Claire Bailey-Ross

Claire Bailey-Ross Photo


Associate Dean (Academic) - University of Portsmouth (UK)

Digital Humanities


Phygital Playful Narratives and Embodied Interaction: A Case Study in Reimagining Cultural Heritage Spaces

What happens when a museum invites non-visitors to co-create and play with phydigital experiences for and about museum objects? This paper explores merging embodied interaction, machine learning and museum objects to develop a playful, open and immersive museum experience…on a boat. Confronted by declining public investment, changing visitor expectations and the intertwined imperatives of accountability and social responsibility (Davis, 2013), museums are under increasing pressure to be participatory, inclusive and develop new ways to attract a more diverse audience and enhance engagement with minimal resources (Black, 2020). Within this social, political and cultural context, UK museums are already increasingly exploiting the rapidly developing immersive technology ecosystem with the hope that immersive experiences and more playful game-based activities will lead to new audiences, deeper engagement and more meaningful participation. As an important part of contemporary and popular culture, games seem to enable museums to reach out to new audiences, particularly those in the 18-35 age bracket. New immersive interfaces are progressively emphasising embodiment, providing opportunities to mobilise museum visitors, through kinesthetic, somatic and multimodal design. Emerging technologies that encourage kinesthetic embodiment are also accompanied by shifts in critical theory emphasising performance and the materiality of the digital (Kenderdine, 2016) and in combination with computer vision applications could potentially enrich museum experiences. In this paper, we explore how AI-enhanced immersive gameplay experiences can be housed within a historical object and whether or not it can draw in audiences who currently do not visit museums. We discuss how to establish meaningful links between historical objects and embodied interaction, and how to co-design experiences and engagement by and for new audiences using immersive and innovative technologies. By embracing play as a core value, we are radically experimenting with immersive storytelling and framing within military history collections to find ways to reimagine visitor experience and engagement. Through a case study approach, we describe a 12-month research and development collaboration conducted in 2022, involving the D-Day Story Museum and the University of Portsmouth's Centre for Immersive and Extended Reality. This collaboration was part of the Enabling Extended Reality Enterprise (eXRe) project, funded by the UK Community Renewal Fund. Devised as part of the Enabling Extended Reality Enterprise (eXRe) project Funded by the UK Community Renewal Fund and aimed to pilot extended reality (XR) technologies within the cultural, heritage, and tourism economies through R&D projects. The paper specifically focuses on the development of a playful experience prototype situated on the only surviving D-Day Landing Craft, known as Landing Craft Tank (LCT) 7074. The target audience for this phydigital experience comprises individuals aged 18-35 who are not currently regular museum visitors. The narrative unfolds against the historical background of LCT 7074, the last surviving vessel of its kind from D-Day, which played a pivotal role in transporting men and supplies across the English Channel. Post-retirement, the landing craft underwent a unique transformation into a 1970s floating nightclub before falling into disrepair and sinking. The paper explores the potential of combining this intriguing object biography with phydigital approaches to connect with and engage under-represented audiences who may feel disconnected from 20th Century History. Ultimately, the paper concludes by drawing lessons from this immersive experience and discussing the potential implications of playful immersive approaches for museum collections. It emphasises the use of sound and embodied interaction as key drivers for audience engagement in the context of cultural heritage experiences.


I joined the University of Portsmouth in February 2017 and currently fulfil the role of Academic Lead within the School of Creative Technologies responsible for the strategic leadership of the Human Experience Design theme. I am also a principal lecturer in user experience. My main research focuses on digital innovation and impact of engagement and user experience in a museum context. My current research interests include the nature of participation and engagement possibilities provided by digital technology, digital heritage, museum innovation, creativity and creative practice, and knowledge exchange between academic and cultural heritage institutions. I completed my PhD (2014) in Digital Humanities at the Centre for Digital Humanities and Department of Information Studies, UCL, where my research focused on exploring the implications of digital innovation projects in museums and their bearing on visitor engagement and institutional change.