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History Comes to Life In “East of the Rockies” – an AR Experience of Japanese Internment in Canada

The augmented reality experience is the fruit of the joint efforts of Jam3 design agency, author Joy Kogawa, and the National Film Board of Canada.

The past comes to life in vivid details in East of the Rockies – an augmented reality experience about a dark episode in Canadian history. The AR experience follows the story of Yuki, a Japanese teenager forced to live in an internment camp during the 1940s. Inspired by author Joy Kogawa’s books, it became an interactive experience with the help of design and experience agency Jam3 and The National Film Board of Canada.

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Historical Facts Shared Via an AR Experience

East of the Rockies immerses users in the world of Japanese internment camps during World War II. The story of the main character, Yuki, and her family is inspired by Joy Kogawa’s novels Obasan and Itsuka. These books tell the story of Japanese citizens’ persecution by being removed from their homes and sent to internment camps.

East of the rockies AR experience
Guests of Haru Matsuri Spring Festival in Toronto had a chance this weekend to experience East of the Rockies.

Kogawa is happy that Jam3 and NFB joined efforts to popularize this topic among people all over the world. “I’m grateful that this little story in Canada is not going to be lost. There are so many stories that are lost, that ought not to be, so it’s a wonderful thing to see it happening here in this way. I think it’s very exciting to be at the beginning of this kind of thing, how lucky is that?” the author said.

Understanding the Plight of Japanese Citizens through an Interactive App

The augmented reality experience allows users to interact with the character and explore the AR model of Slocan Internment Camp. They can tap, zoom in and inspect various areas and listen to Yuki’s explanations. Kogawa’s granddaughter, Anne Canute, gives voice to the character and offers detailed narratives of various aspects of life in an internment camp.

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Jam3 design agency created a detailed AR reproduction of the camp and the interactive character. “By using immersive storytelling in East of the Rockies, we can educate a brand new audience with a learn-through-gameplay experience. In working with Joy, we’ve been able to show what life was like when the Canadian government exiled the Japanese community. Sometimes to move forward as a society, we must look back and acknowledge past injustices – we hope that this is a platform for reflection,” explained Dirk Van Ginkel, Jam3 Creative Director.

A Separate AR Experience for Students

The project developed by Jam3, Kogawa and NFB includes a special learning kit for students. The NFB Education kit contains various questions and scenarios. They are designed to help students understand what Japanese citizens in  Canada experienced in internment camps. Rob McLaughlin, Executive Producer at NFB stated that the AR experience and learning kit represent “an intergenerational story of love, loss, injustice and healing”.

He believes that East of the Rockies will lead to a better understanding of the past in the context of the present socio-political debates about identity and race.

Guests of Haru Matsuri Spring Festival in Toronto experiencing East of the Rockies AR app.
Guests of Haru Matsuri Spring Festival in Toronto had a chance this weekend to experience East of the Rockies.

Technical Details and Availability of East of the Rockies

The augmented reality experience of Canadian internment camps is available only for Apple devices. It is compatible with iPhone and iPad devices running iOS 12, including iPhone 6s and newer, iPad (5th generation) and all iPad Pro models.

Key features of the AR app are:

  • Augmented reality storytelling;
  • Playing modes with or without AR controls;
  • Proximity based interactions;
  • 3D audio design;
  • Learner kit available in English and French.

The AR app has been launched on the App Store on March 1 and will be free for a limited time. After five days of being live on the app store, East of the Rockies was downloaded approximately 14,000 times. At the time of writing, the app is #5 in the education category. You can find the learning kit here.



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