New Game Turns James Joyce's Ulysses Into Virtual Reality

Screenshot courtesy Joycestick via YouTube
Screenshot courtesy Joycestick via YouTube / Screenshot courtesy Joycestick via YouTube

A new game will make you see Ulysses in a new way. Joycestick is a virtual reality game in development at Boston College meant to expose new audiences to the famously difficult novel. The program enriches the literary experience by guiding readers through the settings of the book, letting them hear and see the turn-of-the-century Dublin Joyce wrote about and get up-close with the objects he describes.

The entire plot of Ulysses takes place on June 16, 1904, a day now known as Bloomsday (named after the novel’s main character). In his writing, Joyce treated the city of Dublin as one of his characters, and Ulysses was no exception.

“I want … to give a picture of Dublin so complete that if the city one day suddenly disappeared from the earth it could be reconstructed out of my book,” Joyce once said of the book.

While Dublin has changed wildly in the past century, virtual reality can help put readers back in the city as Joyce experienced it.

In the game, you can wander through the places that Joyce wrote about and pick up and examine different objects, like a tin of potted meat or a gramophone. When you pick up certain objects, you’ll hear readings from the book.

“It works to recreate the immediacy of Joyce’s prose through its virtual spaces, starting with the interior of Joyce’s Martello Tower, and progressing into further scenes and objects taken from the novel,” the Joycestick website promises.

A team of 21 students led by an English professor at Boston College are working to put the game together, from modeling objects faithfully in 3D to creating authentic sound design for the scenes to coding the game itself to writing the narrative.

Joycestick is still in progress, but its creators hope to launch it in Dublin in time for Bloomsday this year. A prototype was presented at a conference in Rome in February.