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What happens when “Ulysses” by Joyce and virtual reality meet?


James Joyce’s renowned novel, a milestone of modernist literature, is transformed into a videogame.

Currently, there are hundreds of films, musical pieces, television series, shows and videogames inspired by literary classics. Regardless of its literary and thematic complexity, the preeminent novel Ulysses, by Irish author James Joyce, is no exception. In Ulysses, a virtual reality game based on the book by the same name, arises as an attempt to bring this complex work closer to a wider audience.

Created by Irish filmmaker Eoghan Kidney, this videogame, still in an early development stage, will be a virtual sample of Joyce’s Dublin. Through a device called Oculus Rift, a type of helmet designed for virtual reality programs, the interface will initially allow the user to inhabit Stephen Dedalus, one of the characters, during “Proteus”, the third chapter of the novel in which Dedalus wanders down the Sandymount Strand beach and reflects on the reality-perception binomial. The game will eventually allow us to personify other figures and experience other passages.

A voice starts narrating the novel the moment we become Dedalus, or, in other words, we can listen clearly to his thoughts. These are written on the screen and illustrated in real-time with textual notes, images and links to other Internet webpages; if the player wants to explore any of these elements, he or she only has to stop the character’s movement.

One of the most prominent characteristics in Joyce’s Ulysses is the well-known device known as “interior monologue”: the translation into writing of the characters’ thoughts, with their digressions, unconscious associations and arbitrary mechanisms. This is perhaps the most complicated challenge when it comes to translating this literary work into virtual reality.

Once the videogame is completed, we’ll know whether it lives up to the expectations of a demanding audience full of experts and academics ––this small and passionate, even neurotic, circle of people who say they have penetrated the Ulysses.

In any case, this relevant project spreads one of the most emblematic books of the 20th century and makes it available to new generations; but it is also an intriguing flirtation with the human mind, during which “cutting edge” technology tries to replicate, and perhaps enrich, that which the greatest novels of all time have accomplished: to integrally transfer us to other worlds.

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