In late 2020, the NFSA invited 45 students undertaking the Digital Humanities: Theories and Projects course with Dr Terhi Nurmikko-Fuller at the Australian National University (ANU) to explore new, digital ways for audiences to engage with our collection.
We gave them a selection of historic footage from which to develop an engaging digital interactive prototype – a digital experience that demands a level of active participation from the user.
Following this process we green-lit an online game designed by Sophia Booij. The game is an interpretation of the 1913 film Home of the Blizzard by Frank Hurley that documents Sir Douglas Mawson's Australasian Antarctic Expedition of 1911 to 1914. The game contains extraordinary footage of those early Australian explorers and the Antarctic environment from over a century ago.
Sophia edited Hurley’s film into short segments and wrote multiple storylines and endings, inspired by the format of the Choose Your Own Adventure books popular in the 1980s, where the reader progresses the storyline through the choices they make at the bottom of each page.
In Sophia's online game version, the user advances through the story by following hyperlinked options. The aim is to avoid a tragic ending (like those faced by the real explorers of the time) and select a path that leads to both safety and fame.
We were excited by the educational potential of Sophia’s game, which could be a helpful and engaging tool for classroom teachers.
The immersive and entertaining nature of games makes them perfect for the classroom, especially when they are clearly aligned with curriculum outcomes.
We have included pop-up factoids throughout Home of the Blizzard because, while based on historical facts, some of the options involve imaginary events – one ending sees the user eaten alive by a mythological Antarctic monster!
We've also produced a Teachers' Guide with essential information about the expedition, the people (and animals) involved, and the environment.
We supported Sophia user-testing the prototype with Year 5 and 6 teachers and students at The Anglican School Googong, in New South Wales. The response from both teachers and children was very encouraging and we modified the game in line with their feedback.
The NFSA returned to the ANU in 2021 to work with a new group of Digital Humanities students and we are assessing further potential digital interactive projects for future development.
Home of the Blizzard was Highly Commended in the category of Best Digital Learning Experience at the 2022 Museums Australasia Multimedia and Publication Design Awards.