The Drax Files 33: visiting the past through Second Life

Hauptmann Weydert (aka Cyberpiper
Hauptmann Weydert (aka Cyberpiper Roelefs in SL and Pit Vinandy in the physical world), the driving force behind the virtual Luxembourg work, sharing time in-world at Fort Thüngen with his daughter (image: The Drax Files World Makers)

I admit to having something of a personal bias towards The Drax Files World Makers episode #33, which premiered on Friday, October 30th, as it focuses on the work of Hauptmann Weydert (Weydert – also known as Cyberpiper Roelefs within Second Life and Pit Vinandy in the physical world) and his team and their work with the 1867 Project, which recreations elements of the City of Luxembourg as they were at a pivotal point in its history in the 19th century.

I had the pleasure of visiting Fort Thüngen, which forms a part of the project, and then touring  The Virtual Pfaffenthal alongside Hauptmann Weydert (looking resplendent in his period uniform), as we discussed the project in July 2015  – see my article Luxembourg 1867: exploring virtual history in Second Life. So to witness almost first hand through this video just how faithful a reproduction the 1867 Project presents, and gain a greater insight into the Project’s collaboration with Luxembourg City History Museum, comes as an absolute pleasure.

The Virtual Pfaffenthal; Inara Pey, July 2015, on FlickrThe Virtual Pfaffenthal, (Flickr)

Second Life and environments like it have always been recognised as having a powerful role to play in both education and historical recreation, and this is once again brought home in this segment of the World Maker’s series. In it, viewers are invited to explore the immersive, educational and creative powers inherent in the platform and to catch a glimpse of a fascinating period in European history as well, one which is in turn being shared with the general public in that city through the collaboration with City History Museum.

The immersive power of the platform is marvellously presented through footage filmed in the physical world which has been carefully matched with footage filmed in-world. These differing scenes are then beautifully transitioned between, carrying the viewer seamlessly from one to the other, visually conveying the richness of content and opportunity within the virtual in a manner no amount of narrative could convey. Kudos to Drax for both the filming in Luxembourg and the editing.

The creative power of the platform is beautifully encompassed in just 25 seconds starting at the 1:50 mark, when Pit provides a simple description of the various options for design and building, both in-world and through external tools, as he works on a part of the fort in-world.

The Virtual Pfaffenthal; Inara Pey, July 2015, on FlickrFort Thüngen, Kirchberg, has been a workshop for virtual activities since 2012, and is now a part of the wider regions making up the 1867 project

However, it is in the collaboration with the City History Museum where both virtual Luxembourg and this segment speak volumes and stand as a veritable tour de force of the potential for virtual spaces as a means to immerse and educate  and – as Pit correctly points out – allows us to connect in a very different way, not only with one another, but also with our past and our social and political heritage.

The work with the City History Museum is in fact an extension of collaborative work between the 1867 Project with the Fortress Museum in Luxembourg and associated with Luxembourg National Museum of History and Art. This is touched upon at the start of the video, where we are shown Fort Thüngen, where visitors there can join members of the Project in free-form role-play and explore the fort virtually as well as physically. Alongside this, workshops on virtual environments are also presented, involving the general public and schools.

Visitors at the City Musueum, Luxembourg can use 10 PCs and 2 Oculus Rift headsets to enter Virtual Pfaffenthal using pre-set (and logged-in) avatars to explore and learn about Luxembourg in the 1860s
Visitors at the City Museum, Luxembourg can use 10 PCs and 2 Oculus Rift headsets to enter Virtual Pfaffenthal using pre-set (and logged-in) avatars to explore and learn about Luxembourg in the 1860s (image: The Drax Files World Makers)

The collaboration with the City history museum also allows this segment to expand beyond the 1867 Project and consider the role of immersive VR using soon-to-be-released headsets, and the potential for VR to reach audiences in museums and similar centres.

This is something Pit again does with aplomb, touching on all the key points to the extent of incidentally presenting a case as to why – despite all the misgivings SL users may feel on the matter – Linden Lab may well be hitting the nail squarely on the head in their approach to “Project Sansar”, which can be easily and efficiently used for purposes such as those Pit describes.

The Virtual Pfaffenthal; Inara Pey, July 2015, on FlickrTwo of the prepared avatars (Jang and Ammy Ecker) in Virtual Pfaffenthal awaiting visitors from the City Museum to use them to explore the virtual city. The little musician is Steft, who also acts as a virtual guide for visitors

This is a project which works on so many level: collaboration, education, role-play, discovery, outreach – that is it easy to focus purely on them as structured activities, and so lose sight of another aspect of places like The Virtual Pfaffenthal. That they offer all of us the simple pleasure of engagement and being a part of a community, and spending time within a setting otherwise denied us.

“The point of this project is not to replace traditional history books or history course,” Pit states towards the end of the segment, “but just to give people a feeling of what life was like back then. Children relate to this very well, because they can learn history in a very playful way. As adults, we can learn from them; we can participate in shaping this story, and Second Life is the centre of it.”

I couldn’t agree more – hence why I would love to see projects and communities like this, if they so wish, to become a part of the new Gateway programme, assuming this reaches beyond being a trial. A project such as this, offering people a controlled exposure to Second Life, then perhaps linking them to a dedicated website where they can sign-up, selected avatars and arrive back in the Pfaffenthal environment, could present a unique means to have people engage in SL beyond their visit to a museum showcase.

The real Fort T
The real Fort Thüngen, inspiration for the 1867 Project (image: The Drax Files World Makers)

In writing these reviews of the World Makers series, I tend to praise each of them as being the best to date, and in doing so feel I’m repeating myself month-on-month. But the fact is, each new piece that Drax produces for this series builds on the last, offering ever richer and more informative and vibrant  insight into Second Life and virtual creativity, and this piece is no exception. It is simply superb.