TEMPORARILY REMOVED DUE TO PEER REVIEW
Vit Sisler, Charles University in Prague

This paper considers how Czech historical memory of the Second World War is being presented through the serious game Czechoslovakia 38-89: Assassination. The aims of the paper are (1) to critically discuss the design challenges stemming from adapting the real-persons testimonies in order to construct the in-game narratives; and (2) to investigate the acceptance of Czechoslovakia 38-89: Assassination by Czech teachers and students. On a more general level, the paper critically discusses the possibilities and limitations of serious games to deal with contentious and emotionally-charged issues from contemporary history.

Czechoslovakia 38-89: Assassination is a complex single-player dialog-based adventure game with a strong narrative, including interactive comics and authentic audiovisual materials. The game has been developed by Charles University in Prague and the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic. The development of the game was financed by the Czech Ministry of Culture.

The game presents key events from Czechoslovakia’s contemporary history and enables players to “experience” these events from different perspectives. It aims to develop deeper understanding of the multifaceted political, social and cultural aspects of this time period. Its content stems from historical research and personal testimonies. Emphasis is given on the diversified historical experiences of the population, including previously marginalized groups.

The story of Czechoslovakia 38-89: Assassination covers the period following the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, “Reichsprotektor” of the Nazi-occupied Czech Territories and leading architect of the Holocaust. Players are presented with different responses to the assassination of Heydrich, which in reality triggered a wave of brutal retributions, including the annihilation of the Czech village Lidice. Amid the repression, our protagonist struggles to understand: why his grandfather, J. Jelinek, was arrested after the attack? What role did he play in the attack? Why didn’t he tell his family? Was he brave or reckless to endanger their lives by becoming a “resistance fighter”?

Players in the game interact with the “eyewitnesses” in the present and “travel” back in time through these “eyewitnesses’” memories evoked during conversations. The individual testimonies are oftentimes contradictory, incomplete, or the “eyewitnesses” simply do not want to talk about certain aspects of their past with the players. As a result, players have to critically evaluate the gained information, exert social skills and empathy, and analytically approach the social constructions of history.
the Central and Eastern European context.
The primary aim of this paper is to critically discuss the design challenges stemming from adapting the real-persons’ – oftentimes emotionally and ethically loaded – testimonies in order to construct the in-game narratives. In particular, the paper discusses the intersections and tensions between educational aims and gameplay, authenticity and fictionality, and gaming and learning mechanics.

The secondary aim of this paper is to investigate the acceptance of Czechoslovakia 38-89: Assassination by Czech teachers and students as a teaching tool for history education. The game has been evaluated in 34 Czech high school classes in 2014. The evaluation’s key results show that students perceive the game to be attractive, authentic and immersive. They self-report it enables them to develop a better understanding of the time period. For teachers, the game is a learning tool that motivates students to learn about Czech contemporary history, stimulates debates and inquiries, and provides multifaceted perspectives on historical events. Nevertheless, the experimental implementation shed light on several important issues, namely the discrepancy between the game and the existing educational practice in the teaching of history.

On a more general level, this paper critically discusses the possibilities and limitations of serious games to deal with contentious and emotionally-charged issues from contemporary history, particularly in the Central and Eastern European context.

Game trailer can be accessed here.


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