The Virtual Reality Oracle (VRO): An Immersive Experience of the Ancient Greek Oracle at Dodona

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: School of Humanities

Abstract

The aim of this project is to use VR to recreate an approximation of the historical experiences (mental and somatic) of individuals consulting the ancient oracle of Zeus at Dodona and then, through user analysis, to investigate how such a recreation can help to advance understanding of (i) an ancient historical context and individual historical experiences of that context; and (ii) the design and deployment of multi-sensory VR experiences for research and educational purposes. This will be achieved by building a VR recreation of the ancient Greek oracle of Zeus and Dione at Dodona (the VRO). The VRO will, on the one hand, address questions of subjective historical experience by creating a convincing reality that will then enable the detailed exploration of the process, experience and effects of ancient oracular consultation; and, on the other hand, facilitate further research into the design of VR technologies for communication of historical experience, including both museums and classroom settings.

The VRO will recreate the experience of consulting the ancient Greek oracle of Zeus and Dione at Dodona in NW Greece during the Classical period. A broad constituency of ancient society visited this oracle: evidence shows that Dodona was consulted not only by community leaders, but also by ordinary men, women, and even slaves. This will enable the project to encompass a diverse range of ancient experiences. Moreover, the site has yielded thousands of lead tablets inscribed with questions that visitors posed to the oracle-remarkable documents for the ancient world. They show the everyday anxieties that prompted people to consult the gods, about, for example, travel, business and relationships. Alongside the question tablets, the ancient sources offer myriad possibilities for how the oracle worked, some focusing on Dodona's sacred oak tree, others on the priests and priestesses at the site.

This project will explore--and aim to recreate--the diverse experiences of consulting Dodona, by commissioning and working with a VR company to develop a virtual reality oracle (VRO). Using the question tablets found at the site, and informed by specialists in ancient Greek religion and divination, with further support from the Ephorate of Ioannina (near ancient Dodona), the VRO experience will be built around a set of stories about ancient individuals. It will evoke different contexts and subjective experiences of uncertainty and explore the various possible methods of consulting the oracle, helping historians to better understand and differentiate among these mechanisms. The design phase of the VRO will also be informed by the participation of teachers, students and museum/cultural heritage curators, who will help to ensure that the VRO excels in communicating information to different user groups.

In the second half of the project, the project will investigate user responses to the VRO both qualitatively and experimentally. This will enhance the project's ancient historical research into the experience of ancient oracular consultation: analysis of user responses by psychologists and neuroscientists will allow the project team to gauge the sensory and cognitive affects of oracular consultation, and to differentiate between different possible modes of divination. User analysis will also be used to examine how VR may be designed and deployed effectively for educational uses in classrooms and museums. Once the VRO is constructed, analysis of users of the VRO by psychologists and experts in human-computer interaction will be used to better understand the role of all the senses in a successful immersive experience, and to establish effective design parameters for immersive VR environments.

Planned Impact

This project has identified three main strands of impact, each of which will reach a variety of stakeholders, generating economic, social and cultural benefits. These are listed below, first by describing the kind of impact, then by listing the sectors that will benefit:

1. How: By providing innovative content to industry, public sector organisations, education and the public: The innovative product will provide cutting-edge, but affordable, content and resources for use in both museum and educational settings, which is also accessible for use by the general public through the project website.

- Who will benefit: specific VR company. The commissioning of the VRO will provide an SME with the opportunity to work in an innovative and creative direction, without the usual constraints of a commercial contract. We will give them the license to show this work as they choose, which will lead to its dissemination in both industry-specific and public contexts (e.g., as part of a show-reel or at public-facing festivals).

- Who will benefit: museum sector. Specific beneficiaries will include Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, We the Curious, Bristol, and Ioannina Museum in Greece. Kings College London's Culture Team will also display the VRO in a public display space on the Strand campus. These displays will increase cultural and knowledge capital for users, and we also expect there to be economic benefits for some of these organisations, since it will lead to increases in visitor numbers.

- Who will benefit: educational sector. The VRO will provide a resource for teaching about the ancient world, for all courses that concern ancient cultures, in particular ancient religion. It will be particularly relevant to the OCR A-level Ancient History course, which asks students to learn about the experience of consulting the oracle of Zeus at Dodona. But it will also be useful for teaching in other disciplines that consider ritual, divination, questions concerned with living with uncertainty, and future studies, such as anthropology or area studies.

2. How: By enhancing the knowledge and creative economies:
- Who will benefit: the VR and immersive content industries. By demonstrating the development, production and use of VR for an educational purpose, the project will also have broader impacts both for the VR and immersive content industry, and for related creative and cultural industries. Not only will it provide an example of the use of VR/Immersive technology for educational use, it will also inform best practice, as a demonstration of an interdisciplinary, multi-sectoral project that brings together a range of stakeholders to develop creative educational VR products.

- Who will benefit: the UK economy. Such developments in the creative industries will also lead to the fostering of the economic competitiveness of the United Kingdom.

3. How: By increasing public knowledge and understanding of i) ancient and modern cultures; ii) immersive technologies.

- Who will benefit: members of the wider public with an interest in ancient history and culture, especially religion, divination and other rituals will be able to learn more both about the oracle at Dodona and more broadly about these larger themes concerning the content of the VRO. This information will be available both through the museum displays and the project website, and will be enhanced with public-facing events, including public lectures, talks at festivals, blog postings and related activities with the industry partner on this project.

- Who will benefit: members of the wider public with an interest in immersive technologies. As part of the displays and on the website, the project will provide information about the production of the VRO, the psychological and neuroscientific aspects of its design, and industry practice.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Advisory Board member from ACE - Film and Journalism dept, UWE 
Organisation University of the West of England
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Invited to engage from the beginning to help guide and advise on the Virtual Reality project.
Collaborator Contribution Provision of ongoing support and guidance to the project, particularly in reference to the development and publicity around the tendering process.
Impact Successful appointment of VR Production company - support and advice was sought and given.
Start Year 2020
 
Description Badminton School 
Organisation Badminton School
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Invited to engage from the beginning with the development of the Virtual Reality project to ensure that it meets the demands and needs of the educators teaching on Dodona.
Collaborator Contribution Informed us via interviews about design of Virtual Reality Oracle
Impact ongoing
Start Year 2020
 
Description Bishop Thomas Grant School 
Organisation Bishop Thomas Grant School
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Invited to engage from the beginning with the development of the Virtual Reality project to ensure that it meets the demands and needs of the educators teaching on Dodona.
Collaborator Contribution Informed us via interviews about design of Virtual Reality Oracle
Impact ongoing
Start Year 2020
 
Description Bristol Grammar School 
Organisation Bristol Grammar School
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Invited to engage from the beginning with the development of the Virtual Reality project to ensure that it meets the demands and needs of the educators teaching on Dodona.
Collaborator Contribution Informed us via interviews about design of Virtual Reality Oracle and members of the Advisory Board to help guide the project.
Impact ongoing
Start Year 2020
 
Description Bristol Museum and Art Gallery 
Organisation Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Interviews and involvement in design meetings, discussions about forthcoming exhibition plans.
Collaborator Contribution Informed design of Virtual Reality Oracle, Advisory Board involvement, helping to guide project.
Impact Meetings and interviews.
Start Year 2020
 
Description Ephorate of Antiquities, Ioannina 
Organisation Ephorate of Antiquities, Ioannina
Country Greece 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Invitation to speak at Ancient History Research meetings on Dodona.
Collaborator Contribution Contributions made include presenting at Ancient History meetings and engagement in relevant discussions.
Impact Ancient History meetings which took place September 2020, other outcomes ongoing.
Start Year 2020
 
Description Friday Sundae 
Organisation Friday Sundae
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Regular design meetings between multiple members of the research team with Friday Sundae in order to develop the Virtual Reality Oracle.
Collaborator Contribution Friday Sundae are the VR production company appointed following the formal tendering process which took place in 2020 (October- December 2020). Their team collaborate with the research team to develop the Virtual Reality Oracle.
Impact A contract is in place with Friday Sundae, including milestones. The collaborartion is multi disciplinary including ancient history, Human Computer Interaction, Psychology, Neuroscience and games design.
Start Year 2021
 
Description Guildford High School 
Organisation Guildford High School
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Invited to engage from the beginning with the development of the Virtual Reality project to ensure that it meets the demands and needs of the educators teaching on Dodona.
Collaborator Contribution Informed us via interviews about design of Virtual Reality Oracle
Impact ongoing
Start Year 2020
 
Description University of Augsburg 
Organisation University of Augsburg
Country Germany 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Invited to engage from the beginning with the development of the Virtual Reality project to ensure that it meets the demands and needs of the educators teaching on Dodona.
Collaborator Contribution Informed us via interviews about design, participated in history meetings.
Impact Participation in history meeting, other outputs ongoing.
Start Year 2020
 
Description We the Curious 
Organisation We The Curious
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Invited to participate in design meetings and interviews.
Collaborator Contribution Informed the design of the Virtual Reality Oracle through their involvement in design meetings and interviews, involved in the Advisory Board
Impact Ongoing
Start Year 2020
 
Description Ancient evidence workshops, September 2020 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact The two day Ancient evidence workshops brought together academics from across a range of specialisms and disciplines. The sessions included presentations on aspects of particular relevance to the development of the Virtual Reaity Oracle. The workshop facilitated discussion around some of the key challenges in developing the VRO to ensure historical authenticity and plausibility. The contributors to the workshop were engaged and plans for future engagement were discussed.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Esther Eidinow delivers research seminar paper, Warwick Classics and Ancient History Dept, Feb 2021 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Esther Eidinow delivered a presentation in this online research seminar. Questions from the audience sparked interesting discussions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description FUTURES, November 2020 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Virtual Reality Oracle team took part in the "Curiosity Carousel" which was part of the schedule of events for FUTURES 2020 celebrating European Researchers Night. This popular public engagement event took place online for 2020 due to Covid. The Curiosity Carousel was a virtual research fair, hosted in collaboration with the SS Great Britain, and delivered using the online platform REMO to create a virtual conference hall containing 18 research stands, Attendees were able to move around the conference hall and stop at a research stand. Attendees and researchers could then see and hear each other, and researchers were able to share their research in various ways: they spoke to attendees, showed demonstrations or videos, ran a mini-quiz, and answered attendees' questions.The event allowed the researchers to engage directly with the public about the research being undertaken and was a good opportunity to receive feedback directly from the public. Feedback received by the organisers from attendees was positive and made particular reference to the VR team involved in the event being interesting and engaging.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Hugh Bowden gave online talk to schools on Dodona Oracle 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact The online talk entitled "Visiting the Oracle of Dodona" took place in November 2020. Aimed at students in KS5 and their teachers, it focused on Dodona which is included in the A level syllabus. The live talk had an audience of approximately 60 from 11 different schools across the country. The talk was recorded and is published on the KCL website as well as linked form the Virtual Reality Oracle project website so will have a wider reach than the original live audience.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://media.kcl.ac.uk/media/Visiting+the+Oracle+at+Dodona+-+School+Talk+November+25th+2020/1_9m823...
 
Description News item published about the launch of Virtual Reality Oracle project 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact News piece about the Virtual Reality Oracle project was published on the University of Bristol Classics website and several tweets were sent out from University of Bristol Classics, Engineering and Virtual Realities Immersive Documentary Encounters project which were then more widely shared.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL http://www.bristol.ac.uk/classics/research/vr-oracle/
 
Description Virtual Reality Oracle Bidders Conference, November 2020 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact The Virtual Reality Oracle bidders conference was an online event which engaged with Virtual Reality production companies. It was part of the Virtual Reality Oracle formal tendering process. The Bidders Conference was very well attended by over 30 interested parties, many of whom went on to submit a tender for the development work. It took place online, and we received positive feedback from companies who attended.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Virtual Reality Oracle project website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact The Virtual Reality Oracle project website launched early 2021, and will be further developed throughout the project. It includes useful resources for schools which will be built upon as the project progresses.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation about oracles/prophecy and the VRO project
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020,2021