Turning James Joyce's "Ulysses" into a virtual reality game In this Jan. 26, 2017, photo, Joseph Nugent, a professor of English at Boston College, wears virtual reality goggles at the school's virtual reality lab as students monitor his game activity in Boston. College students in Boston are developing a virtual reality game based on James Joyce’s ponderous tome “Ulysses.” (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Turning James Joyce's "Ulysses" into a virtual reality game
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Students are developing a virtual reality game based on James Joyce's "Ulysses." The game is part of a class at Boston College.
 
The goal of "Joycestick" is to expose new audiences to the works of one of Ireland's most celebrated authors. It also is to give a glimpse of how virtual reality can be used to enhance literature. This is according to Joseph Nugent, the English professor who is coordinating the project.
 
"This is a new way to experience the power of a novel," he said. "We're really at the edge of VR. There's no guidance for this. What we have produced has been purely out of our imagination."
 
Nugent and his students hope to release a version of the game on June 16 in Dublin during Bloomsday. That is the city's annual celebration of the author and novel. They've already showcased their progress at an academic conference in Rome.
 
"Joycestick," in many ways, fills in the blanks of the novel. Many of the places key to the story have been lost to time as Dublin has evolved, said Enda Duffy, chairman of the English Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Duffy has tried a prototype of the game.
 
"The VR version in this way completes the book," she said. "It makes it real. 'Ulysses' is an ideal book to be turned into a VR experience, since Dublin is, you might say, the book's major character."
 
There have been a number of efforts to bring works of literature into the gaming world over the years. One was a computer game of F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby."  It became a viral hit in 2011 as it mimicked the look and feel of a classic, 1980s-era Nintendo game.
 
But the Boston College project is unique for trying to incorporate virtual reality technology, says D. Fox Harrell. He is a digital media professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
 
He is impressed that the students are taking on such a complex text.
 
"It requires multiple entry points and modes of interpretation. So it will be fascinating to see how their VR system addresses these aspects of the work," said Harrell. He said he hasn't tried the game yet.
 
Considered the epitome of the 1920s-era modernist literature, "Ulysses" traces a day in the life of an ordinary Dubliner. The character is named Leopold Bloom. The title reflects how the novel draws parallels between Bloom's day and "The Odyssey."  That is the ancient Greek epic.
 
"Joycestick" isn't meant to be a straight re-telling of "Ulysses." In some versions, that story runs nearly 650 pages long. This is according to Evan Otero. He is a Boston College junior. Otero is majoring in computer science. He is helping to develop the game.
 
Instead, the game lets users explore a handful of key environments described in the book. It runs from a military tower where the novel opens to a cafe in Paris that is significant to the protagonist's past.
 
It's also not a typical video game in the sense of having tasks to complete, enemies to defeat or points to rack up. So said Jan van Merkensteijn. He is a junior studying philosophy and medical humanities. He is also involved in the project. For now, users can simply explore the virtual environments at their leisure. Touching certain objects triggers readings from the novel.
 
The project represents an extension of what academics call the "digital humanities." The field merges traditional liberal arts classes with emerging technology. Nugent has had previous classes to develop a smartphone application that provides walking tours of Dublin. It highlights important landmarks in Ulysses and Joyce's life.
 
But the native of Mullingar, Ireland, is quick to shift credit for the current project's ambition to his group of 22 students. They are studying a range of disciplines. These include English, computer science, philosophy, business and biology. The students have also been recruited from nearby Northeastern University and the Berklee College of Music.
 
"These are ambitious kids," Nugent said. "They want to prove they've done something on the cutting edge. They have the skills. They're doing the work. All I'm trying to do is direct these things."

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why does Dublin host a celebration of James Joyce and his novel, Ulysses?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (20)
  • cesars-
    4/05/2017 - 08:37 a.m.

    Dublin host a celebration of James Joyce and his novel Ulysses because of the ancient facts that leads to V.R.

  • alant-
    4/05/2017 - 08:37 a.m.

    Its highlight important landmarks for Ulysses and James Joyce.
    This is what i think why.

  • andyz-har
    4/05/2017 - 03:41 p.m.

    They host a celebration to remember James Joyce. James Joyce is a poet/author that has wrote at least 12 books. He is mostly popular in Europe. This celebration is called "Bloomsday."

  • daltons1-ste
    4/06/2017 - 01:17 p.m.

    This is definitely an interesting concept to put a book into a virtual reality game. It seems like the perfect book to start with. Just wandering around seems like a relaxing thing to experience.

  • brandona52163-
    4/07/2017 - 12:59 p.m.

    The celebration is held to remember James joyce and to honor his work

  • nathanm14-ste
    4/07/2017 - 01:30 p.m.

    Whatever happened to picking up a book and, you know, reading it. I guess with all the technology in our world that simply doesn't work for kids now. It has to be tied to video games.

  • jemimahp-bur
    4/10/2017 - 09:43 a.m.

    Dublin hosts a celebration of James Joyce and his novel, Ulysses because he wrote 12 books! Hes so popular in Europe also. I've read his novel Ulysses and its very good.

  • loganf1-bur
    4/10/2017 - 10:43 a.m.

    Whatever happened to picking up a book and, you know, reading it. I guess with all the technology in our world that simply doesn't work for kids now. It has to be tied to video games. Game are the best.

  • nickm1-pla
    4/10/2017 - 12:42 p.m.

    Students of Boston College have taken on the gigantic task of turning James Joyce's Ulysses into a virtual reality based video game. The game focuses on key environments from the story. The development team is made up of a diverse range of students, all very ambitious but studying different fields.

    This shows civic engagement by paying homage to the past and to art, which is essential in defining a culture. The game is designed to educate, and education is an excellent means of civic engagement.

  • 23sbfryc
    4/11/2017 - 09:34 a.m.

    Dublin hosts a celebration for James Joyce and his novel. He is most popular in Eurpoe, and has wrote 12 books.

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