The “Be Washington” theater combines an 18th century-looking space with the latest in display and interactive technology. The room design, inspired by Congress Hall in Philadelphia, contains 18 two-person interactive touchscreen kiosks. Theatrical windows on the left and right of the theater change in color to suit the topic and mood of the scenario while a large 6K resolution LED wall at the front of the room features live-action historical vignettes.
The first-person approach, interactive elements, rich live-action 6K media presentation and time-pressured gameplay are all designed to appeal to millennials and Gen Z participants—guests with very different media expectations than previous generations.
After being introduced to a crisis, visitors must seek advice from historical advisors on their touchscreen monitors in front of them. However, the advisors, such as Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, provide contradictory advice. The visitor must determine how much they agree or disagree with each advisor, which is captured in real-time on the screen at the front of the room. Live-action “dispatches,” which contain new information on the unfolding crisis, interrupt game-play twice during the experience.
One of the greatest challenges for this project was creating an interactive media piece for both an interactive theater with a 6K resolution screen and individual interactive kiosks, as well as an online game you can play individually or with a classroom. The game play and design aesthetic had to be carefully crafted to work in two very different environments. It was also a technical challenge to deliver an experience that would operate independently on two platforms.
Additionally, there was the challenge of audio spill. After testing a variety of solutions, the team decided on a speaker placed inside the 18th century fabricated desks, as close to the interactive screen as possible, so that the visitors’ bodies would block the sound from spilling to others in the theater.
The team measured success through continuously testing every iteration of the media. They also held content comprehension user tests where they brought in children ranging from fourth grade to ninth grade. They asked the children to watch the live-action scenes and then answer content questions in order to assess if the key educational goals were being clearly communicated.
The master version interactive was deployed to the on-site exhibit hardware and thoroughly tested in its final environment. Hardware configuration settings were adjusted to optimize the experience, and the interactive was revised as needed to address site-specific issues.
The experience was also designed in accordance with ADA standards. All text was selected and the color contrast adjusted to ensure legibility for visual impairment. All interactive elements on screen were designed to be accessible for individuals with limited mobility. Jargon and uncommonly used phrases were avoided to increase the ease of understanding of content.
The online version of this media piece is free and accessible to anyone in the world. In fact, the number of people who have played online has exceeded the number of visitors playing on location at Mount Vernon.
"Live-action reenactments are an underrated and under-utilized interpretive tool in history museums, yet they are difficult to pull off tastefully—and without violating visitors’ suspension of disbelief. This project puts well-produced reenactments within an interpretive, gamified framework, challenging visitors to engage with historic characters that are immediate and real, and also engage with each other through a communal, multiplayer experience."
"Wouldn’t that be lovely to change the course of American history for the better? This project gives you that chance."
Mount Vernon: Rob Shenk (project lead); Matt Briney (project lead - media/AV); Doug Bradburn, Joe Stoltz (research, writing); Joe Sliger (physical space lead); John Davis (physical space development); Allison Wickens (education and curriculum development); Mason Shelby (videography); Bert Oltmans (IT); Cheryl Marling (project management), Jessie MacLeod (curatorial)
Cortina Productions (Interactive Experience Design): Joseph Cortina (creative director); Daniella Eguiguren (producer, project manager); Jen Fetsch (senior producer, writer); Brent Feito (assistant director); Felicia Knise (production assistant); Vu Ngo (interactive designer); Katrina Risebergs, Abhishek Ravi (junior interactive designers); Frank Winston, Jeremy Burau (software developers); Jack Livingston (junior software developer); Zain Oberoi, Violet Leonard (software tester); Amanda Scherer (art direction, director of editing and animation); Nick Spiropoulos (senior editor); Andrew Prasse, Nicole Haddock (editors); Alex Kolotos, Ben Fall (assistant editors); Travis Blain (animation, compositing); Lucas Belle, Chris DiNardo (2D animation, compositing); Charlie Kendal (director of photography)
Original Shoot Crew: Joshua Ausley, Donald Aros, Jose del C Martinez, Aaron Johnson, William Iverson, Shawn Baron, Matt Ritterpusch, Gregory Breazeale, Leonard Schmitz, William Pawlowski, Nicole Py, Melissa DeZarate, Donna Krutz Moore, Brian Merrick, Shawn Hambright, Barbara Norkus, Jeremiah Hornbaker, Robert “Mark” Hughes, Eric Butler, Austin Murray, Justin R. Smith, John Koopman, Andre M. Bobb, Kevin R. Hershberger, Christi Owens, Anthony Tyler Grecco, Brennan Wheatley, Guy William Gane
Original Shoot Cast: Joseph Dellinger, Alexander McPherson, Ryan Wesen, James Hawthorn, Brian Kilday, Josh Odess-Rubin, Scott Rittwage, Michael Tapavica, Gavin Peretti, Michael Rezek, Chas Rittenhouse Sr., Brian Schade, Dustin Schlitt, Jeffrey Tew, Stephen Lee Thorton, Kevin Wtzel, Brennan Wheatley, Gerald Jay Babcock, Justin Blocksom, Timothy Brooks, Sean M. Brown, Thompson Dasher, Cody Dillman, Richard T. Fox, James Goucher, James G. Harrison III, Philip Hughes, Ed Mantell, Alexander R. Martin, Tyler Mink, Brandon Nowlan, Christopher Saenz, Thomas Alleman, Scott Czajkowski, Paris Jones
Jim Stokoe/Arch-e-Tel (architect), Wide Awake Films (additional footage)