Developer of serious gaming platform 'WW1 Virtual Trench' speaks to Centenary News

Posted on on 24 June 2013
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Gaia Technologies speaks to Centenary News about the development of its new serious gaming platform for the Centenary, WW1 Virtual Trench.

With just over a year to go before the Centenary of the First World War begins, Gaia Technologies is developing an educational game aimed at younger people to help them appreciate and understand life on the front during the First World War.

Speaking to Centenary News, Jon Rashid, 3D Development Manager at Gaia Technologies explained how he wanted to make the Virtual Trench project accessible to as wide an audience as possible.

Gaia has been developing technology-based educational resources for many years for subjects ranging from History and Geography to Chemistry and Physics”.

“We’ve covered periods of history ranging from the Black Death to Tutankhamun, but it was the [British] Government’s announcement at the end of 2012/start of 2013 about its plans to mark the Centenary that inspired the WW1 Virtual Trench project”.

With its headquarters in Bangor, Wales, Gaia has been an important player in developing the next generation of learning technologies. With a focus on an interactive, immersive experience for users, 3D technologies in classrooms have proved a particularly popular part of Gaia’s work amongst young people.

As a specialist technology, this had often required equipment such as stereoscopic glasses, projectors and high level graphic cards.

“What we wanted to do with the WW1 Virtual Trench project was to make it accessible and engaging for young people,” said Mr. Rashid, “as such, we’re moving towards making the game web-based, so users can have full access to content with ease, without having to worry about the use of specialist equipment”.

The basis of the game is a soldier’s life in the trenches. Users will take on a first person role of the soldier and be able to interact with objects and other characters in the trench, exploring the virtual world, completing tasks and learning about aspects of the conflict along the way.

Serious gaming – the idea of developing a game with core educational and learning value – is “becoming a big part of education”, Mr. Rashid highlighted.

Isn’t it difficult to strike the right balance between creating an educational resource and providing a fun experience for younger users?

“We believe that learning has to be enjoyable in order to be effective, and that is why we have tried to intertwine the two. For instance, users will need to complete tasks in order to unlock additional areas of the game, such as exploring the bunker. Completion of these tasks will provide users with information about the First World War and reward them with access to different areas in the game”.

“It is important to us during the Centenary years to be able to provide an interactive experience for users about this conflict which really stimulates conversation”.

The prospect of an engaging means to bring the study of the conflict to a new generation will appeal to educators, especially after the British Government’s emphasis on education during the Centenary years.

Users will be able to learn about broad topics of life in the trenches, such as shell shock, as they interact with a medic character who explains how soldiers at the front were "patched up" at the front before being sent off to field hospitals.

Users will be able to interact with items in the trenches, such as weaponry and propaganda posters. Once interacted with, the items will give further information to the user.

“We really want to elicit conversation from young people about the conflict and help make them relate it to the 21st century. The technology in itself is one means of doing that”.

“Other means are subliminal learning techniques. For instance, a football located in the trench, once interacted with, will give details about the 1914 Christmas Truce football match. However, if one user misses the football or doesn’t interact with it and others do, they will have missed out”.

“We want to encourage conversation: “Did you see the bit about the Christmas Truce?” If the young person didn’t, they may well want to go back and find out about it, so they don’t feel like they’re missing out”.

An attractive element of the WW1 Virtual Trench project is its large amount of customisable content, which can tailor the game to age specific and regional audiences.

“The target audience is around fourteen years old, but we are aiming to reach out to young people in general”, said Mr. Rashid.

Mr. Rashid highlighted that the highly customisable nature of the platform means that even younger children will have the opportunity to benefit from the project.

“Part of making this an immersive experience for users was creating features such as voice recordings. This will allow users to record their own voices and apply them to characters in the trenches, which may appeal to younger users in particular”.

The immersive aspect of the WW1 Virtual Trench project could prove to be very useful for educators as the customisable features will allow an age appropriate experience of the game. For many younger users, hearing their own voices for the characters in the trenches may prove a clever way in to teaching them about the conflict.

Teachers will be able to set questions which are ‘asked’ by characters in the game, which students can then type an answer to. These questions will be behind a password, so they can be tailored to individual students. Answers will then be stored and accessible to teachers to read, which Mr. Rashid suggested could be used as part of classroom assessment for students.

From a regional perspective, objects in the trenches can also be customised. One example Mr. Rashid gave was that a particular regiment’s experience of the conflict could be customised within the game, with posters and relevant dialogue. The game could also be tailored in a similar way to address subjects such as poetry or the history of art.

With the possibility of the serious gaming platform reaching an international audience and serving as an educational resource, Mr. Rashid highlighted the “neutral slant” adopted by Gaia Technologies for this project – facts, rather than opinions, take precedence.

Indeed, Gaia has been eager to get feedback from a variety of sources on the project, with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers one of the groups invited to give feedback on the game to make it as realistic and useful as possible.

The WW1 Virtual Trench project is bringing a very 21st century type of learning to a wide ranging audience. The engaging, immersive aspect of the project is likely to engage both educators and young users alike and the technology may prove to be an important part of education programmes to mark the Centenary over the next five years.

The project is currently looking for support on Kick Starter and is aiming to raise a total of £25,000. You can visit the Kick Starter page for the WW1 Virtual Trench project here.

By: Daniel Barry, Centenary News

© Centenary Digital Ltd