May 4, 2008

Oakland Blues: Virtual Preservation of Seventh Street's Jazz Scene, more about educational gaming MMO's

I recently attended the Visualization in the World Symposium sponsored by the Charlotte Visualization Center at UNC-Charlotte. I enjoyed the symposium because the presentations were interdisciplinary, drawing from fields such as psychology, architecture, journalism, scientific visualization, data visualization, and photography.

The audience consisted of people from a variety of disciplines. This added dimension to the discussions after each presentation, eliminating the "birds of a feather" feeling experienced at conferences that are narrow in focus.

Yahuda Kalay's presention:

One of the presentations was about the on-line interactive virtual preservation of Oakland California's 7th Street from the 1950's, a center of jazz at the time. The project was the result of collaboration between the Architecture and Journalism departments at the University of California-Berkeley. Preserving cultural heritage is important, but proves to be a difficult task. Digital media can assist with this problem through the use of modeling and visualization.

Because the project was designed to be used by people via the interent, decisions needed to be made regarding the quality of the graphics, since many users would not have high-end graphics cards installed in their computers. Garage Game's Torque engine was used to develop the game, because it contained a physics engine and also supported players and non-player characters (NPC), or virtual characters. The NPC's were programmed to provide interactive dialogues with players, and each NPC's dialogue contributed to telling the story of 7th street.

Below is the course description from a recent journalism class at UC-Berkeley that used the Oakland's 7th street videogame for many of the course assignments. It looks like it could be easily adapted for high school courses:

"J-298: Oakland Jazz and Blues (Spring 2008)This class is using a video game program to recreate and tell the story of the jazz and blues club scene on Oakland's 7th Street during its heyday in the 1940s and 1950s - a remarkable part of the city's history that has been all but lost to urban decay. An eight-block stretch of 7th Street is being recreated as a virtual world, which people can access over the Internet and then adopt avatar figures to walk up and down the streets, enter the clubs, listen to the music of the era and interact with other people logged onto the site. The virtual reality program used in the class was developed by the UC Berkeley Architecture Department, which is collaborating on this year-long project. This class involves reporting and research on the stories of the clubs and other establishments on 7th Street, the musicians and other characters who frequented the scene, the music played in the clubs, and the redevelopment projects that destroyed the area. And the class will work on how to tell the story of the clubs and the history of the area using video game narratives."

Further Reading:

OAKLAND BLUES. Virtual Preservation of Seventh Street's 1950s Jazz Scene by Yehuda E. Kalay and Paul Grabowicz, Center for New Media, University of California, Berkeley, USA JISC 3DVisA Bulletin, Issue 1, September 2006

RELATED: New Media Consortium

The New Media Consortium's overview of interactive virtual worlds used for education provides information about a variety of projects and the time-frames in which they will become fully implemented. It also provides an overview of massively multiplayer educational gaming, with resources for further reading. The NASA MMO project to support STEM learning is an example massively multi-player educational gaming.

I am excited about these innovations, since they will provide visual learners with educational opportunities that are suited to how they learn.

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