Making Games in Communist Czechoslovakia as Resistance and Activism

Over the past two decades, game designers have been increasingly aware of the potential of games for social and political activism. Authors like Paolo Pedercini (Molleindustria) have created games that draw attention to social problems; and political candidates (such as Jean-Luc Mélenchon) have used video games as a part of their campaigns. However, we should not forget that the history of political and activism-focused video games is much longer. In the final years of the Communist rule in Czechoslovakia, the country’s amateur programmers were among the first in the world to make activist games about current political events. Drawing from extensive interviews as well as political, economic, and social history, this talk will narrate a compelling tale of gaming the system, introducing us to individuals who used their ingenuity to be active, be creative, and be heard.

Jaroslav Švelch is a researcher and teacher in the field of game studies, author of Gaming the Iron Curtain: How Teenagers and Amateurs in Communist Czechoslovakia claimed the Medium of Computer Games (MIT Press, 2018). For years, he has been researching the history of computer games in Central and Eastern European socialist countries. Currently, Jaroslav is working at Bergen University in Norway, carrying out a project about monsters in computer games. He studied general linguistics, translation and media studies at Charles University in Prague. From 2007 to 2008 he was a guest researcher at MIT’s Comparative Media Studies Department. In 2012, he participated in an internship at Microsoft Research New England. His articles have been published in Czech and international scientific magazines and in anthologies by Oxford University Press and Bloomsbury, among others. He has been a gamer since the eighties, when he first entered the computational department of the state-owned company Solo Sušice, where his father worked as a programmer.