First World War. Instead of reconsidering its own past, reach with facts and truths that are not ‘democratic’, ‘politically correct’ or ‘civilized’ at all, America is going back to its source, to Europe, that was still super-power in the moment this game is talking about. Video game based on the colonization of America, massacres of American Indians, murders, affairs, civil war... probably wouldn’t have the same effect as video game on invented/imagined history of Europe with the American as a super-hero. Postmodern characteristic of orientalizm is its possibility to be applied on every place on Earth and in every time, even when talking about Europe and its history. The solution could maybe be found in self-reflection, self-irony, reexamination of self-history, without accusing the Other for mistakes and misfortunes. Although we see in modern video games expression of contemporary way of dominating the world from only one point, American one, some people find a subversive element in them: the fact that they are still only games, “and in every moment you can chose to change the side with the ‘other’: you can be a terrorist as in the game Counter-Strike".[25] That decision is still only yours.

[1] The breaking point happened in the year 2001 named by Espen Aarseth as a "first year in the video games studies", telling us that during this year a lot of conferences finally started to arise all over the world. More in: Ben Talbot, “Compete, Command and Conquer: Playing for Space at the International Games Cultures Conference”, at

[2] Jesper Juul, What computer games can and can’t do,

[3] Nicholas Negroponte is naming the moment that has been the birth of multimedia – the event that took place in July 1976, the example of "surprisingly successful attack on the Entebbe Airport in Uganda" that was made by the Israeli soldiers and by which they had rescued 103 hostages. Before that, they had been practising the whole action at the realistic imitation of the airport. Being very impressed with such results, "the US Army has demanded from the Agency for the Development of Innovative Projects to find out the fastest way for the American commandos to be trained to react as Israelis". The first serious researches for the creation of computer simulated army actions have started. Nicholas Negroponte, Being digital, Clio, Beograd 1998, pp.67

[4] New video games can usually be ‘packed’ in the format of one CD, and the fact that this game is made on 3 CDs only says about ambitious project on its graphic design and complexity of the game.

[5] The term intro is used to describe animated movie that can be seen in the beginning of every video game. It has the aim to introduce the player with characters, story and situation in which s/he is in that particular moment. Also, the player is introduced with the task s/he has to resolve in due to finish the game successfully.


[7] Johnny Lee, Oui monsieur? in:

[8] Advices from:

[9] Vesna Goldsworthy, Inventing Ruritania: Imperialism of Imagination, pp.96.

[10] Ibid. pp.97.

[11] Ibid.

[12] In one of the reviews we can find the following: “Enjoy the closing sequences and history lesson!” From:

[13] Johnny Lee, Oui monsieur?

[14] Andrew Plotkin, The Last Express Review,

[15] In the end, we can see the list of people that were working on facts checking and maps research.

[16] Interview in Games Domain Review,

[17] Ibid.

[18] We have to mention that this game had a noticeable success all over the world – it was listed as one of 10 best adventurous games in 1990-s (Computer Games Magazine), it was chosen for the best adventure game in 1997 (Family PC Top Rated Awards), for the best role playing game in 1998 (MacWorld 1998 Game Hall of Fame, Games 1998 Buyers Guide), it won the golden prize (Games Domain Review), the Golden Fez award (Washington Post), and other various prizes and medals. See more at:

[19] Tibawi worked in the narrow field of Islamic Studies, Alatas was writing in Singapore, Djait wrote in Arabic and lived in Tunisia, Hodgson was active in the field of world history, and Daniel and Southern in the field of European history. See more in: Ziauddin Sardar, Orientalism, Open University Press, Buckingham/Philadelphia, 1999, Ch.3, pp.69-72. 

[20] Milica Bakic-Heyden, Reprodukcija orijentalizma: primer bivše Jugoslavije, pp.1.

[21] Ziauddin Sardar, Orientalism.

[22] Ibid, pp.62.

[23] Ibid, pp.64-65.


[25] Ziauddin Sardar, Orientalism, pp.65