There’s art imitating life, and then there’s art taking on a virtual life of its own. That’s what’s happening with a Boston College academic project involving the unlikely pairing of an immersive virtual reality 3D game, and the most important novel of the twentieth century, James Joyce’s, Ulysses.
Called “Joycestick,” the project is bringing the book to life through “gamification” - users wear a virtual reality headset and headphones and walk around to explore in real space various scenes from the book. Joycestick tells the story by recreating scenes from Ulysses, all of which had to be re-created from research into the novel and the period. Subtitled “The Story of Ulysses in 100 Objects,” the various scenarios were researched, scaled and linked to the text; touching an object triggers a recorded narration from the book, along with other sounds, to explain its significance to the novel. Some objects transport the gamer to other worlds – to a recreation of Bloom’s house in 7 Eccles St., to Barney Kiernan’s pub, to the Martello Tower as it appeared in 1904.
“Instead of using virtual reality as just an extension of video games, we’re trying to use it as an entirely new medium of storytelling,” says one of the students, Ryan Reede, a computer science major. “There’s interactivity, there’s audio, there’s text, there’s music, there’s all these different elements to Joystick, but at the end of the day, it’s more of a new form of storytelling.”
The project grew out of the Joyce and digital humanities classes of Boston College scholar Joseph Nugent, associate professor of the practice of English, who says Joycestick represents new ground for the teaching of literature.
“For me, Joycestick – and digital humanities – has entirely transformed my career, and led me to a whole area of creativity and possibility,” says Nugent, a native of Mullingar, Ireland. “As much as I love literature, my traditional training hadn’t offered me the kind of fulfillment that comes from the kind of cutting-edge research technology has made possible.”