Virtual reality to simulate first-hand experience of invasion

Photo: Brainz, Czech Radio

To mark the anniversary of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia of 1968, Czech Radio’s Creative Hub Group, in cooperation with Brainz digital agency, has prepared a special virtual reality studio. Visitors to the Czech Radio building can get a first-hand experience of what it feels like to stand in streets that are being invaded by Soviet tanks. I asked Edita Kudláčová, head of the Creative Hub Group, to tell me more about the project.

Edita Kudláčová,  photo: Khalil Baalbaki
“The virtual reality experience is for two people – one is on the Czech side and the other is on the Russian side, and they are actually going through the experience together.

“I don’t want to disclose the details in advance but I can say that it is based on a real situation that happened on that night. We wanted the audience to experience what it meant to be participants of the protests against the occupation and to feel the emotion people felt during the invasion.”

The virtual reality the studio is based on a photo based on a photo of a man who stands in front of a tank during the invasion. Do we know anything about that man?

“No. We actually discovered the photo in a gallery in Liberec and the name of the guy on the picture is not known. We don’t know anything about what happened or whether he is still alive, where he is or what he does.

“Our attention was mostly captured by the scene itself because it seems so absurd and bizarre. But it was happening and people were very brave and did things that the younger generation today would be probably hesitant about doing – to sacrifice your own life to protect the country and its freedom.”

Photo: Brainz,  Czech Radio
You have also prepared a mobile phone app, which tells a different story from 1968, based on a perspective of a Czech girl who is stranded abroad. Is it also based on a real-life story?

“It’s actually the mother of the author of the script, Ondřej Cihlář. His mom was 15 when the occupation happened. She was sent to Austria to visit her aunt and uncle but unfortunately (or fortunately) she left just a few days before the occupation.

“She learned about the invasion from the television and radio. It was completely unforeseen, so she didn’t know what to do. She was talking to her parents over the phone whether she should come back or not. She was really thinking about what to choose for her future, whether to choose freedom, or whether to come back and be with her family.”

“So the story is real. We have tried to document it as accurately as possible. Of course there is some fiction but it is a story that really happened.”

Photo: Brainz,  Czech Radio
What else does the app provide, apart from the story itself?

“We were targeting mostly younger on people, who probably don’t know much about 1968: why it happened, what happened and what actually followed afterwards. So we tried to provide some context, which is in augmented reality. You can always stop the listening and go the contextual information, which provides you with all the historical facts.”

The virtual reality studio in Czech Radio building will open on Monday evening. The mobile phone application called Návrat 68 can be downloaded on Google Play and iTunes app store.