There’s a lot to like about West-Flanders. World famous for historic cities like Bruges and Kortrijk, Westvleteren trappist, and the Digital Arts and Entertainment game development program, there’s also a lot of small villages in the countryside. Connected by quiet roads, roamed by nothing but tractors, there’s an authenticity to these places that’s hard to rival.
In ancient times (read: before COVID-19) locals used to meet each other in the small pubs in the centre of town. Because that kind of connection isn’t possible anymore, KASK student Joren Vandenbroucke set out to create the very first authentic West-Flemish pub experience in VR. The result is WUK, which you can download for free on Oculus Quest or Oculus Go.
The virtual experience sees the spectator sitting at the counter of Café ‘t Hoekse in Poperinge, a place where time has seemingly frozen. The lady of the house Leona has been pouring beers for over 50 years and interacts with the other customers in a typical West-Flemish dialect. There’s the common sights of the man who’s watching the cycling race, and the guy who thinks he’s a darts prodigy when he really isn’t.
For everyone not living in a five mile radius who’ll have a hard time understanding the dialect, there’s Dutch subtitles to get an idea of what the hell they’re babbling about. We’re pretty sure Gerrit Callewaert from Bavikhove (link in Dutch), submunicipality from Harelbeke, would disapprove, but that’s just how it is.
The experience offers little in the way of interaction, but the monochrome visuals are charming enough to bring relief to everyone who misses stepping inside a pub. Apart from that, this is a truly intriguing exercise in how to capture an authentic cultural experience and preserve it in VR.
And last but not least, you won’t actually have to go to West-Flanders. For all the nice things we said, the place is hardly hooked up to the electrical grid, running water is a luxury for the lucky few, and to get mobile connection you need to be some kind of wizard. These facts might be slightly warped due to some historical friendly competition between East- and West-Flanders, but deep down they know it’s true.