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THE SERICUM VIA: A Serious Game for Preserving Tangible and Intangible Heritage of Iran

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Abstract and Figures

Efforts to preserve cultural heritage have continued throughout history, and currently use game technology. Serious games, with their audio-visual features make it possible for players to absorb and retain the often rather arid data of heritage. Furthermore, such technology facilitates the transmission of heritage globally amongst remote people, without the need to commute personally. Exploring the literature, we noted a lack of local game culture in Iran, and in the Middle East more broadly. This region is limited in terms of the existing global game industry, and the introduction of its culture to the world depends on the global market. This ascertains the paper's research problem: the need for more local games in the field to promote local historical culture. Hence, the paper aims to preserve and disseminate the tangible and intangible cultural heritage of its focus area, Iran’s Silk Roads and its caravanserais, by developing and testing a serious game named The Sericum Via. It has a non-linear narrative, engaging the player in a long journey visiting the Safavid caravanserais on the Silk Roads, using their detailed information. The game's text-based and strategic environment demands decision-making skills throughout the game and is challenging enough to make the player revisit the game frequently.
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//////// Cairo, Egypt
///// March 2-4, 2021
// VIRTUAL CONFERENCE
// 9th International Conference
// of the Arab Society for
// Computer Aided
// Architectural Design
https://www.facebook.com/ascaad
PROCEEDINGS
9th International Conference
of the Arab Society for
Computer Aided Architectural Design
Edited by
Sherif Abdelmohsen | Tamer El-Khouly | Zaki Mallasi | Amar Bennadji
https://www.linkedin.com/company/ascaad
Architecture in the Age of
Disruptive Technologies
Transformation and Challenges
ASCAAD 2021
D1P2S3 COMPUTATIONAL ENCULTURATION I 306 | ASCAAD 2021
THE SERICUM VIA
A Serious Game for Preserving Tangible and Intangible Heritage of Iran
SARVIN ESHAGHI, SEPEHR VAEZ AFSHAR
Faculty of Architecture, Department of Landscape Architecture,
Istanbul Technical University
Email address: eshaghi18@itu.edu.tr
Email address: afshar19@itu.edu.tr
AND
GÜZDEN VARINLIOĞLU
İzmir University of Economics/İstanbul Technical University
Email address: guzdenv@gmail.com
Abstract. Efforts to preserve cultural heritage have continued
throughout history, and currently use game technology. Serious
games, with their audio-visual features make it possible for players to
absorb and retain the often rather arid data of heritage. Furthermore,
such technology facilitates the transmission of heritage globally
amongst remote people, without the need to commute personally.
Exploring the literature, we noted a lack of local game culture in Iran,
and in the Middle East more broadly. This region is limited in terms of
the existing global game industry, and the introduction of its culture to
the world depends on the global market. This ascertains the paper's
research problem: the need for more local games in the field to
promote local historical culture. Hence, the paper aims to preserve and
disseminate the tangible and intangible cultural heritage of its focus
area, Iran’s Silk Roads and its caravanserais, by developing and
testing a serious game named The Sericum Via. It has a non-linear
narrative, engaging the player in a long journey visiting the Safavid
caravanserais on the Silk Roads, using their detailed information. The
game's text-based and strategic environment demands decision-
making skills throughout the game and is challenging enough to make
the player revisit the game frequently.
Keywords. Digital Heritage; serious game; the Silk Roads; Iran; caravanserais.
THE SERICUM VIA: A SERIOUS GAME FOR PRESERVING TANGIBLE AND
INTANGIBLE HERITAGE OF IRAN
307 | ASCAAD 2021 D1P2S3 COMPUTATIONAL ENCULTURATION I
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1. Introduction
Cultural heritage, which is the inheritance from previous generations, both
tangible, such as ancient objects or buildings, and intangible, such as skills,
traditions, and knowledge, is in danger of perishing, and should be preserved
for the sake of future generations (Marnerides et al., 2020). While efforts are
made to protect the tangible heritage by moving items to museums, the
intangible traditions and ceremonies become lost (Kalay, 2007). Fortunately,
the emergence of novel digital media makes it possible to gather this
threatened heritage into a database (Manovich, 2001). It is then possible to
harmonize these data as a rational narrative via digital media, facilitating the
storage of large amounts of data. Regarding cultural heritage, being able to
digitalize the environments and artifacts makes it possible to manipulate
them spatially and temporally. As a great implemented sample of the issue,
The Pure Land exhibition providing the visitor a 1:1 scale experience of
cave 220 and all its wall-paintings located in China on the Silk Roads, is
preserving the cultural heritage via the new media (Kenderdine, 2013).
Overall, the new technologies' influence changes the practice of
preservation, although the fundamental task remains the same (Kalay, 2007).
Games are one type of new media that immerse their players in a virtual
world. With the increasing use of gaming in everyday life, the notion of
gamification is commonly used in real-world activities such as work and
education. Serious or educational games are examples of how game-based
learning is fast becoming a popular trend beyond leisure time (Anderson et
al., 2009; Becker, 2007; De Freitas and Liarokapis, 2011). According to De
Freitas and Liarokapis’ (2011), gaming's educational ability is due to its
S. ESHAGHI, S. AFSHAR, G. VARINLIOĞLU
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audiovisual nature, which supports the process of data absorption into the
memory.
Regarding the games' teaching capacity, they could also be used to
convey cultural heritage and provide players with comprehensive data
through engagement with the material within the game’s interface. Mortara
et al. (2014) declare that games' virtual worlds can permit a wide range of
people to enjoy cultural heritage remotely, in terms of space and time.
Additionally, due to their transitional nature, games can migrate within
various cultures, and are an outstanding sample of cultural globalization,
providing cross-cultural encounters (Šisler et al., 2017). However, according
to Šisler et al. (2017), the global game industry is limited to certain game
market regions, and in others, local game production is underdeveloped.
This paper demonstrates the role of educational digital games in
preserving the cultural heritage and globally disseminating specifically Iran's
heritage through the design and testing of the Sericum Via game. In
determining the best possible type of game for this purpose, we considered
issues such as the target group and the players' desired outcomes. To
understand these issues, we conducted a broad literature review about the
previous work, in terms of educational games and games about Iran and the
Silk Roads, and analyzed many existing games on similar topics.
2. Literature Review
Regarding previous educational games, there is a wide range of studies. The
Oregon Trail was developed to teach elementary students about the realities
and challenges of 19th-century pioneer life on the Oregon Trail and has been
played almost for two decades from the mid-1980s and appears in almost all
studies on this topic (Becker, 2007; Bigelow, 1997; Caftori and Paprzycki,
1997; Kane, 2020; Regalado, 2017; Slater, 2017). According to Bigelow
(1997), these sorts of games are like an encyclopedia in terms of the
knowledge amount and interdisciplinarity they provide, and are interactive
due to the choices they offer to the players. Respecting the previous studies,
Regalado (2017) assessed students’ learning, resulting from the use of The
Oregon Trail game, and Kane (2020) used a currently developed game
named The Silk Road, using the same rules as this game, for the same
purpose. Another noteworthy sample about the cultural heritage and the
digital world engagement is The Museum of Gamers by Aydin and Schnabel
(2017). They provide a digital museum experience of Kashgar, a historical
town located on the silk roads, by connecting two online games using
various device types. Also, an internet search on the Silk Roads and
caravanserais revealed a number of games including Silkroad Online, Silk
Road Match 3, Caravanserail, and Caravan.
THE SERICUM VIA: A SERIOUS GAME FOR PRESERVING TANGIBLE AND
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Regarding the game industry in Iran, according to Šisler (2013), the
research focused on the Middle Eastern games is limited, due mainly to the
lack of game production in this region. Hence, local players are dependent
on the main game industry areas. Also instanced in this study are the games
Garshasp, Mir Mahna, and Age of Pahlevans, dealing with Iranian
mythology and history. Additionally, some educational games are also
mentioned by Šisler et al. (2017), such as the adventure game Nouruz, My
Homeland, teaching children about Iran's culture and folklore, history, and
archaeology. However, these games are mostly in Persian, and targeted at
the local market. As declared by various game producers in this article, the
industry's main purpose is to develop cultural games for export to introduce
the rich culture of Iran to non-local players and avoid the possible
misrepresentation of Iranians in global digital games. Concerning the
existing literature, the lack of any global educational games about Iran's
cultural heritage, disseminating its prosperous history and unique traditions,
specifically dealing with the Silk Roads demands a wider study.
3. Methodology
3.1. HISTORY
History plays a dominant role in the process of the development of the
Sericum Via game. Therefore, we investigated the relevant background
regarding the Silk Roads, caravanserais, and Iran. The constant movement
and intermingling of various populations affected the histories and
civilizations. These journeys occurred through a network of routes and these
linkages emerged as what are now known as the Silk Roads (Figure 1). Also,
merchants traveling in these routes sold their cargos, or bought additional
local products along their way, boosting their material wealth and variety,
besides adding to the exchange of intangible heritage (UNESCO, 2020a).
Figure 1. Map of the Silk Roads (UNESCO, 2020a).
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Caravanserais were large guest houses designed to welcome merchants
and their camels to facilitate people's passage and their safe travel. These
caravanserais had been constructed from the 10th to the late 19th century.
Caravanserais were ideally positioned within a day’s journey of each other,
i.e., every 30 to 40 kilometers in well-maintained areas (UNESCO, 2020a).
The history of the initial types of Persian Caravanserais goes back 2500
years (UNESCO, 2020b), but most of them had been built and restored in
the early 17th, coinciding with the Safavid period, to promote the empire
financially by developing the Silk Roads (Mansouri, n.d.). Therefore, for this
study amongst all caravanserais of the Silk Roads, we chose that flourishing
period in Iran.
3.2. DATA MANAGEMENT
Since excess of gathered data could be as problematic as its lack, it was
important to understand which information should be kept, and how to
complete missing data (Kalay, 2007). Therefore, the gathered data based on
the international database of caravanserais (Ciolek, 1999 - present), was
compared with the list of all registered cultural heritage of Iran, to
understand the positions of the registered caravanserais on the Silk Roads.
Due to the OWTRAD data's inaccuracy, we filtered the list of the registered
cultural heritage sites by including only the provinces and cities that the Silk
Roads passed through in the Safavid period (Kheirabadi, 2000). We found
their accurate coordinates via an accuracy based methodology (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Data management.
Finally, we identified 104 Safavid Caravanserais on the Silk Roads in 18
provinces of Iran, located them on Google Earth, and entered all the
THE SERICUM VIA: A SERIOUS GAME FOR PRESERVING TANGIBLE AND
INTANGIBLE HERITAGE OF IRAN
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information on the PostGIS online database to generate a map of
caravanserais. However, in the next steps, to improve the game map's
readability, the number of caravanserais was decreased (Figure 3).
Figure 3. QGIS map of caravanserais.
3.3. GAME DESIGN
We designed the game inspiring by The Oregon Trail, considering all the
gathered data in terms of tangible and intangible heritage, with player
engagement. The story of the game occurs in the year 1700 AD. A merchant
trading silk between Turkey and China has to pass through Iran’s various
climatic zones to deliver his orders to the final destination at a specific time,
regardless of the road's difficulties. He seeks accommodation in the Safavid
caravanserais on the Silk Roads during his journey.
The time limit given to the player was computed based on the minimum
distance that GIS calculated previously between the start and endpoints.
However, the player can use the GIS bonus revealing the shortest route in
each gameplay. The game's learning objectives are to experience the
difficulties of trading and traveling in ancient times and learn about Safavid
caravanserais, the Silk Roads, and Iran’s intangible heritage, i.e.,
ceremonies, poets, souvenirs, as well as the capabilities of GIS. Indeed, the
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player encounters the caravanserias' spatial and identifying information by
reaching any of them and introduced by Iran's intangible culture while
confronting new local people.
As the gaming engine, we chose the Twine platform, an open-source tool
for making interactive fiction games in the form of web pages (Twine, 2020)
properly fitting to a text-based game. However, due to the time limitations, a
part of the game was developed to illustrate the game's interface and theory,
paving the way for further progress (Figures 4 and 5).
Figure 4. The overall map of the game.
Figure 5. Sample of provided intangible heritage
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3. Playtesting and Survey
We conducted an open alpha playtest and survey to assemble user feedback
and figure out the target audience. For this purpose, we gave two different
lists of questions as Google Forms to players before and after the gameplay.
The first asked for players' previous game experience and their identifying
information, and the second aimed to gather the game's feedback. The
survey population was 39 in total, 19 male, and 20 females. Their age range
was divided into three groups, 15-20, 21-25, and 26-30 containing 8, 16, and
14 target subjects respectively, and they were further divided into two
groups originated from the Middle East and Europe. Our reason for this
selection was to estimate the game's possible effect on different age ranges
and various nationalities as local and non-locals. However, due to the
limitations, in this step we randomly selected the conductors amongst the
university and high school students and asked them questions to know if the
game from this research is their target or not. While 25 participants declared
that they played video games, puzzle games, with 19 responses, and racing
games, with 15, were amongst the most played types, played on PCs and
laptops by 24 people, and mobile devices, by 29 out of 39. Furthermore, the
responses demonstrate that the graphics and the game's story, and the
challenging difficulties, are the prominent factors for the players in a
gameplay experience (Table 1).
TABLE 1. Background assessment questionnaire graph.
In the second questionnaire, while 27 out of 39 declared that the game
caught their attention, others described it as boring with too much text.
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Additionally, 23 respondents reported ignoring texts due to their length. 22
players proposed that the 1120-year-old range was suitable for this game,
and in further development, this group should be the target. In line with this
finding, the storyline and the characters were reported among the game's
most enjoyable factors. The surveyors gave valuable feedback about the
game’s interface, such as making the texts more readable, and encouraging
players to read by adding some related audio, such as poems, quizzes, or
mini-games using the information provided during the game. (Table 2).
TABLE 2. The sericum via game assessment questionnaire graph.
4. Conclusion
This paper discusses the role of serious games in cultural heritage
preservation. Conservation of this tangible and intangible value has been
important throughout history and conveying it to as many as possible is the
proper way of preservation in the current global world. A serious game, such
as the Sericum Via designed in this study, can provoke as much interest in
children as adults in topics that otherwise may seem rather dry, such as
heritage. The Sericum Via involves its players with heritage to develop their
decision-making skills and increase their strategic thinking ability, besides
anchoring the intended information in their mind laterally, during a leisure
activity. Additionally, the game aims to transmit Iran's cultural heritage to
the global market besides the local one. However, the players' surveys
demonstrate that the Sericum Via needs more interactivity to draw their
attention to the provided text-based knowledge during the game. The study's
main limitation meant that only the alpha version was released, and the
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survey results indicate that the players had no comprehensive understanding
of the game theory. The future study can be conducted for the further
interface and story development of the game. The selected text-based
platform makes it desirable to add further features and enhance the game to
the extent intended. As a joint project, the study has the future development
capability to be integrated with Turkey’s caravanserais’ data, which the
researchers gathered during the course. In this way, the game could be
extended to the Silk Roads passing through Turkey, involving players in a
multi-cultural, spatial, and architectural interface.
Acknowledgments
This paper is part of a doctorate course of the Architectural Design Computing
Graduate Program, at Istanbul Technical University, held by Assoc. Prof. Dr.
Güzden Varinlioğlu and Dr. Özgün Balaban. Also, we would like to thank Dr.
Ikhwan Kim for his valuable contribution to the paper's process. Additionally, the
game is available on https://drweeb.com/game/Sericum_Via.html.
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... Hence, we developed the game on the Twine platform as an alpha version. This research is an extension of our recent study in the ASCAAD2021 conference based on Iran's Safavid caravanserais named, The Sericum Via: A Serious Game for Preserving Tangible and Intangible Heritage of Iran (Eshaghi et al. 2021), following the similar methodology of The Oregon Trail in the context of Anatolia. As mentioned in the future work of the previous research, the Anatolian Journey game uses the gathered information of the Anatolian caravanserais and the intangible her- The player takes on a merchant's role, trading among cities, based on the assigned duties. ...
... Hence, we developed the game on the Twine platform as an alpha version. This research is an extension of our recent study in the ASCAAD2021 conference based on Iran's Safavid caravanserais named, The Sericum Via: A Serious Game for Preserving Tangible and Intangible Heritage of Iran (Eshaghi et al. 2021), following the similar methodology of The Oregon Trail in the context of Anatolia. As mentioned in the future work of the previous research, the Anatolian Journey game uses the gathered information of the Anatolian caravanserais and the intangible her- The player takes on a merchant's role, trading among cities, based on the assigned duties. ...
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