Archive for publications, December 2018

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[Commlist] New Book: Gaming the Iron Curtain

Wed Dec 19 08:08:08 GMT 2018

New book Gaming the Iron Curtain: How Teenagers and Amateurs in Communist Czechoslovakia Claimed the Medium of Computer Games.

The book tells a social history of computer games in 1980s Czechoslovakia in seven chapters, starting with technology policies and hardware manufacturing, and ending with activist games about the 1988-89 demonstrations that led up to the Velvet Revolution. Along the way, I peek into paramilitary youth clubs, arcades on wheels, and bedrooms and kitchens of computer enthusiasts. I also discuss informal software distribution, gaming fanzines, DIY joysticks, illegal arcade machine manufacturing, ports and conversions, and some very local computer game genres. I’m hoping it will be interesting not only for game scholars and historians, but also for media and communication scholars, as it focuses strongly on media participation and activism, as well as on the early peripheral cultures around new media. Also, it has cool photos!

The book is coming out on December 18 with MIT Press in the Game Histories series:

You can browse the book on Google Books:

If you’d like to ask for a review copy, please contact David Ryman at MIT Press: (dryman /at/ <mailto:(dryman /at/>

An official summary follows:



How Teenagers and Amateurs in Communist Czechoslovakia

Claimed the Medium of Computer Games

Jaroslav Švelch




Aside from the exceptional history of Tetris, 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 Gaming the Iron Curtain, Jaroslav Švelch offers the first social history of gaming and game design in 1980s Czechoslovakia, and the first book-length treatment of computer gaming in any country of the Soviet bloc.

Švelch describes 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, Gaming the Iron Curtain tells a compelling tale of gaming the system, introducing us to individuals who used their ingenuity to be active, be creative, and be heard.




1 Micros in the Margins: Computer Technology  in the State Socialist Society

  * Toward Normalization
  * Beyond the Quiet Life
  * A Revolution That Was Normalized
  * The State of the Computer Industry
  * Electronization Programs of the 1980s
  * Men,  Women, and Machines
  * Side Roads to Micros
  * Who Needs a Home Computer?
  * Farm Computers and the Courageous Clone

2 Hunting Down the Machine: Trajectories  of Microcomputer Domestication

  * A Machine That Obeys
  * Wandering Programmers
  * Spectacle from the West
  * Importing the Standard
  * The Shiny Side of Retail
  * A Room of Its Own

3 Our Amateur Can Work Miracles: Infrastructures  of Hobby Computing

  * Cybernetics for Youth
  * Repurposing the Paramilitary
  * Activist Meshworks
  * Tolerating the Man’s World
  * Build Your Own Peripherals
  * Amateur Entrepreneurs
  * Starting a Computer Fanzine
  * Samizdat Research Institute

4 Who’s Afraid of Gameplay? Czechoslovak Discourses on Computer Games

  * Playing with Computers
  * Forbidden Pleasures
  * Bringing Games under Control
  * Computer Game Advocates
  * The Appreciation of Tomahawk

5 Lighting Up the Shadows: Informal Distribution of Game Software

  *  From Yugoslavia with Cracks
  * The Unregulated (Non)medium
  * Lightning- Fast Sneakernet
  * Homemade Tape Culture
  * (Mis)understanding Games
  * A Cottage Arcade Industry

6 Bastard  Children of the West: Establishing a Domestic Coding Culture

  * Czechoslovak Homebrew Scene
  * Ports and Conversions
  * What Became of Flappy
  * Forging the Shooter
  * Second Lives of Indiana Jones
  * Hacking Games

7 Empowered by Games: Games as a Means of Self- Expression and Activism

  * Hello World!
  * Adventure in Your Home
  * Spreading Unofficial Culture
  * Small Subversions
  * A Protest of Sorts
  * Taking to the Streets


  * Bricoleurs and Tacticians
  * We Have Always Been Indie
  * Toward Comparative Histories
  * Preserving the Peripheral

Epilogue: After the Curtain Fell

  * Computers and Games in Transition
  * A Belated Cottage Industry
  * Homebrew Lives On
  * The Game Industry Today: Adventures, Army, and Automation
  * Where Are They Now?

Jaroslav Švelch, Ph.D.
New media and digital games scholar
Postdoctoral fellow, University of Bergen
Games and Transgressive Aesthetics project:
Assistant professor, Faculty of Social Sciences, Charles University, Prague (on leave)

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