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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.