A new virtual reality game lets you witness the American Civil Rights Movement up close and even witness Martin Luther King Jr’s final moments.
I Am A Man is a VR experience created by Derek Ham, an assistant professor at North Carolina State University. It transports you to Memphis, Tennessee in 1968 at the height of the American Civil Rights Movement. It tells the story of the sanitation workers’ strike from the perspective of one of those workers by putting the viewer in a series of short vignettes, intercut with photos from that time and archival audio of a participant of the strike, Taylor Rogers. This particular strike was the reason Martin Luther King Jr travelled to Memphis, where he was assassinated on the balcony of the Loraine Motel. The VR experience takes you there, just moments before it happens.
Ham described his attempt to explore a specific style of play called ilinx, where the player experiences a temporary disruption of perception typically associated with things such as vertigo, dizziness or sudden changes in movement. “I wanna basically pull you into a mind trip of having African American hands if you’re non-black, that starts to temporarily disrupt your perception about the world,” he said. “In a similar way when I try a VR experience, and I have white hands.” There’s also a moment where you find yourself in a kitchen looking at newspaper clippings of the events while listening to actual video interviews playing on the TV of white Memphis residents discussing why they refuse to associate with black residents.
Ham says he’s aiming to release I Am A Man in April to coincide with the 50th anniversary of King’s death, and is in talks with the National Civil Rights Museum at the Loraine Motel to feature it within the museum. Watch the video above to get a look at I Am A Man and hear more of Ham’s thoughts on the process.