Episode 39: Gaming the Iron Curtain: Computer games as a medium for self-expression in communist Czechoslovakia

Our guest this week is Jaroslav Švelch, author of Gaming the Iron Curtain: How Teenagers and Amateurs in Communist Czechoslovakia Claimed the Medium of Computer Games, which recounts the early history (and his own experience) of gaming and home computer use in Czechoslovakia in the 1980s. In discussing this creator/maker culture, we note how both local materials and state-sponsored infrastructure were repurposed by these ingenious participatory communities, where playing computer games and programming them were completely intertwined. As we have seen with many other fan communities, what started as a hobby and shared interest gave rise to personal expression and then social change, as people used games to negotiate the state politics that they were not allowed to participate in. We also talk about the importance of documenting what seems like very recent history, when it is still possible to gather first-person accounts and community artifacts and present an alternative to a top-down or corporate record.

Here are some more of the things mentioned in this episode, for those who want to dig a little deeper:

Please check out Dr. Švelch’s collection of artifacts, videos, and Czechoslovakian games here

Looking for additional reading?  Check out Dr. Švelch’s collection of readings here

History of Czechoslovakia

More information about the Iron Curtain

Adaptation of home computers in Czechoslovakia in the 1980s

Software traded on cassette tapes

Czech Computer youth clubs for gaming activity

Imported Computers from the West

Some games from the late 1980s-1990’s

Computers expensive, but support from parents

Could immediately start using BASIC programming language

Smuggling Computers into Czechoslovakia

DIY computer accessories

November 17, 1989 – “Velvet Revolution” led to end of Communist Party

Video game made about it shortly thereafter

1990’s – beginning of the Czech video game industry

Alternative looks at the gaming industry – Laine Nooney’s history of Sierra On-line

Who else said computers aren’t for people? Ken Olsen of Digital Equipment Corporation famously said, “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”  

See Ethan Zuckerman’s Cute Cat Theory for discussion of latent capacity

Tim Wu

Singapore MIT game innovation lab – Phillip Tan – Gum game

Singapore gum chewing ban

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