The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam is looking to bring the story of the teenage girl who wrote Diary of a Young Girl, which was later published as The Diary of Anne Frank, to virtual reality (VR) users all over the world. VR-related organizations like VR Society and VR Bound have already seen fit to include this title on their awards shortlists.
The game places players in an avatar created for them, with which they will discover the apartment where Frank and her family were hidden by people who helped persecuted Jews during World War II. This way of experiencing a building that has become a memorial site after so many years highlights one of the main issues surrounding historical preservation in what used to be the Nazi-occupied Netherlands.
The majority of the interactions are inspection-based, with players being able to look at almost everything inside the house to find out more about Anne Frank and her family members. However, there are some other activities included as well, including taking a peek through the keyholes in order to see what used to be on the other side of them back when everyone had fled.
As for its educational value, it appears that only context comes from reading The Diary of Anne Frank itself or watching films or documentaries that rely on it as one of their main resources. There is no narration whatsoever, which may be disconcerting for those who are new to this particular history lesson. On top of that, comments found on YouTubevideos from those who have played the game can either be ecstatic or very harsh, depending on how satisfied they were with their experience playing it.
Editor’s note: The ‘other activities’ mentioned in the review only become available after a certain amount of time exploring the apartment has been spent. There is not a single activity that benefits from going into detail about what is on top of every cupboard, etc.
There are several choices for locomotion within the virtual space, including teleportation and active touchpad movement, but sadly quite a few common VR issues persist even if players decide to go with the latter option. For example, sometimes turning left causes them to teleport forward instead due to an apparent loss of spatial orientation control over their character for a few seconds.
The visuals are good but not great, especially when it comes to the people that would have once lived in the house. The lack of facial expressions, lip-syncing or even eye movement makes it difficult for players to look at them and know what they are feeling at any given time during conversations with each other. However, their limited movements can be explained due to how much stricter building regulations were back when Frank was still alive. Also worth mentioning is that voice acting appears to be very well done in this game.
As far as content goes, there are parts in Anne Frank House VR that may make younger players shiver after spending some time trying to imagine what life must have been like for the Franks while living in fear every day. However, in order to keep a good balance between EDUCATIONAL and ENTERTAINING, this sort of content must be kept at a minimum in order not to make the experience feel like an interactive horror story instead of an educational one.
In conclusion, Anne Frank House VR is an interesting project for those who want to make the most out of the freedom that virtual reality offers when it comes to interacting with environments from past decades or even centuries. In fact, learning about what life was like for Jewish people during World War II can be made easier by visiting this particular house through means other than going there in real life thanks to the increased sense of presence that this title brings with its immersive visuals and sounds.