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BC professor debuts James Joyce virtual reality game in Ireland

Boston College students test “Joycestick” before heading to Dublin to debut the game based on “Ulysses.”

Boston College students test “Joycestick” before heading to Dublin to debut the game based on “Ulysses.”

Some people believe James Joyce’s “Ulysses” is the greatest novel in the English language. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most difficult to read.

Boston College professor Joseph Nugent and a few dozen very bright students from BC, Northeastern, and Berklee have done something that could make Joyce’s masterpiece more accessible to the masses.

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They’ve created a virtual reality game based on the book — cleverly titled “Joycestick” — that will debut Thursday at the National Library of Ireland for a crowd that’ll include Irish Senator David Norris and, we imagine, more than a few Joyceans. The next day, which just happens to be Bloomsday, the annual celebration of Joyce’s life, the public can put on headsets and test the game at the James Joyce Centre in Dublin.

“Joycestick” allows users to explore scenes and visit sites from “Ulysses,” a dense, door-stop-thick book chronicling a day in the life of ordinary Dubliner Leopold Bloom.

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Reached Tuesday in Dublin, Nugent told us he came up with the idea for the game — it’s really more of an experience — as a way to “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.”

That was a year ago. He then assembled a team of students to create 3-D models of various objects found in the book; to build sets based on scenes in the book, including a restaurant in Paris, the kitchen in Bloom’s house, and an Irish pub; to find and record sound; and to write scripts and commands to run the program.

Liam Weir, one of the BC students who worked on the game and is in Dublin for the unveiling, said “Ulysses” is challenging to read, but adapting it for virtual reality wasn’t all that easy either.

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“The text was really challenging so I started listening to the audio book, which helped me in terms of figuring out what’s dialogue, what’s not, and getting some level of understanding of what’s happening in the book,” said Weir, who’ll be a senior in the fall. “Adapting ‘Ulysses’ to another medium, we really had to drill down on the essence of each chapter.”

After Dublin, Nugent and some of the students are taking “Joycestick” to Toronto for the North American James Joyce Conference and then to Singapore for the International Association for the Study of Irish Literature.

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