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Czech computer game took me back to childhood

Mafia gunfight, goblins in treetops, and resistance fighters who want to destroy the Nazis. All these stories were invented by Czech computer game programmers and have millions of fans around the world. At the end of November, the Belgian Charleroi hosted the MEET & BUILD festival where authors from the Czech Republic presented themselves. “We can be inspired by you not only in the gaming industry but also in cultural promotion” says Julien Annart, the event organizer. The interview was prepared by Judita Matyášová.

You regularly present developers from all over the world. This year the main guests came from the Czech Republic. What did you like most about their presentation?

We were interested in how you managed to succeed in the international market where the competition is really tough. The Czechs have original stories and know how to promote them. I have wanted to invite Czech developers several times already, but we have always failed due to a lack of finance. It was only thanks to Jitka Pánek Jurková, Director of the Czech Centre in Brussels, and the support provided by Czech authorities that we were able to welcome the six guests. Each of them has a different method of work and a different marketing strategy.

The programme included a discussion on using computer games in schools. What have you learned?

For a number of years I taught history at secondary schools in Belgium and parents often told me that they don’t understand why young people sit at the computer all the time. I tried to explain to them that this is exactly what might bring them to important topics. When young people play games inspired by history they not only learn information about specific events but also begin to understand that history is not black and white. Lukáš Kolek presented the Czech game Attentat. Its development was supported by Charles University and involved cooperation of programmers, teachers and historians. The game is freely inspired by the assassination of Heydrich. The player gradually reveals information about the activities of the fighters against the Nazis and finds out that a single decision influenced not only the resistance fighter but also his whole family.

Other guests at the festival were the developers from Amanita Design, who uphold the tradition of Czech animation. How much is the tradition known in Belgium?

Twenty years ago I studied a degree in philosophy and I wasn’t that much interested in art, but they showed us some Czech animated films at college. I can’t remember the names of the authors, but Czech animation is definitely known in Belgium.

I fell in love with games by Amanita from the very beginning because they immediately take you back to childhood, a period when you make up various stories. Perhaps about goblins who live in the forest and you build houses for them. I showed the games to my daughter when she was six and we have now played together for several years. Amanita is one of the studios that destroy the myth that computer games are primarily for young people. I am convinced that there is an interesting game for each age category from preschoolers to seniors.

What was the most exciting for the festival audience?

I think it was mainly the discussion with the authors and practical examples of how to address specific issues in this field. The fact is that there is strong competition in the computer industry. Every day a thousand games are produced around the world and it is very difficult to succeed. The development of a single game takes a long time and the authors do not receive adequate remuneration. The guests from the Czech Republic spoke to us not only about development and financing, but also about marketing, because without massive promotion you simply cannot succeed in an international environment.

Why is it that our developers succeed globally?

They told us that every time they work on a new game, they don’t think just about the local market but they always try to reach the international audience. Just have a look at the Czech authors of Beat Saber, a game that was recently bought by Facebook, or the Czech programmers of Mafia 3; the game is a global hit. It was interesting to me that you don’t have financial support for programmers from large state institutions, but apparently this works on the regional and city level. For the first time in history, our festival cooperated with the Czech Centre in Brussels and I hope that we’ll figure something out again. Until recently I didn’t know that you have 25 branches of Czech Centres to promote Czech culture around the globe. We can only dream about something like that in Belgium!

I almost tell myself that we are proud to be Czechs!

Your developers never put it this way, but I understand that they are definitely proud of their origin. They adhere to their Czech roots and I think this is one thing that differentiates them on the international market. They offer original themes and interpretations, and you can see that this is what computer fans like.

You’ve mentioned that you like the idea of Czech Centres. Is it true that there is nothing like long-term promotion of Belgian culture abroad?

This is a bit trickier because the main question is what actually “Belgian culture” is. Each of our regions is completely different and we rarely find something that brings us together. We are a small country and therefore understand the problems that similar European countries have. Culture is also a question of language and we don’t have a single language and maybe that’s why we don’t have a single promotion of culture. It has been discussed many times in our history which language will prevail and where the borders will be.

When Czechoslovakia split in 1990s, we thought you gave us a lead. We thought: “The Czechs have done it, maybe we’ll do it one day as well!”

 


Studied philosophy and taught history, French and philosophy at secondary schools in Belgium. Between 2010 and 2018 was the director of the computer section of the QUAI10 cultural centre in Charleroi. Since 2014 has been involved in projects that combine educative programmes and computer games. For five years has coordinated the MEET & BUILD festival, which focuses on professionals in the computer industry.


 

Amanita

 

Atentát 1942


 

 

The project was conceived in cooperation with the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Belgium (supported by the PROPED programme), the South Moravian Region, the City of Brno, the City of Prague, MEP Martina Dlabajová, CzechTrade/CEBRE and GameDev Area Brno.

 


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