Virtual Reality for the Study of History and Culture

Imagine This: 

A group of students, artists and seniors is in the Media Lab to celebrate the successful conclusion of a Collaboratory made up of the National Park Service, area history and media arts students, architects, historians and technicians from the Tom Slick media lab at SwRI.  They have designed an action game based on the conversion of a violent computer game into a system for community planning.  They have created a model of the Mission Espada through which a person can move around as though they were there. 

The large virtual reality databases have been down loaded from the KLRN broadcast signal allowing interaction to be possible using ordinary phone connections.  The young people are creating a non-violent multi-user computer game space using a recreation of the mission in 1984.  They are still working the bugs out, but several-thousand area youths are logged-on from school and home.

They are interacting in a high-resolution “massive multiplayer on-line Roll Playing Game (MMORPG)” virtual space depicting the mission Espada created by the Media Lab. They are wearing strange looking glasses that enable them to be to be present and role-play in the pretty little virtual world.  They are moving around in the space  wearing little cartoon characters called “avatars.” They are admiring their handiwork and discussing their pleasure and reliving special moments in the creation of the model.

Their next project will be to stage a reenactment of a market day in 1784.  Living history buffs from the Junior Historians from Floresville are making 3D objects to place in the scene.  Another group is designing virtual costumes for the avatars.  A man from the neighborhood is preparing for the role of Erasmus Seguin.  Another is preparing for the role of Doña Maria del Carmen Castillo who owned a ranch down south of the mission during the period.

At the end of the grand opening of the model the screen view will be zoomed out using GIS interface designed by the GIS Collaboratory.  All will be looking at the region from way up in the air.  The view includes the whole region and viewers will discuss creating additional Collaboratories to create more virtual models of interesting places in their neighborhoods.

Participants are receiving school credit.  Thousands of media literacy and history students and participants will come away from their encounters with the project with enhanced technology skills and a deeper understanding of the possibilities of communications technologies, as well as resume points, certification, scholarships and jobs.