Tech in Action: NFB uses AR to connect with students

A story about living through Japanese internment creatively utilizes interactive tech to better engage its young audience.

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The National Film Board (NFB) is utilizing augmented reality and gamification to make a story about Canada’s history of Japanese internment during World War II better resonate with young people.

“East of the Rockies” was created in collaboration with agency Jam3 and author Joy Kogawa, taking elements and inspiration from her acclaimed novels Obasan and Itsuka, to craft the story of Yuki, a 17-year-old girl living in the Slocan internment camp during World War II. Media Dimensions is the media agency.

The app, available for iOS, projects scenes and characters from the camp onto whatever environment the user is in, allowing them to zoom in, inspect and interact with the environment. This not only allows them to advance the story, but get better educated about the persecution of Japanese-Canadians during the war.

Dirk Van Ginkel, CD at Jam3, says creating an immersive experience and utilizing gameplay elements helps it reach and educate “a brand new audience” and create moments of reflection to acknowledge injustices in Canada’s past.

Launching earlier this month, the app was downloaded 14,000 times in its first five days, reaching #5 in the App Store’s education category. The NFB is also offering an education kit for teachers, allowing them to pose questions and scenarios to high school students and help them go deeper into the things people experienced at internment camps.

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This is the latest example of Jam3 and the NFB collaborating on an interactive documentary. In 2012, the two organizations created Bear71, which used real-time elements to examine wildlife in Banff National Park. It would go on to be recognized at the Webby Awards, Digi Awards and with a Gold Lion at Cannes, and was re-released in 2017 in virtual reality.