Courtroom 600

Courtroom 600: A Virtual Reality Encounter with Evidence of the Holocaust

 

Courtroom 600 is a headset-based virtual reality (VR) time-travel mission that challenges adult players to investigate Holocaust history in relation to the Trial of the Major War Criminals, which was held before the International Military Tribunal (IMT) in Courtroom 600 of the Justizpalast in Nuremberg, Germany (1945-46). With the aid of an archivist-guide and feedback loops that support a leveling-up of mastery, individuals journey back through time and across various historic locations to collect, analyze, and contextualize court documents, maps, photographs, objects, and other primary sources related to the Holocaust as perpetrated and experienced in the Occupied Eastern Territories.

Supported by an NEH Digital Projects for the Public Discovery Grant , an international board of scholarly advisors met with the UConn team in Summer of 2019 as part of Greenhouse Studios’ iterative design process. The group reviewed early-stage concepts and discussed issues surrounding the adaptation of serious historical subject matter to this digital medium.

External and UConn advisors, including colleagues from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Memorium Nürnberger Prozesse, and The Museum of Jewish Civilization, deliberated with the Courtroom 600 team in Summer of 2019 as part of Greenhouse Studios’ iterative design process.

Next Step: Prototyping 

The first mission, now being prototyped, begins as the player enters the Nuremberg Trials Memorial/ Memorium Nürnberger Prozesse and encounters the courtroom as it is today. Soon, however, they are journeying back through time and across various historic locations to collect, analyze, and piece together information from a curated set of artifacts related to the Holocaust as perpetrated and experienced, particularly in the Reichskommissariat Ukraine, under the administration of Alfred Rosenberg, Reich Minister for the Occupied Eastern Territories.

From IMT documentation of Rosenberg’s crimes to maps, photographs, occupation currency, ID cards, and other objects, these primary sources—the puzzle pieces of the experience—are drawn into the VR environment in real-time from the fully digitized IMT papers of executive trial counsel Thomas J. Dodd, which are held by the University of Connecticut’s Archives and Special Collections (ASC), and, soon, from the extensive online repository of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM).

Themes relevant to this specific history include Germanization, forced labor, resource extraction, and mass shootings as well as Jewish resistance, modes of cultural survivance, escape, and ongoing efforts to understand the Holocaust in Eastern Europe. The accumulated information from the sources, together with immersive contextualizing experiences and guidance from the archivist-guide nonplayer character (NPC), unlocks eyewitness stories—based on based on oral histories of survivors and of participants in the prosecution—that are at the heart of this serious game’s mission to foster awareness foster awareness of the human impacts and legacies of IMT and Holocaust history for a digital generation.

As recent reports indicate, broad cultural knowledge of the Holocaust in the U.S. may be in decline among younger generations even as misinformation and outright denial of historical facts—including the evidence presented at Nuremberg—continue to proliferate online. Courtroom 600 aims to engage 18- to 34-year-olds who are among the 65% percent of U.S. adults who play video games. Complex interrelated narratives that unfold across time and space, while demanding skills acquisition and mastery, are not only core features of the proposed Courtroom 600 experience, they are also common and highly valued aspects of games.

Research with Broad Implications for Digital Public Humanities 

Attendee at 2020 ED Games Expo, a showcase of government-supported educational learning games and technologies, explores an early Courtroom 600 proof-of-concept.

In addition to developing new open-source software that allows materials in online repositories to be rendered and “handled” in Unity3D environments, the project’s interdisciplinary team of game developers, historians, instructional designers, archivists, and design technologists is also interrogating methodological, ethical, and practical issues raised by using headset-based interactive VR as a medium for history telling and learning. Questions currently being researched include: how the mixed temporal frames of VR “time travel” impact historical understanding; how to deliver sufficient context in an interactive experience; what safeguards are needed to curb misuse of content by “bad actors”; and how to ethically handle visual representations of traumatic themes and perpetrators in a 3D digital context where the emotional impacts of virtual embodiment are not yet well understood.

Courtroom 600 research is supported by a National Endowment for the Humanities Digital Projects for the Public Discovery Grant, a University of Connecticut School of Fine Arts Dean’s Grant and funding from The Dodd Center and the UConn Office of Global Affairs.

 

Courtroom 600 in the News:


Project Team: 

  1. Clarissa Ceglio / Associate Director, Greenhouse Studios
  2. Greg Colati / Assistant University Librarian for University Archives, Special Collections & Digital Curation
  3. Tom Lee / Design Technologist, Greenhouse Studios
  4. Avinoam Patt / Doris and Simon Konover Chair of Judaic Studies and Director, Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life
  5. Stephen T. Slota / Assistant Professor-in-Residence of Educational TechnologyDepartment of Educational Psychology, Neag School of Education jointly with the Digital Media and Design Department
  6. Graham Stinnett / Archivist for Human Rights and Alternative Press Collections
  7. Ken Thompson / Assistant Professor, Digital Media and Design Department
  8. Graduate and Undergraduate student researchers in game design, Digital Media & Design Department

Current Phase in the Design Process