Book cover of GAMING THE IRON CURTAIN: How Teenagers and Amateurs in Communist Czechoslovakia Claimed the Medium of Computer Games

Aside from the exceptional story of Tetris (a Soviet creation), very little is known about gaming culture behind the Iron Curtain. But despite the scarcity of home computers and the absence of hardware and software markets, Czechoslovakia hosted a remarkably active DIY microcomputer scene in the 1980s, producing more than two hundred games that were by turns creative, inventive, and politically subversive.

In this talk, Jaroslav Švelch will present the findings from his new book Gaming The Iron Curtain, published by MIT Press. He will describe how amateur programmers in 1980s Czechoslovakia discovered games as a medium, using them not only for entertainment but also as a means of self-expression. Sheltered in state-supported computer clubs, local programmers fashioned games into a medium of expression that, unlike television or the press, was neither regulated nor censored. In the final years of Communist rule, Czechoslovak programmers were among the first in the world to make activist games about current political events, anticipating trends observed decades later in independent or experimental titles. Drawing from extensive interviews as well as political, economic, and social history, the talk will present a compelling story of gaming the system, introducing us to individuals who used their ingenuity to be active, be creative, and be heard.

This talk is free and open to the public.