In Dublin, Joseph Nugent, associate professor of the practice of English at Boston College, has unveiled a new reality. Nugent has devoted a semester a year for seven years to James Joyce’s famous novel Ulysses. Trying to bring the challenging novel to life for students at BC was difficult, so Nugent and a team of about 18 students found another way: Joycestick.
Joycestick, a 3-D virtual reality (VR) game that immerses players into the pages of Ulysses, made its public debut at the National Library of Ireland on Thursday and has been set up in the James Joyce Centre as part of Bloomsday since Wednesday.
The VR technology transports Joycestick players to Dublin 1904 through a bulky black eyepiece and two handheld gaming devices. With the goggles, the user can look around their new setting, walking around as if they were there. The game currently features eight different sites of scenes in Ulysses, including Martello Tower, 7th Eccles Street, and Barney Kiernan’s pub.
Using the two devices, players can pick up objects around them. Objects feature audio from the audiobook, from the project’s voice actors, with narrations done by David Gullette, an English professor at Simmons College who has been involved in Boston area theatre for more than 50 years.
Nugent timed the release of the project to be on Bloomsday, an international celebration of Joyce’s life named in honor of Ulysses’ main character Leopold Bloom that is also the date—June 16, 1904—when the book takes place.
“This Dublin trip has been the culmination of a year spent tirelessly working on a project that’s never been attempted before, so everyone is in great spirits,” William Bowditch, a software engineer for the game and MCAS ’17, said in an email. “The city’s energy is palpable. It’s amazing to see a breathe of new life into something so culturally significant.”
Ulysses, considered one of the most important works of modernist literature, is not an easy read.
“I’ve read the book twice,” said Bowditch, “it’s a book that you can only really appreciate with lots of annotations.”
According to the Boston Globe, Nugent wanted Joycestick “to give the very people who might never dream of opening ‘Ulysses’ a way to digest a book that has a quarter of a million words and a lot of very peculiar stuff in it.”
“For me, Joycestick – and digital humanities – has entirely transformed my career, and led me to a whole area of creativity and possibility,” Nugent said to The Chronicle. “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.”
After Dublin, Nugent is scheduled to bring Joycestick to the North American James Joyce Conference in Toronto, then to the International Association for the Study of Irish Literature in Singapore.