App designed at Newcastle University brings historic Belsay Hall to life

Newcastle University experts have designed a new interactive game giving visitors to Belsay Hall a whole new experience

The Walls family enjoy the new interactive game at Belsay
The Walls family enjoy the new interactive game at Belsay

Technology is being used to bring one of Northumberland’s most historic houses to life.

Developed by Newcastle University, a new app-game is encouraging families to explore the 19th Century Belsay Hall in a whole new way.

The game resurrects the mythical Wild Man of Belsay who features in the Middleton family’s coat of arms. With location beacons hidden around the rooms, the experience is played through visitors’ mobile phones, the voice of the Wild Man guiding them through challenges and responding to the players’ actions as they explore the old hall.

The app takes users into a different time and place where wild creatures roam the rooms of Belsay Hall, challenging them to creep carefully through the halls to surprise the Wild Man – who listens and feels their every move.

Designed by PhD student Gavin Wood and Dr Simon Bowen, from the School of Computing Science at Culture Lab, the game – which is played via a free iPhone app – is being launched this week in time for the summer holidays.

Dr Bowen said: “Typically visitors get their information via audio headsets or information boards but these are very isolating and don’t encourage people to engage either with each other or their surroundings. The aim of the Wild Man Game is to get people to look beyond the mobile phone and explore their environment in a way they wouldn’t otherwise, immersing themselves in the history rather than simply looking at it from a distance.”

Mr Wood added: “This game is all about learning through play. You don’t have to follow a set route around the house or look at things in a certain order. Instead it’s about exploring in your own time and in your own way as the game develops around you.

“Following the theme of the Wild Man, we use the app to bring the wildness indoors and give families an interesting – and surprising – new way of exploring our past.”

The Wild Man was adopted as a symbol of Belsay Hall in the 15th century and for the last 600 years, he and his wife have watched over and protected Belsay’s famous Middleton family.

Appearing on a crest on the family’s coat of arms, the Wild Man features throughout the house, in wall paintings, as a carved stone statue and even stamped into 20th Century cutlery.

Julie Spowart, territory marketing manager for English Heritage, said: “This is a completely different and innovative way of experiencing Belsay Hall and in particular the Wildman installation and we are looking forward to some fun interaction with families over the summer weeks ahead.”

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