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War Hospital (2003-04)

A digital documentary prototype commissioned by the National Film Board of Canada. Developed under residence in the Interactive Project Lab.

War Hospital was an experimental online experience that redefined the boundaries of interactive documentary. Combining rich documentary visuals, ambient soundscapes and the best of integrated interactive design, War Hospital took its visitors through an intimate exploration of life in and beyond one of the world’s largest war hospitals in Lokichokio, Kenya.

Lokichokio is known as the “cowboy town” of Kenya. According to Rough Guides, it is “an eclectic mix of rough international types, businessmen, tribal Turkana, haggard relief workers, doctors, pilots, nurses, missionaries and shady arms-dealers.” On the fringes of this frontier setting lies one of the biggest war casualty facilities in the world: the Lopiding Field Hospital. Lopiding is an International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) facility established in 1986 to treat the exodus of war casualties over the border from the Sudanese civil war. It is estimated that over 2.5 million people have lost their lives in this, the longest civil war in Africa; that is more deaths than those from the Bosnian, Serbian and Rwandan conflicts combined.

Always pushed beyond capacity, the hospital cares for upwards to 600 patients and their families at any one time. This is a job divided amongst a revolving staff of 50 doctors, nurses and specialists and a small army of local support workers. People are always coming and going, whether they are professional staff or patients. Hence, the hospital is a shifting cornucopia of nationalities, tribes, and religions all with different backgrounds and priorities forced by circumstance to get along.

The journey through War Hospital was a personal and intimate one. We were able to choose our own paths, find our favourite characters, and make our own connections by piecing the stories together. The experience was infused with subtle questions that guided us through our visit. As we entered our answers they become remnants of our experiences at WAR HOSPITAL, traces for other visitors to explore as they unravel this complex world. The audience members, themselves become actors, leaving behind a web of thoughts, opinions and memories.

War Hospital was designed as an experience, not a passive media property. Pains were taken to integrate text, sound, navigation and technology in subtle ways. These were meant to be taken for granted by the audience as part of a fluid, experiential environment. Navigation was intuitive and object based, rather than text based. Video was be embedded within the design and not open in a clunky media player. Text was not overbearing and existed as an extension of the subject telling the story. Nothing interfered with the user’s suspension of disbelief; all design and media elements kept the visitors engaged with the experience.

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