Border Zone is an XR game app that takes visitors to Potsdam’s Park Babelsberg on a unique journey through the park’s multifaceted history at the time of German-German division. Using location-based XR technology, the project fuses past and present into a touching experience that brings lost or hidden traces of contemporary history back to life. In particular, the Border Zone project aims to bring visitors to Park Babelsberg closer to the actions of citizens of the GDR, which are often difficult to comprehend from today’s perspective, by means of a life-size AR on-site experience, thus providing a deeper understanding of life in a totalitarian system.

The Border Zone XR experience is the result of a cooperation and research project between the Cologne Game Lab of the TH Köln and the Prussian Palaces and Gardens Foundation. Players explore Park Babelsberg with their own smartphone or tablet and are confronted with personal fates in the former border area through interactive missions called “Echos.” These echoes are based on real accounts of contemporary witnesses. The accounts of experiences have been shaped into fictionalized, interactive episodes that allow players to actively intervene in the plot and make personal decisions.

At the heart of the project is the principle of “body-centric design,” which places the players at the center of the action. Body-centric design places the whole-body experience and also the whole-body expression of target groups in the foreground of the design. Within the framework of experimental research into the possibilities of body-centric design in the context of XR, we will explore how the inclusion of players through role-play and meaningful real-physical possibilities for action in the XR space can be used sustainably and meaningfully in cultural education work.

Since spring 2023, a prototype app has been playable in Park Babelsberg, which makes it possible to experience the artistic-scientific concept of “body-centric design for XR” in first approaches by means of a pilot episode: The interactive episodes in Border Zone were designed in such a way that players move in the park in the footsteps of fictional characters and take on their role at certain moments of the action. However, they then do not act via input via smartphone display, as is usually the case with mobile AR apps, but rather act with their whole body, depending on the situation, as in a real situation. In a threatening confrontation with the border police, for example, they can decide whether to hide behind a bush in the park, surrender or even run away. This embodied agency .i.e. the bodily participation in decision-making processes and the biochemical processes coupled to the respective physical expression enable a cognitive-emotional-physical connection to our cultural past and thus a sustainable learning experience on all levels.

App Download: https://borderzone.spsg.de/ (playable on-site only)

Showdown scene where the player takes on the role as one of the characters and faces boded patrol.

The development of the XR role-play experience required experimental prototyping with artistic means.