July 30, 2014

The Ulysses virtual reality game


James Joyce is coming to a virtual reality game. It's about time. ©Barone Firenze / Shutterstock.com

James Joyce is coming to a virtual reality game. It’s about time.
©Barone Firenze / Shutterstock.com

It’s hardly unusual for video games to take their inspiration from works of literature. Sci-fi and fantasy books (especially those that have also been turned into movies or television shows) lend themselves particularly well to the medium, hence the plentiful adaptations of The Lord of the Rings, the Harry Potter books, and Alice in Wonderland, to name a few. There are even games based on the work of Jane Austen, as we reported on Moby Lives last fall.

Dense modernist tomes, on the other hand, have been overlooked by game developers — until now. Kelly Lawler writes for USA Today’s Book Buzz blog that James Joyce’s notoriously difficult novel Ulysses is being adapted into a virtual reality video game. Irish filmmaker Eoghan Kidney recently turned to crowd-funding website Fund It to raise the €4,000 he needs to make it happen, a goal he’s managed to surpass by some €500.

The game, called “In Ulysses,”players will get to experience the full effect of Joyce’s stream of consciousness as they step into the mind of Stephen Dedalus as he goes through, as Lawler describes it, the “infamously daunting” third chapter, “Proteus.” The idea is for the direct experience through virtual reality to make the text more accessible. Kidney describes his inspiration on the Fund It page:

My “In Ulysses” project is another way of experiencing the book — this time, using the virtual format. It will be a virtual reality videogame that will allow a user to inhabit the characters of Ulysses and experience the density of Joyce’s language in a fun and accessible way…

As a user of “In Ulysses” walks along a virtual Sandymount Strand, the book will be read to them — they will hear Stephen’s thoughts as they are written — but these thoughts will then be illustrated around the user in real-time using textual annotations, images and links. A user can stop walking (therefore stopping Stephen walking) and explore these illustrations, gaining insight into the book and adding to the enjoyment of it.

The game is being designed primarily for virtual reality headsets like Oculus Rift, but Kidney also plans to make it available for computers, as well as iOS and Android devices. He also hopes to use “In Ulysses” as a prototype for a more complete project, “with future versions exploring the experience of the book’s very own Leopold Bloom.”  Here’s hoping that this is a start of a new trend of video games featuring modernist literature, from The Metamorphosis to Swann’s Way to Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnameable.


Nick Davies was a publicist at Melville House.