On a cold and wintry morning, a group of us gathered inside an ultra-modern building on a field a few miles outside of Stirling. This was our chance to take part in one of Scotland’s most pivotal battles. Though unlike the troops standing in the same place some 700 years ago, we had been invited by The National Trust for Scotland to trial their new 3D Battle of Bannockburn experience.
The Bannockburn visitor centre focuses on bringing the mechanics of medieval war to life through state of the art motion-capture technology similar to the technique used to create the character ‘Gollum’ in The Lord of the Rings saga. This 3D introduction sets the scene for what proved to be one of the most famous battles fought on British soil.
This ‘Prepare for Battle’ area is where visitors can learn about the tactics and choices of Robert the Bruce and King Edward II as they faced each other on the battlefield. In this area you are transported back to 1314, the night before the battle. You can wander between both camps interacting with the real people preparing for battle, while witnessing some of the physical preparations including battle training all surrounded by 270 degree, massive 3D screens. Accounts from historians, the voices of Scottish actors, replica weapons and even the genuine skull of Robert the Bruce have all been used to help create this unique visitor experience. An advisory panel made up of historical experts ensure that the new interpretation is strong and academically sound.
Through a clever use of objects and technology, this is historical interpretation for the 21st century and provides a unique experience for young people and indeed visitors of all ages. Crucially, the technology does not replace traditional interpretation but instead provides an immersive interpretive ‘layer’ for young people who may not be as engaged with traditional museum panels and objects. The historical context of the event is presented through a medium which is immediate, familiar and relevant to them.
‘The Battle Game’
After experiencing some of the sights and sounds of medieval warfare, we had the chance to move on to the highlight of the centre, the ‘Battle game’. Here, we were randomly assigned a rank in either The Bruce’s or Edward’s armies as we stood around a gaming table complete with digital troops and cavalry battalions. Having been assigned the role of The Bruce, I immediately felt the weight of history on my shoulders as I was now responsible for some 6500 troops and most importantly, ensuring the Scottish army was victorious. I confess, I have am no gaming enthusiast and have only used an xbox once or twice but I quickly became immersed in the game, shouting orders at my commanders, selecting field positions and weapons. The ‘Battlemaster’ takes instructions from both leaders on troop movements and when to engage the enemy so alongside troops, the leaders must decide which weapons to use: cavalry, archers, or the formidable ‘schiltron’. Tiny virtual soldiers can be seen advancing, retreating and clashing violently, while computer-generated images of battle. scenes appear and disappear overhead.
The interactive table also lets you see how how many casualties your side is suffering,while the Battlemaster provides the overarching dramatic narrative of what is happening on the ground. Sometimes Bruce’s army wins, sometimes it’s Edward’s. The main aim is to allow visitors a chance to re-create the battle through gaming technology and if my own experience from a non-gamer’s point of view is anything to go by, this ‘Battle Game’ shows just how engaging and exciting learning about history can be particularly for young people, if presented through a relevant and immersive medium like gaming. At the end of my own visit, I was relieved to have led a successful army against Edward and to have sent him home to think again…
The centre is the first major joint project between the National Trust for Scotland and Historic Scotland.
If you would like to find out more about developing your digital learning offer for schools, both onsite and in the classroom, DLNET is organising an event on 4 April which explores formal digital learning resources in gallery, online and in the classroom. Details are available in the events section.
All images are © National Trust for Scotland.