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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