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VRO Project News

Workshop: Virtual Realities as Time Travel

First published: Wed 14 Jun 2023 (Permalink)

On Friday 12 May, the Virtual Reality Oracle project hosted an international, multidisciplinary workshop on Virtual Realities as Time Travel at the University of Bristol and online.

Virtual Realities as Time Travel brought together speakers from the project team and from across academic disciplines and industry to explore how users and producers of VR experiences and historical video games conceive of journeying to the past.

This event was organised by Richard Cole, in collaboration with Chris Bevan, Elisa Brann, Crescent Jicol and Emilia Tor. The workshop was sponsored by the Bristol Digital Game Lab and the Centre for Creative Technologies.

The event attracted over 100 signups, with around 40 people attending the event in person at Bristol’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and 54 on Zoom.

Esther Eidinow (Bristol) kicked off the day with an overview of the Virtual Reality Oracle project. Esther discussed how virtual reality has helped to imagine a visit to the oracle of Zeus at Dodona, c. 465 BCE. Richard Cole (Bristol) followed with an exploration of how game and VR developers often frame the experience of their worlds as a form of time travel, as well as how feedback on these experiences frequently draws on the same terminology.

The remainder of the day was divided into the following panels: Playing with Time, Facilitating Time Travel, Connecting Past and Present, and Producing Historical Experiences.

In the first panel, Alexander Vandewalle (Antwerp/Ghent) suggested that rather than thinking of time travel, a more useful way to understand what historical games offer is to think about them as a form of time tourism. Bettina Bodi (Leeds Beckett) refocused attention on the player as an active agent in playing with the temporal structures of game worlds, and looked at how cosy games complicate the idea of temporality in games when compared to fast-paced play.

Robert Houghton (Winchester) took the audience on a tour back to late antiquity with a paper on Total War: Attila. By deploying innovative strategy game mechanics, Robert argued that Total War: Attila attempts to create an experience of a truly Dark Age. From console to phone, Kate Cook (St Andrews) went on to explore how certain design features, such as microtransactions, alter the player’s relationship with time in mobile games.

After lunch, Jack Lowe (UWE) charted how location-based games engage with place. Jack suggested that the relationship with the past in such games is more a form of wayfinding than time travel.

Following Jack’s talk, workshop attendees were treated to two industry presentations. The first, from Leyla Johnson (Mokawk Games), demonstrated how developers can turn a historical era, leader, or event into a game system. Using Mokawk’s Old World as an example, Leyla emphasised how this approach could be used to incorporate a diverse range of historical material. The second industry speaker, Stéphanie-Anne Ruatta (Ubisoft), delivered a richly illustrated presentation on the experience of using historical source material to create the world of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Stéphanie-Anne showed how historical research served as a foundation for many of the facets of the game experience, thus creating ‘time travelling’ opportunities for the player.

Dooley Murphy (Copenhagen) rounded off the workshop with a paper on his project Hans Christian and I, which uses VR, not to recreate Hans Christian Andersen’s life, but to explore facets of his character.

The Virtual Reality Oracle project team would like to extend their thanks to all the speakers, Chairs, and to Claudia Jones at the Bristol Digital Game Lab for her excellent work overseeing the hybrid format of the workshop, which was praised by participants for opening up access to the event.

Plans are underway for a publication inspired by the workshop. Watch this space!

Launching the Virtual Reality Oracle at the Classical Association Conference, Cambridge

First published: Thu 27 Apr 2023 (Permalink)

We were delighted to launch the Virtual Reality Oracle (VRO) at the Classical Association conference in Cambridge, 21-23 April 2023. This conference is the largest subject-specific conference for Classics in the UK, and is an international event. We were able to bring the VRO to an audience of researchers and teachers from across the country and the world.

We kicked off our visit on Saturday morning, with Professor Esther Eidinow, the project’s principal investigator, delivering a keynote presentation, and hosting discussion, about the VRO project, the VR experience and the website with teaching resources.

For the remainder of the conference, we demonstrated the VRO to conference attendees; showing them its varied accessibility on headsets, tablets, laptops, and phones. The take up was tremendous. The oracle of Zeus responded to over 90 visitors, and the feedback – from teacher and academics alike – was terrific.

‘It really took the academic and made it “real”.’

‘It was incredibly illuminating and educational. Attention to detail is unsurpassed. It is really engaging, beautiful, with vibrant colours and great sound effects. The sound effects are so great that it channels/speaks to audio and visual learners. This is a game changing, all immersive experience.’

‘I learned a huge amount. Overall it was mind-expanding!’

‘Even as an academic, I struggle to visualise ancient sites when I visit them and see only fragments and foundations. This was an incredible way of making the past and ancient space come alive. It will revolutionise public engagement.’

‘Utterly epic.’

The conference ended on a particular high for us, as the Regius Chair of Greek, Professor Tim Whitmarsh, featured the project not once, but twice in his final plenary lecture. Professor Whitmarsh described the VRO as the future of Classics, a perfect example of the ‘Biomatic age’ that the discipline has come to define.

We have since heard that teachers, who experienced the VRO at the conference are already using it in their classrooms. As Lizzy Hays, Head of Classics at Kent College wrote:

‘I used the 360 video in class with my to U6 pupils today as part of their revision for the A Level. The pupils were engaged with the video and enjoyed exploring the site. They found the stories informative to help them learn about the types of people and the different questions asked at Dodona. It worked well to weave in all the different information. It brought to life the role of nature and how atmospheric it was. They liked the display of promanteia.’

Our thanks to the conference organisers for inviting us to launch the project at the CA, and for all their help before, during and after the event.

If you would like to learn more about the project, access the teaching resources, and/or download the VRO for yourself and use it in a classroom or research setting, visit the VRO’s website.

The Virtual Reality project on tour: Ioannina and Dodona

First published: Fri 21 Apr 2023 (Permalink)

In April 2023, members of the Virtual Reality Oracle team visited the Archaeological Museum of Ioannina and the ancient site of Dodona in Epirus, NW Greece.

The plan had always been to visit these important sites at the start of the project, but the Covid-19 pandemic prevented this. Undeterred, the team worked with archaeologists and scientists and invited them to the online research workshop back in autumn 2020.

It was particularly meaningful, then, to meet these colleagues in-person on this trip. We broke out the headsets and shared the experience of visiting Zeus’ oracle at Dodona in virtual reality. The feedback was terrific! Not only did they confirm that the Virtual Reality Oracle was an accurate representation of the site, but also many were particularly moved by being able to experience the oracular ritual—and they all noted the effectiveness of the ambience created.

Following the presentation at the Archaeological Museum of Ioannina, the project team made a pilgrimage to Dodona itself. As the mist rose over the mountains around the site, we were blessed with an atmospheric view of a landscape that was strangely familiar. Having visited the site many times in our virtual reality simulation, we felt we already knew it.

Visit The Virtual Reality Oracle Experience at the Classical Association Conference 2023

First published: Thu 06 Apr 2023 (Permalink)

For those attending the conference, we will be showing the Virtual Reality Oracle at the Classical Association Conference at Cambridge between 22nd-23rd April 2023. Tickets are completely free but must be booked in advance. To book tickets for the event, please visit the event page on Ticket Tailor here where you can also find a map and directions to the venue. We look forward to seeing you there! We will also be accepting walk-ins across both dates.

Virtual Realities as Time Travel Workshop
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The Virtual Reality Oracle at King’s College London
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16-18 Jan 2023 - Visit The Virtual Reality Oracle Experience at the Strand (London)
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The Virtual Reality Oracle at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery
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July 2022: Visit the Virtual Reality Oracle at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery
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The Virtual Reality Oracle at Bristol Data Week
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Visiting the Ancient Oracle of Zeus at Dodona
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What was it like to consult the oracle at Dodona?
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Introducing Friday Sundae
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Visiting the Oracle of Dodona
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Ancient Evidence Research Workshop on Dodona
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Interviews with School Teachers and Museum Curators July 2020
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Press Release: The Virtual Reality Oracle Project
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