The Virtual Reality of Ineluctable Modality

My yearly Dublin trip always puts me in contact with people doing new and interesting work with Joyce. This year we saw a lot of new digital editions and interpretative productions of ULYSSES and DUBLINERS as well as staged readings, a new book, and an exhibit of drawings from FINNEGANS WAKE. The drive to bring new readers to Joyce through new and alternate media has never been stronger.

This year I got the chance to meet (and share a few pints with) Eoghan Kidney, a man with an interesting new project in mind; bringing the “Proteus” episode of ULYSSES to people through virtual reality gaming. “Gamification” is quite the thing right now in digital humanities of course so, needless to say, I was quite intrigued. Eoghan and I had a great chat about the potential of such a thing and how it dovetails to my own current work on that particular chapter of ULYSSES “SEEN”. Here’s a little taste of some of things we talked about.

RB: Eoghan, how did the idea of an immersive or virtual reality model for Joyce’s work come about?

EK: A combination of things – the indie games scene creating games like Dear Esther, Gone Home and The Stanley Parable – they are experiences that are a lot like listening to an ebook which is enhanced by the point of view and choices of the listener in the game – who may or may not be representing the narrator. Very interesting stuff. But the way Ulysses is written really perfect for this stuff, there isn’t another book I can think of that puts the reader right inside the character’s point of view of the world so beautifully.

RB: Can you describe some of the platform options for the game? Maybe some basic info for people unfamiliar with the new Oculus system?

EK: Yeah it should be available on Windows, iOS and Android too. But every funder on our site will have the opportunity to try the virtual experience in Dublin on Bloomsday 2015.

RB: “Gamification” is a pretty hot idea in new educational models, but it has its drawbacks in terms of “first hand experience” of literature. Then again, so does comics. What are some of the advantages you see for encountering a difficult book like ULYSSES in this way?

EK: I think it’s a perfect book for it. Readers clearly need to read annotations and looks things up and this makes that a lot easier. I think that while a lot of books read like books, some read like cinema, but to me a huge aspect of Ulysses reads like a game. Didn’t Joyce refer to it as a puzzle? I believe that he wanted us to do things like this and if he was around, he’d jump into that virtual reality headset before he could say contransmagnificandjewbangtantiality.

RB: Well, “Proteus” is among the most puzzling of chapters. Why start there?

EK: Firstly, it seems appropriately ironic – Dedalus is pondering the nature of vision at the beginning, the theme of the episode is change – well, how perfect would be it to experience that through a VR headset? Plus it’s actually kind of simple. The action is basically an individual walking along a huge beach. This is a good place to create a proof of concept of the idea as it doesn’t involve a huge amount of modelling and animation. Building Sandymount Strand is a walk in the park compared to building and animating a human being. My Dad grew up very close to the Sandycove Martello tower and I remember when I was very young he said “That’s where the most famous book in the world begins.” – I was shocked, “here? in Dublin? what? beside my grandparents house?” – so it’s always been on my mind. I grew up by Sandymount strand too – on the same street that Joyce was staying on Bloomsday itself (something I only discovered recently). Then, of course, I live in Dublin city – so it’s kind of always been around me. I’ve become a bonafide stereotypical Joyce nut unfortunately.