Context 168 - June 2021

C O N T E X T 1 6 8 : J U N E 2 0 2 1 27 DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY that process.We also engage in archival research, collating photographs, video, government documents, newspaper articles, memoirs and ephemeral materials. Our intention is to find a way to make all this material, and what it says about the importance of such heritage, comprehensible to the plan- ners, architects and urban designers who are concurrently planning a major public realm rejuvenation scheme in the same area. While we are exploring a number of ways in which the information can be effectively communi- cated, one area of focus has been video game technology. The medium provides the means to recreate the historic built environment in three dimensions but, more important, it offers a way of transmitting emotional connection to space through immersive storytelling. The city of Derry is rightly viewed as a place with a rich heritage. It is the only completely walled city in Ireland. The 17th-century walls and the largely intact historic streetscape within attract significant numbers of tourists. The dark tourism trend has also had a major impact in recent years, sparking a small Troubles tour guide industry. When we embarked on our research, the intention was to explore the history of everyday life in the city before, during and after the conflict (commonly understood to have lasted from 1968 to 1998). Everyday life in Derry after 1968 was bound up with violence and trauma. The same street corner could evoke fond memories of someone playing with marbles as a child, then later being referenced in the same interview as the site of a fatal shooting. Interviewees did not consciously offer such jux- tapositions as something that might interest us as researchers, but the blurring of lines between the wholesome and the traumatic illustrates how everyday interaction between people and their physical environment encompasses a spectrum of experiences that inflect urban heritage in different ways. Derry industrialised and grew rapidly in the 19th century. A flourishing textile industry attracted masses of workers from rural areas, who required housing. The story is similar to that of any industrialising city. Residential areas grew in a pattern of gridiron terraced streets. Living conditions and public health were poor. The terraced streets of areas like the Bogside and Fountain formed largely self-contained, tightly knit communities. Shops, services, schools, churches, work and leisure were all within walk- ing distance. Most of the terraces were cleared and replaced with modernist housing as part of major regeneration schemes during the 1960s and 1970s. There is an element of rose-tinted nostalgia about open doors and the ability to borrow a cup of sugar from neighbours on the terraced streets, but this also represents a shared experience of poverty and pride in working-class culture. Interviewees spoke with sadness about the loss of a sense of community after the clearances, but they also demonstrated a hard-nosed realism about the necessity for modernisation. After all, campaigns against overcrowding and sub- standard housing partly drove the civil rights movement of the 1960s. 1 An interesting element of the oral history interviews we carried out with residents and former residents of inner-city neighbourhoods was how people related everyday experience in spatial terms. The existing built fabric was bound up with memories of places that no longer exist physically, and contrasts between the two iterations of the neighbourhood were offered to demonstrate the devastating impact of urban design that was divorced from the lived experi- ence of the space. Stories were related about people turning inwards, communities becoming fractured, and access to services becoming so difficult that some older people began to stay indoors permanently. It is difficult to represent the impact of these changes with authenticity. We first considered building a virtual environment that allowed people to walk the old streets in an immersive virtual reality experience. When the impact of the pandemic began to be more acutely felt, we quickly shelved the idea of using virtual reality headsets, which would have had to be shared by users at public events. The concept of using a traditional video game platform to represent the space became appealing. A virtual environment could be created, but users would interact with it on screen, rather than through a headset. The reduced costs of this approach allowed us to begin exploring how we could more creatively represent the emotional impact of the extant memory and destruction of the space. We are now in the process of developing a game in conjunction with a development company (Cupboard Games) which brought with it a freshness of approach that completely changed our view of how we could best represent the space virtually. Cupboard Games’ idea was to emphasise a narrative element in the game 1 It is also vitally important to understand the impact of the sectarian divide in the city, and how issues like political discrimination, gerrymandering and violence affected the lives of residents. See Bob Purdie (1990) Politics in the Streets: the origins of the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland, Belfast . Chapter 5, ‘Derry and its Action Committees’ is available at https:// cain.ulster. ac.uk/ events/crights/ purdie/ purdie90_ chap5.pdf.The Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN) is the most authoritative source of information available on the Northern Ireland conflict: see https:// cain.ulster.ac.uk A recreation of a steep terraced street in development for the game. The images are being used as a guide for the 3D artist to design and render the virtual buildings and spaces.

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