A Berlin museum that focuses on life in the former GDR transports virtual visitors to a decisive moment in history through the power of augmented reality and the popular open-world game Minecraft.
The DDR Museum, in cooperation with the vice creative agency Virtue, ran an awareness campaign that allows everyone to create and scale sections of the Berlin Wall using Minecraft Earth, an AR app that overlays the block-like graphics of Microsoft's own game on a user can tear off surroundings through their phone camera.
The free set of building blocks consists of three of the most famous sections of the Wall – the Brandenburg Gate, Mauerpark and Checkpoint Charlie – as well as lesson plans that put the interactive elements in their historical context. The campaigners claim it will be the first educational course to include an element in Minecraft Earth that is popular with children of all ages.
"By using a popular gaming platform, we have made a new generation aware of an overlooked piece of history through the use of AR applications and interactive elements," said Emil Asmussen, Creative Director at Virtue, in a statement. "In addition, by expanding the gaming experience into a fully-fledged teaching module, we have encouraged curiosity and critical reflection on the role of the border walls in our time."
The team spent more than 300 hours in the game collecting the materials and creating a historically accurate representation of each structure that can be shared through a social feature in the app called Buildplates. The finished products can appear in any size from lifelike to small enough to fit on a tabletop, depending on the surface they are projected onto.
The campaign was inspired by the fact that 29% of Germans were born after the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, the border that separated the Soviet Eastern Bloc from the rest of Europe from WWII to the end of the Cold War, I find it hard to understand the meaning capture the moment.
"This is the first time that we have people from all over the world tear down the wall," said Gordon Freiherr von Godin, director of the GDR Museum. "Being an active participant rather than a spectator makes a big difference to younger visitors and attracts their attention in a different way."
AR has seen a surge in popularity with brands and other organizations looking to keep virtually in touch with their customers during the pandemic. Other agencies have also started experimenting with Minecraft as an educational tool: in April, AKQA built an in-game pandemic simulator to teach players how social distancing measures can help prevent the spread of Covid-19.
While the integration with Minecraft Earth is new, the original Minecraft game has already been used for educational purposes, such as recreating the Buddhas of Bamiyan, two monumental statues that stood in Afghanistan for thousands of years before being destroyed by the Taliban in 2001.