The project

Gaming technology is increasingly being used as an educational tool, and can be a very effective method of connecting young people with events of the past. In a place such as Kosovo, where the scars of recent conflicts are still keenly felt by older generations, this kind of technology can be crucial in helping young people to understand how their history has influenced their present-day situation. 

By working together with students and lecturers from the University of Pristina and a German-based NGO, Forum Civil Peace Service, a cross-disciplinary team of students and staff from Ƶ (BU) have begun to develop a number of storylines for educational games, which they hope will one day support young Kosovars to connect with their history and each other, across ethnic divides.

The project is an outstanding example of BU’s fusion strategy – the idea that teaching, research and professional practice should join together. The underlying knowledge about Kosovo’s past, the theory of conflict transformation and know-how behind the development of gaming technology came from BU’s staff and PhD students, while an expert understanding of Kosovo’s present-day situation came from their partners in the University of Pristina and Forum Civil Peace Service. 

In March 2016, an interdisciplinary team of researchers and students flew out to Kosovo to visit their counterparts at the University of Pristina and explore Kosovo’s cultural and heritage monuments in order to learn more about its past and present-day interpretation of these monuments. Their resulting knowledge and experiences are being drawn together into the storylines of educational games, which the team hope will go on to be developed into a working prototype.

The academics

Dr Stephanie Schwander-Sievers, social-anthropologist and Principal Academic

Following years of research into politics of memory and identity in post-war Kosovo, Stephanie took the lead in developing this interdisciplinary project.

The idea behind our project was to create a storyline for an educational game which would help young Kosovars and visitors to engage with and understand their past. Through it, we wanted to challenge monolithic – and often nationalist – views of recent conflicts and acknowledge the complexity and contestation of post-war memory in Kosovo."

“Our interdisciplinary academic team brought together a wealth of knowledge in gaming technology, ‘dark tourism’, transitional justice, Balkan and memory studies,” Stephanie explains.

“Our combined knowledge helped us to put together a two-day training course for our students prior to going to Kosovo, which covered topics such as risks, legal and ethics provisions, conflict transformation theory and gaming technology basics. We also talked about the cultural, historical, social and political background of Kosovo. As well as sharing information, it was a great opportunity for our students and staff to get to know each other before traveling together.

“We took our students out to Kosovo in early March 2016, where we spent a week in the company of students and lecturers at the University of Pristina and Forum Civil Peace Service. Together, we visited heritage and culture sites, listened to talks, heard stories of people’s memories of the conflict and worked in teams to complete ‘quests’. These were developed by myself and refined by the team as a means of facilitating the students’ field trip and helping them to focus on different aspects of post-war memorialisation.”

Dr Melanie Klinker, Senior Lecturer in International Law

Melanie is part of the interdisciplinary team from BU providing the transitional justice input and support.

“My area of research is in transitional justice; a way of trying to achieve justice as countries move from a time of conflict or state repression to that of peace. These processes are incredibly complex and often highlight the very different interpretations people can have of the same event. This is very pertinent to the situation in Kosovo, where people are struggling to come to terms with their past at the same time as trying to move forward towards independence and peaceful co-existence,” Melanie says.

“Our team also drew on our expertise in game development and dark tourism. Our gaming technology experts, Dr Feng Tian and PhD student Thomas Matthews, guided us through the process of game development; and Dr Avital Biran drew the students’ attention to the importance of heritage sites for tourism."

As a result of their advice and our field trip, our students came up with six potential storylines for our educational game. The number of possibilities is a real tribute to our students’ enthusiasm for the project; as academic staff, we’re delighted to see how much they took away from their field trip and how inspired they’ve been by the people they met."

“Our next steps are to begin developing the final storyline for the game, with the aim of eventually producing a prototype,” Stephanie adds. “We’re also working with our international contacts to develop a formal academic partnership, and with our students to produce joint research publications based on our research and their experiences of post-war memory in Kosovo.”

The students

Papillon Bond-Williams, BA Anthropology & Sociology student

Papillon, who took part in the trip to Kosovo, describes her experiences on the project.

“I was inspired to apply for the project partly because of the enthusiasm of one of my lecturers, Dr Stephanie Schwandner-Sievers. I learned a great deal about Kosovo from her. I was particularly interested in the politics of memory – it fascinated me – so when I found out the research would be focused on this, I wanted to find out more,” Papillon explains.

“We spent five days with students from Pristina, exploring war memorials, heritage sites and other cultural sites where we listened to guest speakers and developed our storyline ideas. It was a really intense trip as we packed so much in, but I think that made the experience even better as we were thrown right in at the deep end.

“I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to go to Kosovo and take part in the project,” Papillon continues. “And I couldn’t have foreseen how much I’d learn as a result of it. I was able to apply the knowledge and skills I learned from my field of studies to a totally different area. It’s also given me more confidence in my own skills, as I know that once I graduate, I’ll be able to apply them outside of academia.

I’d highly recommend the experience to other students and encourage them to get as involved as possible. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity!”

Josie Beytell-Heron, BA Anthropology and Sociology student

Josie, who took part in the project after developing an interest in the reconciliation aspects of her course.

“I wanted to learn more about Kosovo and gain an insight into different people’s opinions about their history and the current situation and whether these attitudes would affect reconciliation attempts,” explains Josie.

“During the trip, we were split up into different groups. My group – the peace group – looked at identity and origins, particularly Albanian blood feuds. The trip opened my eyes to issues which I hadn’t even thought of before. Through visiting memorial sites, heritage sites and talking to students and lecturers, I learned a lot about Kosovars’ attitudes,” Josie continues. “I found it particularly interesting to learn about the political agenda in Kosovo and how the issue of segregation between ethnic groups is very much viewed as political.

“It was a unique and unforgettable experience. If you have the opportunity to do something like this as part of your studies, don’t hesitate – just apply!” Josie says.

It’s an opportunity not to be missed as you get to make new friends, build your skills and be a part of a brilliant project, allowing yourself to be creative and imaginative – and in our case – contribute to conflict transformation.”

The impact

Korab Krasniqi, Project Manager of Forum Civil Peace Service

Korab played an essential role in the trip to Kosovo by facilitating and organising project activities, such as the tasks and quests the students undertook during the week.

“Through its Memory Mapping Kosovo project, in partnership with the University of Pristina and Alter Habitus, Forum Civil Peace Service’s Kosovo programme has built a unique archival database of the cultural heritage of post-war memorials in Kosovo. The findings of our three-year programme were made available to BU and UoP students as they collected information as part of their quests and developed a better understanding of memory and the cultural heritage landscape in Kosovo,” Korab explains.

“For me, it was a great opportunity to be a part of an interdisciplinary team, but the part I enjoyed the most was supporting students from both universities to learn. I found it fascinating seeing the similarities and differences between the two groups of students,” Korab says. “It was particularly interesting seeing the way that memories of the war were articulated and interpreted from an outside and insider perspective.

I am looking forward to the development of the game storyline and its eventual launch, as I believe both it and the process of knowledge exchange between the two groups of students will help to contribute to a wider discussion about Kosovo’s past. In time, I hope to see the development of joint research projects and further student exchange programmes between BU and UoP.”