Sunday, July 17, 2011

INDIANA JONES FIGHTS THE COMMUNIST POLICE: Czechoslovak Text Adventures as a Transitional Media Form

In May, I had a chance to come back to Cambridge, MA, and MIT's Comparative Media Studies department and present a piece of dissertation project at the MiT7 conference. The conference embodied my personal relationship with new media and media change: critical fascination. I especially enjoyed my fellow ex-CMSers Colleen Kaman and Kevin Driscoll's presentations and Marina Levina's provocative piece on citizen bioscience. Of course, there was also a track on games, with Clara Fernandez's insightful paper on emulation, Ian Peters' on archiving MMOs and others.

You can easily read my paper here.
The Prezi for it is here.

What I wanted to share is the background of this paper. I had been researching old Czechoslovak gaming magazines and games for my dissertation, but the inspiration for a piece on text adventures as such was a call for chapters for a book on Central European digital narratives and electronic literature. I set out to write a paper about the history of digital textuality (including word processors, so ubiquitous and yet so underresearched), but ended up writing mostly about text adventures.
I was especially curious about the two big projects connected to nationwide contests - the 1989's Město robotů (City of Robots) and 1990's ...a to snad ne?! (...what the heck?!), so I interviewed some of their authors. Interestingly enough, one of the authors of the latter game is now a renowned economist and a member of the National Economic Council. It was amazing meeting him in his office and listening to him tell the story of a group of students from Pilsen who moved into the countryside to one of their parents' farm and set out to write a hypertext game and actually SELL it (remember, it was just after the Velvet Revolution and there was not yet any functional software market).
In many ways, the history of digital games in Czechoslovakia is a history of the downfall of central planning, the disintegration of totalitarian regime's authority over culture and technology, and the transformation of the society into a free-market democracy (as we wish to think of it).

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