Jaroslav Svelch

Jaroslav Svelch

  • Charles University
  • Department of Media Studies
Participant in 2011

Phd Projects

2011

Social History of the Medium of the Computer Game and Computer Game Culture in Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic, 1980 – 1995

The dissertation aims to fill in the blank space in the social history of computer games and computer technologies by providing an analytical account of the adoption and use of the computer game medium in Czechoslovakia in the 1980s and early 1990s. It seeks to provide both primary historical research and a thorough analysis of the use of computer games in the period of Czechoslovak and Czech game culture, its communities, values, discourse and the status of computers and computer games as technological artefacts. The context of the late communist and early post-communist era in Czechoslovakia is intriguing, as the software and hardware market did not exist and computer game culture revolved mostly around grassroots communities, some of which used the existing infrastructure of official organisations of the communist state, such as Svazarm (Association for the Cooperation with the Army). Although computers were produced in the country, they were not sold for home use – microcomputers were initially only sold directly to educational institutions. Computer games and computing as such were therefore niche hobbies – in 1989, only 1.8% of Czech households owned a computer. The video game console market was virtually non-existent. Despite these limitations, there was a vibrant community of home computer users, many of whom were avid gamers. Informal systems of distribution were in place, forming so-called “exchange networks” and a shadow economy. Some of these flourished well into the mid-1990s. Such a multi-faceted topic can only be approached in an interdisciplinary fashion. Building on the findings of game studies about the specifics of the medium (Juul 2005), I am using the concepts of domestication of media technology (Silverstone 1992) and subcultural capital (Thornton 1996) to explain the dynamics of the adoption of computer games by individuals, households and communities. To gather data, I am using archival research and oral history interviews with gamers active in the specific period. These serve both as sources of information that will help to set the context, and as material to be analysed in terms of discourse, values and motivations to play. Different parts of the dissertation will focus on the themes identified as relevant to the particular context: the competing definitions of computer, the informal distribution systems of games, the tension between the global and the local in local game development and reception, and the discussion about the mainstreaming of computer game culture in the 1990s. The dissertation will be structured in a way that allows for future comparative studies among different game cultures.

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