Can new technologies be used to tell old stories about a local community?

That’s the question we’re trying to answer with our “Remembering 7th Street” project that uses a video game to tell the story of Oakland, California’s old jazz and blues club scene.

During the 1940s and 1950s, Oakland’s 7th Street was a vibrant community and a mecca for jazz and blues musicians from all over the country. But in the late 1950s and 1960s the area fell victim to a series of ill-fated redevelopment schemes, and barely a trace of the jazz and blues clubs remains today.

We’re trying to bring 7th Street back to life as a virtual world and video game.

jenkins2.jpgThe project is a joint effort by the UC Berkeley Architecture Department and Graduate School of Journalism. Architecture students are modeling the virtual world and programming the game play. Journalism students are researching the jazz and blues scene and writing the video game narrative that tells the story of 7th Street. You can read more about the project and view a video of the game world at the project home page.

We’ve been working on the project for nearly 2 years now, and we’ve faced many challenges, some expected, some not. There have been technical obstacles, problems getting photographs and other information needed to do a realistic representation of 7th Street as a virtual world, and many permutations of the game narrative.

I’ll use this space to describe the issues that have come up and how we’re addressing them. Our hope is that what we’re learning will ease the way for others, especially news organizations, that want to use video game technology and virtual worlds to help local communities reconnect with important aspects of their cultural heritage and history.