Their Memory: Exploring Veteran's Voices, Virtual Reality and Collective Memory

Lead Research Organisation: University of Abertay Dundee
Department Name: Sch of Arts Media and Computer Games

Abstract

This project considers how commemoration is changing. As the two world wars fade from living memory, we are increasingly looking to young people across Scotland (and the wider world) to carry the memory of the wars forward. For organisations such as Poppyscotland that are tasked with ensuring these memories don't fade it is the increasingly challenging to engage with not just young people but the under-35 demographic. Poppyscotland are keen to explore how immersive experiences can be used to create awareness of our veterans' experiences and how Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) can be used to enhance the real-life narratives to place war and peace in context. In 2018 we will witness the end of the centennial of the First World War and there exists a unique opportunity to explore how remembrance, communal and collective memory will be taken forward for that conflict and how that will shape the similar emphasis that will be placed on young people for the 80th and 90th anniversaries of WW2.

VR and AR, after years of research and development, appear to be on the cusp of mainstream adoption. The combination of immersive video capture and dissemination via mobile technologies is already proving to be particularly exciting for fields as diverse as medical training and journalism. What VR and AR promise is to bring audiences closer to a story than any previous platform. In this regard, they have the potential to enhance real-life narratives by offering audiences both the experiences and environments of the cataclysmic events of the past century that our veteran's experienced. VR enables us to recreate those experiences that are barely comprehendible and to places that are out of reach for most of us. Whether that is experiencing the Armistice in 1918; or the outbreak of the Second World War barely a generation later; and on to the wars and conflicts whose significance may be diminished but which cast a long shadow whether that be Korea, Malaya, Kenya, Northern Ireland, Iraq or Afghanistan. AR has the power to bring an image, artefact or even map to life. Engaging people with their community in new ways and on a completely new level. AR has the potential to create new innovative, overlaps with history and community, potentially enabling us to relate the big events and experiences at a local level.

In exploring the development of immersive VR experiences created for the First World War centennial, organisations have largely focused on the use of the two technological advances to deliver experiences that are more cinematic than interactive. The new generation of headsets together with cameras that can record a scene in 360-degree, stereoscopic video have been used to create documentary experiences, such as the British Legion's Passchendaele 100. Each of these innovations have allowed audiences to more richly experience the lives of others. This project proposes combining the rich archives and veterans' experiences through Poppyscotland with the cutting-edge Game Design and Technology of Abertay University and Ruffian Games to explore how virtual reality can take us farther still.

Planned Impact

The primary output of Their Memory project is a fully researched and evaluated virtual reality prototype co-designed with the target audience that will explore how personal narratives and wartime memories can be used to create a more immersive and interactive experience. The prototype application will utilise game design and technology to present veteran's voices and academic research in a novel manner that will help people to visualise history. The project outcomes can be considered in three main areas: Academic, Industry and Public.

Academic: The project will allow academic research to be combined with cutting-edge industry design and technology. This research will be taken forward in two modes. Firstly, via the co-production of academic papers discussing what the created immersive experience tells us of how visualisation impacts collective memory and format of commemoration. Second, by establishing a range of experimental approaches for the generation, implementation and presentation of historical research, the application of data visualisation techniques will ask new questions of the past, but pose questions apparent only when information is presented visually.

Industry: The project will explore several of the current challenges in Virtual Reality. Whilst accepting that VR represents a new narrative form, the project will consider how the technical and stylistic norms can evolve. Exploring questions evolving from the fourth wall debate, such as "who is the actor?" and "what does playing in a virtual world represent?" Consideration will also be given to the combination of the limits of technology, narrative structure, and documentary intent determine the degree of agency given to users in a VR experience. The trade-offs between time, cost and quality will be considered from both a production viewpoint and audience engagement. In addition, the project can explore whether high-end virtual reality with added interactivity and CGI elements can be obtained using game technology to avoid the unnecessary expense and long production cycles.

Public: This project is intended to explore how VR can be used to engage the wider public with the project partner, Poppyscotland. To that end the project will focus on how VR can be used in raising awareness of Poppyscotland's wider goals and educating a broad range of demographics about the wartime memories of our veterans. The prototype application will focus on a single narrative to align with the centennial of the Armistice in 2018. Working with our partners the aim is to develop the narrative in a format that could be presented to a global audience, where memories, photographs and other mementoes can be presented and preserved digitally for future generations. Digital material co-produced by this project will be made available on an open access platform (such as itch.io). Expanding the project would require further funding but the intention is to explore the design implications of creating a cross-platform experience where users can move to an AR application that would allow users to connect with local history related to the VR narrative.

Publications

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Title Gameplay Video 
Description Gameplay Video - for demonstrating the experience 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact N/A 
URL https://youtu.be/wJqZq147TA4
 
Title Their Memory: Oculus Go 
Description In Their Memory, the player visits the famous Lady Haig poppy factory in Edinburgh. The environment is fully realised and recreates the character and detail of the real world factory. Within VR, players can explore the desks of the different ex-servicemen who now work at the factory. On each desk are mementos and artefacts unique to each veteran. The player can pick up and explore each object, when the objects are interacted with, they play an audio clip. Each piece of audio is a memory that relates to the previously picked up object. Memories are recounted by the veterans who owns the picked-up object. The Oculus Go build is modified and optimised for the hardware and provides a slightly more limited experience than the fuill Oculus Rift build. 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact The creation of the Oculus Go build required using a number of optimisation techniques that are useful for future development. The Go build is currently being used by Poppyscotland in outreach events. 
 
Title Their Memory: Oculus Rift 
Description In Their Memory, the player visits the famous Lady Haig poppy factory in Edinburgh. The environment is fully realised and recreates the character and detail of the real world factory. Within VR, players can explore the desks of the different ex-servicemen who now work at the factory. On each desk are mementos and artefacts unique to each veteran. The player can pick up and explore each object, when the objects are interacted with, they play an audio clip. Each piece of audio is a memory that relates to the previously picked up object. Memories are recounted by the veterans who owns the picked-up object. 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact The Oculus Rift was the primary development platform. Utilising the full VR technology, players can fully immerse themselves in a real-life environment and be fully engaged in the veteran's stories. We see utilising immersive technology such as virtual reality increasing engagement and is a more appealing engagement tool than traditional methods. 
URL https://www.dropbox.com/s/edwfb5hbgfqgwsg/TheirMemory_Build_15022019.zip?dl=0
 
Title Trailer Video 
Description For inviting interest in the application 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact N/A 
URL https://youtu.be/T21TBr4xibY
 
Description The unifying aim of the project was to produce a narrative-driven representation of the experiences of veterans that Poppyscotland support via the creation of a Virtual Reality (VR) application and consideration of how this could link with Augmented Reality (AR) in the future. The Virtual Reality component was completed and evaluated, the consideration of how this can be enhanced through AR is ongoing.

The project had five main goals. The first of these was to explore the impact of war in new and academically-innovative ways. The co-design process and engaging with industry professionals resulted in a non-violent exploration of war that focused upon veterans' memory, memorabilia, and their own narratives. One of the key findings was that it is the stories and accessibility to these that were the most interesting for people. Virtual Reality provided a novel vehicle but the core element was the stories and how these were retold by the veterans. The second goal was to precisely identify the memories of veterans and the communities directly and indirectly affected by war. One of the main findings was the need for a greater focus on the veterans of more recent conflicts. The impact on communities is still largely focused on the two major conflicts of the twentieth century and yet no living veterans of the first world war remain and increasingly the veterans of conflicts from the past fifty years are those that are forgotten. Another related finding was that whilst many veterans have traumatic experiences these do not define their overall experiences of their service. Indeed the other factors that they remember put the traumatic ones into a wider context. The third goal was to develop a prototype immersive experience for the centennial armistice in November 2018. This was achieved and the project launch played a part in both the launch of the Scottish Poppy Appeal at the Scottish Parliament and in the press for the overall Scottish Poppy Appeal in November 2018. The fourth goal was to evaluate the experience with a range of audiences. This was achieved via co-design sessions and the WW100 Aftermath Event. Their Memory was shown to students (undergraduate and postgraduate), schoolchildren from S3 & S4 and the veterans in the Lady Haig Factory. Feedback was very positive but the evaluations are ongoing. Lastly, the project was to consider how an immersive experience can shape attitudes to information and community. The key finding here is the connection that people who take part in an immersive experience feel. It is far more personal and the information appeared to have an impact upon remembering Poppyscotland and the mission.
Exploitation Route Academic: The project is still pursuing the co-production of academic papers discussing what the created immersive experience tells us of how visualisation impacts collective memory and format of commemoration. Going forward the project aims to further detail a range of experimental approaches for the generation, implementation and presentation of historical research.
Industry: The project explored several of the current challenges in Virtual Reality. Whilst accepting that VR represents a new narrative form, the project considers how the technical and stylistic norms are evolving. Going forward questions from the fourth wall debate, such as "who is the actor?" and "what does playing in a virtual world represent?" morphed into considering "what is play in a commemorative experience". The project did demonstrate the limits of the technology (particularly with the lower specification of the Oculus Go) and the trade-offs between time, cost and quality from both a production viewpoint and audience engagement.
Public: The project intended to explore how VR can be used to engage the wider public with the project partner, Poppyscotland. To that end the project was successful in its focus on how VR could be used in raising awareness of Poppyscotland's wider goals and in educating a broad range of demographics about the wartime memories of our veterans. The prototype application was delivered for the centennial of the Armistice in 2018. We continue to work with our partners to ensure this can be presented to a global audience, where memories, photographs and other mementoes can be presented and preserved digitally for future generations.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

 
Description Their Memory is to be used on the Moving Poppy. The Moving Poppy is a unique and ambitious project taking elements of Lady Haig's Poppy Factory and Poppyscotland's archive collection, highlights of Lady Haig's Poppy Factory tour experience, interpretation and learning facilities on the road. The purpose-built vehicle will be free-to-access and accessible-to-all and will tour Scotland from early 2019, visiting schools and community events, allowing pupils to learn about the history of the poppy, consider issues surrounding conflict and remembrance, and start conversations about the poppy, remembrance and veterans. It will also support the centenaries of the first Poppy Appeal in 2021 and the opening of Lady Haig's Poppy Factory in 2026. One of the challenges to overcome to achieve impact is the continued evaluation of the VR experience from 2019.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
 
Description BBC 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Press Release and Interview: Veterans' war memories given life in 'virtual' tour: The memories and voices of war veterans have been brought to life using virtual reality technology. Poppyscotland has teamed up with games developers at Abertay University on the unusual Remembrance project. Headsets take users on a simulated tour of the Lady Haig poppy factory in Edinburgh where objects trigger a series of personal stories. Seven veterans provided the soundtrack, sharing their reasons for signing up, stories of battle and friendship. Called Their Memory, the innovative project aims to share poignant, humorous and harrowing accounts with new audiences.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-scotland-46078646/veterans-war-memories-given-life-in-virtual-tour
 
Description BBC One Reporting Scotland 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact News Report and Interview on 02/11/2018
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0bptktn
 
Description Co-Design Session 1 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact 20+ postgraduate students attended Abertay University for a co-design workshop. 4 Abertay academics presented on co-design as an established approach for practical creativity, explaining how it is used to research many sectors of society. As co-design is grounded in the participatory design approach and aims at bringing people (e.g. end-users, service users) well within in the design process, we brought in 3 veterans through the project partner, veterans charity Poppyscotland, to explore a design solution that are closer to the project needs. The approach allowed researchers to draw insights from a variety of sources and experiences, in order to deliver creative formulations and solutions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Co-Design Session 2 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Co-design session was conducted with local schoolchildren in the target audience (14-16 years old) and veterans through the project partner, Poppyscotland. Supported by postgraduate students and professional practitioners the session aimed to iterate on the main design ideas that had developed from the first co-design session
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Digit Press Report 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Press release picked up by DIGIT (formerly Scot-Tech Engagement), Scotland's leading technology media & events company, dedicated to providing tech news, views, opinion for IT & Digital users & consumers. Reporting technology focused news spanning industry, academia, government, membership groups, regulatory bodies and innovation centres. Digit aims to ensure news and events are not restricted by the interests of a single perspective but instead reflect a balanced consensus, covering the core issues that are most relevant to the audience. This has helped lead to a number of queries across other industries and sectors engaging with Abertay over AR and VR.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://digit.fyi/uk-veterans-poppyscotland-abertay-vr/
 
Description Lady Haig Factory Evaluation 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Practitioners demonstrating and working with the Veterans with regard to showing the experience they helped co-design.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description More UK News Press Report 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Press Release picked up by UK News Website
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://moreuknews.net/?p=85116
 
Description Poppyscotland Co-Design Session for Moving Poppy 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact As a direct result of the project's co-design sessions, Poppyscotland, held a creative co-design day at the Lady Haig Poppy Factory in Edinburgh on Saturday 1 September 2018 to develop ideas for the Moving Poppy. The event was aimed at hearing from Primary and Early Years teachers, and Secondary teachers in the following subject areas - History, RMPS, English, Art and Design (or any other relevant areas) in how to shape the learning experience on the Moving Poppy, a new educational vehicle which will be touring Scotland from early 2019.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.gtcs.org.uk/News/news/poppyscotland-learning-moving-poppy-project.aspx
 
Description Scottish Poppy Appeal 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Their Memory was presented at the Scottish Poppy Appeal Reception in the Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh on the Wednesday 31st October 2018 from 18:00 - 19:30. The VR experience was played by a number of politicians and dignitaries, which sparked questions and discussions and follow-up conversations with the office for Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description The Courier 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Press release and interview with the Dundee Courier
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.thecourier.co.uk/fp/news/local/dundee/757454/tayside-veterans-experiences-brought-to-lif...
 
Description The Interactive Pasts Conference 2 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Presentation of Their Memory at The Interactive Pasts Conference - a creative space for surprising meetings between people and ideas, centered around video games and the past. TIPC2 is for researchers, game developers, scholars, students, gamers, artists and everyone who is curious to learn more about heritage, history, video games and the interactive past. Key questions include: What can games teach us about the past? In what ways can video games be treated as cultural heritage? What do video games have to offer for historical and archaeological research? The conference featured all manner of seriously playful answers to these questions and more.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://interactivepasts.com/the-interactive-pasts-conference-2/
 
Description WW100: The Aftermath 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact The project was invited to present at an event run by WW100. The event took place on the 6th of December and was held at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. There were apprximately 90 pupils from, S3 and S4. Run by WW100, the purpose of the event was to look at the aftermath of WW1 and the day comprised of talks from Fiona Hyslop, Susan Morrison, Sir Hew Strachan and Prof Norman Drummond. Pupils were split into three groups and each group attended workshops run by Poppyscotland, Legion Scotland and CWGC. We ran the same workshop three times with different groups to see all pupils. Workshops were approximately be 45 minutes long.

In the workshop each group was split further into either 2 groups of 10-15 and undertook carousel of activities. The primary role of the project was to demonstrate the Virtual Reality application and make sure each pupils had a short VR experience of how the factory is now. This simulated the environment, audience numbers with the target audience. In addition Poppyscotland looked at archive material from the original factory with some practical activities or conversation starters. Lastly the workshop included an activity around what remembrance means to the audience - a core goal of the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018