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Vrije Vogels

Vrije Vogels (‘Free Birds’) is a location-based museum game about freedom for children aged 8-12 and their families. It was commissioned by the Dutch Museum Association to celebrate the 70th anniversary of liberation of the Netherlands in World War II. Designed to be played in liberation and resistance museums across the country, the first release is deployed at Airborne Museum ‘Hartenstein’.

Vrije Vogels screenshot

The game is an IOS app running on an iPad. Players share a device as they explore the museum. The game responds to their location using iBeacon technology. When they visit particular locations in the museum, game characters reach out to them on the iPad through calls and chats. Players respond to characters by selecting conversation options and by taking photos of what they see in the museum.

The game’s world is a mirror of contemporary Dutch society, only less free. All the game’s characters are anthropomorphised animals drawn in a ‘ligne claire’ art style reminiscent of Hergé. The main character, Katja, is a journalist reporting on events. She enlists the help of the players to resolve moral dilemmas and make decisions on how best to achieve change through the stories she writes. Other recurring characters include Frank, an activist street artist and a member of an oppressed group within society, and Wolfsen, a police officer.

Vrije Vogels concept model

For example: When players have entered the Airborne Museum, Katja calls them and shows a neighbourhood being vacated by the authorities. They say it is because of safety concerns related to nearby construction work but she isn’t convinced. She asks players what they think of the situation. After they tell her, she requests they go find and photograph a display in the museum of a sign saying “forbidden to enter Arnhem”, from back when the German occupier had forcibly evicted the occupants of Arnhem from their homes. She asks the players a question about the history of the display, and then asks them once again what they think of the situation. Based on the players’ answers she creates a story and publishes it. Players are then shown the outcome of the in-game situation. The occupants of the neighbourhood being vacated due to safety concerns can choose to cooperate with the authorities, or resist, or do other things. It depends on the players’ choices.

Vrije Vogels mood board

The game takes players through a number of such situations and in this way links contemporary cases of oppression with historical examples from WWII. The cases are tied together with an ‘arc’ involving the efforts of the police to control Katja’s speech.

Vrije Vogels screenshot

Vrije Vogels is a slightly subversive game which operationalises the somewhat abstract concept of freedom, in particular freedom of the press and freedom of expression. It facilitates intergenerational play. Children discuss moral dilemmas with their parents and grandparents as they collective explore the museum and play the game. By playing Vrije Vogels they learn that sometimes, to fight for freedom, courage is required.