The rich history of the Isle of Iona will be brought to life for school children around the world through an interactive free video game developed by the University of Aberdeen in partnership with Hyper Luminal Games Ltd.
Tales of Iona (www.talesofiona.com) will launch at the 2016 May Festival on Thursday May 26 and is one of the highlights of a packed Schools’ and Children’s programme.
Despite its small size, Iona in the Inner Hebrides has played a pivotal role in both Scottish and Irish heritage.
It is the symbolic centre of Scottish Christianity and through 1400 years of history its fortunes have fluctuated, from its heights as one of the greatest centres of learning in Dark Age Europe, to its lows as a crumbling ruin.
Iona's fame began in 563 AD when Columba, with thirteen followers, landed at the south end of the island, at St Columba's Bay, to establish a monastery; and it continues to be revered as a holy place and as a centre for pilgrimage to this day.
To connect new generations to this important past, researchers in the University of Aberdeen’s School of Education were tasked with conveying the island’s sense of ‘mystery, wonder and richness’ to audiences around the world by the Iona Cathedral Trust.
“The Scottish Curriculum for Excellence places a particular emphasis on Scotland’s cultural heritage and identity, something which makes Iona a rich focus area,” said project leader Dr David Smith, a Lecturer in Education at the University of Aberdeen.
“But part of what makes Iona special is its unique atmosphere and we wanted pupils to be able to really experience this and interact with what they were seeing.
“We concluded that the best way to immerse them in the ‘Iona experience’ was to create a video game, built on sound educational principles, so we collaborated with a spin-out company from Abertay University:, Hyper Luminal Games Ltd.
“The result is an innovative and free game-based learning experience for upper Primary and lower Secondary learners.”
The game, Tales of Iona, is led by a ‘spooky’ monk figure who guides gamers through learning challenges set against a backdrop featuring many of Iona’s landmarks, such as Iona Abbey and its Library.
Dr Smith continues: “Tales of Iona incorporates both puzzles to improve players’ thinking skills and key information about the history and heritage of Iona, which is embedded in the game’s narrative.
“The Iona Abbey Library, a place of learning through the centuries, provides the virtual entry point through which gamers can learn about Columba and pilgrimage. Beyond this, the game seeks to spark curiosity and to support interdisciplinary learning.
“We realised at an early stage of the project that Iona’s story could not be placed in pigeon holes or neat curriculum areas, or restricted to Religious and Moral Education alone. Rather, there were meaningful connections that could be made across the curriculum, for example in Expressive Arts, through illuminated manuscripts, through to Modern Studies, which could be seen in Iona’s stories of nuclear disarmament and community-based explorations of social justice.”
The response from pupils at Aberdeen Grammar School who tested the game proved positive. Blair McGinigal, a second year pupil said: “I very much enjoyed playing this game as it was fun and the graphics were very impressive. I learnt a lot from the puzzles and the story. The game became more enjoyable and believable as it was slightly eery and creepy at points. I feel that the game is exceptionally good and I enjoyed it very much.”
Meg Stanger, a fellow second year pupil added: “I felt this helped me learn more than if someone was just telling me what happened on the Island of Iona, because I could work through it independently and at my own pace. I really liked all of the tasks and games you had to complete, because I found some of them very hard and challenging and some others were a bit easier.”
Today pupils from Middleton Park Primary School will get to grips with the game at the May Festival. Primary 7 pupil Nathan Landsborough said: “I’m very excited to be at the launch of Tales of Iona because it will be a great learning opportunity about the cultural heritage of Scotland”
Head teacher Jenny Watson added: “It is fantastic to see digital technology being used to engage our young pupils to in exciting learning opportunities about the rich cultural heritage of Iona.”
Chairman of the Iona Cathedral Trust, the Very Rev Dr Finlay Macdonald, said: “Having themselves engaged with Tales of Iona, the Trustees are delighted with the outcome of their commission. The Trustees hope that Tales of Iona will provide a useful and enjoyable resource for schools, church groups and others who seek to learn more about Scotland’s Christian heritage.”
Tales of Iona will be officially launched at the University of Aberdeen’s May Festival on Thursday 26 May 2016 as a part of the Schools’ Programme.