[Game Critique #01] Anne Frank House VR
Game Name: Anne Frank House VR
Designer/Developer: Force Field
Platform: Gear VR & Go, Oculus Quest
Instructional Goal: Documentary & History
Oculus App Store: https://www.oculus.com/experiences/go/1596151970428159/
The narratives of this game are designed based on Tales from the Secret Annex, the famous diary written by Anne Frank when she was hiding from the Nazis during WWII. Therefore, this game includes various learning objectives in fields such as war & world history, social studies, English language and arts, and in dimensions of knowledge, skill, and dispositions. For example, using this VR game, students can learn to
- Use primary source evidence (individuals diary) & analyze cause and consequence
- Establish historical significance & take historical perspectives
- Understand the ethical dimension of history
- Understand the reality and challenges for both Jews and their non-Jewish helpers who hid from and resisted the Nazis
- Understand characteristics of the WWII and Holocaust periods in history
- Make connections between individual life and the historical context
These learning objectives (1–4 adopted from Anne Frank — A History for Today, 5–6 adopted from Anne Frank Introductory Lesson) can be aligned with some national standards (Anne Frank: Facing Hatred, Daring to Dream) including
- Standards for the English Language Arts — International Reading Association/National Council of Teachers of English
- Expectations of Excellence: Curriculum Standards for Social Studies — National Council for the Social Studies
- National Standards for Civics and Government — Center for Civic Education
- National Standards for World History — National Center for History in the Schools
Mechanics: this VR game doesn’t contain any competitive roles like monsters or other players, so the only player is the user in the first-person view, where the players’ controllers are represented as hands in the game. It uses enriched visual design to model the “Secret Annex” of the House where Anne was hiding, and the young female voice (that read Anne’s narrative) or the adult male voice (that serve as a voice-over) audio (and the optional floating text window) includes excerpts of Anne’s diary.
Dynamics (gameplay): the specific furniture or items in the room will be highlighted to guide the player’s attention and provide further instructions. The player needs to walk closer to the item and grab it by using the controller to click on the floor and using the virtual hand to touch that item, and the audio (optional caption) guidance will be triggered. In the story mode, the player can freely explore the room by directly walking or turning their heads or by using the controller, but they cannot leave the room before finish exploring all trigger-able items.
Player experiences: in the story mode (about 20 minutes), after the introduction made by a male voice, the player will be guided by the female voice on a tour in the “Secret Annex” of the House. Finally, the same male voice gives the ending remark. The selection of narratives in this game especially triggers the player’s empathy and ethical reflections, and the visual & audio design all contribute to it. Out of the 8 common aesthetic elements in the MDA framework, the sensation, fantasy, narrative, fellowship, discovery, and submission aspects are all very well-portrayed.
Several learning science principles seem compatible with the game, but some seem to be contradictory.
Modality principle: Verbal descriptions presented in audio > in written form
The narrative voice-over is very effective in the game, player don’t need to read the caption and can explore the room while listening.
Multimedia: Graphics + verbal descriptions > verbal descriptions alone
This VR game has very rich graphics & audio as a combination, and the design all contribute to an immersive, realistic learning environment. For example, when the verbal narrative describes how much they suffer from keeping quiet and hiding, the voice-over sounds like a whisper, the room looks uncomfortably tiny, the environmental noises also build up the nervous atmosphere.
Anchored learning: Real-world problems > abstract problems
This game is based on a real personal diary and reflects real history, which makes it much easier to relate to compared to some abstract or made-up historical problems.
Questioning: Time for reflection & questioning > instruction alone
Triggering the narratives need players to turn around the rooms, so there’s built-in time for the player to explore and reflect on what they’ve seen.
Signaling: Provide cues for how to process the material to reduce the processing of extraneous material.
The triggerable items will be highlighted, the foot position and hand position also have cues so people know how to move and what to explore intuitively.
Synchronizing: Present narration and corresponding animation simultaneously to minimize the need to hold representations in memory.
The caption and voice-over are synchronized, so the player knows where the voice is reading without having to find the location in a large chunk of text themselves.
Eliminating redundancy: Avoid presenting identical streams of printed and spoken words.
Both caption and voice-over are provided, which is repetitive in a sense, but students are not forced to look at the caption so it should be ok.
Coherence: Extraneous words, pictures, sounds excluded > included
In terms of reducing extraneous cognitive load, this game isn’t doing a good job, most of the visual experiences are not related to the history learning objective, but this “extraneous” information is critical for creating an immersive virtual environment, so it is a tricky principle to consider.
All above principles are adopted from the lists Instructional Complexity Principles (Koedinger, Booth & Klahr, 2013) and Multi-Media Learning Principles (Mayer & Moreno, 2003).
In summary, I believe this game is likely to succeed as a game, but may not be too effective in terms of producing transferable educational outcomes as a learning experience. The gameplay of Anne Frank House VR is very smooth and visually enjoyable; the experience is very immersive, as the visual (color, size, interior design) & audio (environment noises & background music) are both very rich and realistic, and the first person view and the semi-freedom of exploration encourage participation.
However, not much of the game design was aiming for WWII history content knowledge, nor was any instructional principles aligned with the knowledge learning. Nonetheless, this game focus on triggering emotion and empathy, and the historical thinking and perspective-taking abilities can be improved, so learners/players will definitely feel the difficulties Jewish people encountered in WWII, and better understand the historical context from an individual lens.
WWII history lesson plan designs using Anne Frank’s story:
- Anne Frank — A History for Today School Program Teacher’s Guide
- Anne Frank: Facing Hatred, Daring to Dream. A Unit of Study for Grades 6–9
- Anne Frank Introductory Lesson Teachers’ Manual
Kenneth R Koedinger, Julie L Booth, and David Klahr. 2013. Instructional Complexity and the Science to Constrain It. Science 342, 6161: 935–937.
Richard E. Mayer and Roxana Moreno. 2003. Nine Ways to Reduce Cognitive Load in Multimedia Learning. Educational Psychologist 38, 1: 43–52.