MasterWorks is an educational virtual reality experience that transports users to four UNESCO World Heritage sites. Digital conservationist groupCyArk captured images of each site using photogrammetry, enabling virtual tourists to walk through 360-degree renderings of places that are normally off limits. MasterWorks aims to teach users about the history and creation of the monuments, as well as the conservation challenges they face due to climate change. It is available for free on the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and Oculus Go.
MasterWorks contains virtual tours of four different sites spanning three continents and 3000 years. You can choose to visit the ancient Ayutthaya capital in Thailand, a pre-Incan temple in the Peruvian Andes, Native American cliff dwellings in Colorado, or Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota. In each setting, you are tasked with collecting artifacts and engaging with audio hotspots that recount historical information about the site. CyArk captured the audio recordings by conducting interviews with archaeologists, conservators, and site managers, and the snippets provide an incredible amount of information about each site’s past, present, and future.
In three MasterWorks sites, there is a wide range of exploration opportunities. In Thailand, you climb temple steps and walk through tunnels; in Colorado, you wander through the various cave-like rooms using ladders and stone steps in Mesa Verde; and in Peru, you walk through underground canals and current excavation sites of the pre-Incan temple Chavín de Huántar. Thanks to CyArk’s photogrammetry, the experience feels incredibly realistic, making site exploration both exciting and educational. As Teachers College student Alison Doyle described it, "MasterWorks gives an incredibly accurate and detailed experience. It’s like I’m actually there, and I now want to learn more about these sites!"
The weakest component of MasterWorks for me was the execution of Mt. Rushmore. Perhaps by virtue of the site’s realities, you are only able to explore one small section of the site and can only view it from the tourist center. There were also significantly fewer artifacts and audio hotspots in this location than the others. This made the experience less exciting and awe inspiring than the other three sites.
In order to bolster conservation education, MasterWorks would benefit from more information on each site’s environment. For instance, while the melting of the Andes was briefly mentioned in the Peru experience, its devasting impact (i.e., the complete destruction of Chavín de Huántar) was not expressed in depth.
If you have access to a VR headset, MasterWorks is worth a download. It could be an exciting tool for both the classroom and for personal learning. Users are sure to learn about the history and current conservation efforts of these four historical world sites.Image: via VivePort