This experiment is part of the Liberal Arts College Challenge Grant. Browse more projects

VR for Virtually Everybody: Help us teach humanists and artists how to make virtual reality experiences

Raised of $3,600 Goal
Funded on 3/25/16
Successfully Funded
  • $3,905
  • 108%
  • Funded
    on 3/25/16

About This Project

ViRVE is a proof-of-concept endeavor to model a modular, cheap, accessible VR creation lab that anyone can replicate. Help us create careful step-by-step instructions that will jumpstart humanists, artists, & community workers’ creation of virtual reality experiences. We believe that anyone can be taught to understand & work with cutting edge VR technologies— from teachers at every school level, to kids in community centers, to cultural creatives from all walks of life. Help us show you how!

Ask the Scientists

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What is the context of this research?

We care about virtual reality because we care about reality, and VR technologies can help us bring new witnesses into each of our worlds, or even to project audiences into new ones. When we shift our media experiences away from passive consumption, we can begin to ask new kinds of questions regarding how VR technologies can deepen our own experiences of our spaces and stories.

It is critical, however, that individuals and institutions alike learn to develop inexpensive and sustainable solutions for creating VR texts that speak to diverse experiences.

ViRVE's goal is to jumpstart humanists, artists, and community workers’ conversations about VR by showing them how to create their own VR experiences... Where do you start? What are the technical challenges? How do you afford it?

What is the significance of this project?

If the immersive quality of VR indeed inspires new kinds of wonder and empathy, what would it mean to put the tools for building such engines into many different hands? To map an accessible pathway from wonder to curiosity to creation?

Imagine a professor who wants to teach students something new about a poet whose work focuses on landscape and memory on a Caribbean island. What would it mean to enable a student to stand on the beach, catching a glimpse of cliffs from the shoreline? Or think about the community member who struggles to describe his world in words, but would like to teach others what it feels like to inhabit his living space, his neighborhood. Virtual reality texts occupy an increasingly important place between first-hand experience and documentation.

What are the goals of the project?

ViRVE will establish proof of concept by developing small demo VR projects so that we can identify some of the primary technical, conceptual, & financial challenges encountered when creating or critiquing a VR experience.

The purpose of our project is to teach others to make their own VR experiences. Demo creation will help us develop affordable VR creation workflows, and we will share our information with anyone who is interested.

We will share this work by using our website to document the conceptual, technical, and financial requirements that are going into our own creation of a VR experience. Watch us bumble through the hard parts, so that others with fewer time resources will not have to!

We are asking funders to vote on which project to pursue as our demo. Check the list below!


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These funds will help us develop affordable VR creation workflows, and then share those workflows with artists, humanists, and community workers-- anyone who is interested. We will share this work by using our website to document, troubleshoot, and archive the conceptual, technical, and financial requirements that are going into our creation of a VR experience.

We are asking you to fund our experimentation with commonly available devices so that we can give our audience advice and demonstrations using easily obtainable mobile devices like iPods, iPhones, and Android phones.

ViRVE brings VR development and inquiry out of expensive labs and makes it accessible to regular people who lack large-scale financial backing and who are curious about the possibilities of immersion in gaming, arts, and humanities. We want to lower the VR access bar and demonstrate to others that they can do it too.

In other words, fund our demo! If you back us, you can vote on which VR experience we make first.

Endorsed by

I'm excited to support this project proposed by my colleagues in the Five Colleges. From a community engagement perspective, this research holds significant potential to explore both a new pathway for the use of virtual reality that is more accessible and equitable, and the complexities inherent in applying an emerging technology in a new way.
Marisa Parham has been a leader in efforts to bring the digital humanities to Amherst and the surrounding Five Colleges. Her team is doing groundbreaking and imaginative work, taking advantage of recent advances in inexpensive virtual reality technologies to create an easy to use platform for faculty and students across the humanities and arts, regardless of their level of technical expertise. Investing in this project may well help popularize virtual reality as a way to open up new understanding of literature and cultures.
I have known Marisa Parham and her team for the past several years and I can say without hesitation that they are true visionaries and leaders in the use of digital technologies for teaching, research, and community engaged scholarship. Their crowd- funded project represents the very best kind of thoughtful, creative and innovative thinking that makes the humanities (writ large) invaluable to our understanding of lived experiences. Their work will help to democratize access to “VR for Virtually Everybody”!

Meet the Team

Marisa Parham
Marisa Parham
Professor of English at Amherst College & Director of Five College Digital Humanities


Amherst College
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Jeffrey Moro
Jeffrey Moro
Five College Post-Baccalaureate Resident in Digital Humanities
Marii Nyröp
Marii Nyröp
Post-Baccalaureate Technologist in Digital Humanities
Melissa Billing
Melissa Billing
Irisdelia Garcia
Irisdelia Garcia
Eric Poehler
Eric Poehler
Assistant Professor of Classics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst
Isaiah Mann
Isaiah Mann
Executive Director of GlowLime Games


GlowLime Games, Hampshire College, Pioneer Valley Game Deveopers
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Elizabeth Alexander
Elizabeth Alexander


Cornell University
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Team Bio

Our group is a unique mixture of people from a wide range of social, scholarly, and artistic backgrounds. We are all excited to bring our various interests and backgrounds to this innovative, hands-on, and experimental approach to engaging the humanities!

Marisa Parham

Marisa Parham (PI) is Professor of English at Amherst College, and also directs the Five College Digital Humanities Initiative, which is a Mellon-funded grant initiative serving Amherst, Hampshire, Mt. Holyoke, and Smith Colleges, and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Its purpose is to help artists and scholars to integrate technology into humanities scholarship and creative work, and also to bring those disciplines to influence technological growth and spread. Her current teaching and research projects focus on texts that problematize assumptions about virtuality and embodiment, particularly as such terms share a history of increasing complexity in texts produced by African Americans.

Jeffrey Moro

Jeffrey Moro is a Post-Baccalaureate Resident with Five College Digital Humanities. He wears many different hats at 5CollDH, including running a fellowship and microgrant program, consulting on and assisting with grant-funded projects, managing a speaker series, teaching classes and workshops, and creating digital resources. In his research, he works on electronic literature, interactivity and games, software studies, and the history of media forms and technologies. Learn more about his work at He tweets at @jeffreymoro.

Marii Nyröp

Marii Nyröp is the Post-Baccalaureate Technologist-in-Residence and a former Undergraduate Fellow with the Five College Digital Humanities Initiative. At 5CollDH, Marii specializes in on- and off-line media—from web development and design to theoretical discourses on technology. Her creative and scholarly research focuses on planetary scale computation and the political history of cybernetics. Marii can be found on Twitter @mariinyrop.

Melissa Billing

Melissa Billing is a sophomore at Amherst College. An English major from Connecticut, she has loved creative writing since she was young. Over the years, this interest manifested itself in the form of short stories and poetry. When she began researching and using virtual reality technologies like Oculus Rift, she was inspired to create new types of content. With this new medium, she hopes to collaborate with others to create compelling, first person experiences.

Irisdelia Garcia

Irisdelia Garcia is a sophomore at Amherst College. Hailing from the Bronx, NY, she is a major in English with a concentration in digital humanities. In her major she is interested in how technology affects culture. A lover of theater, spoken word, coding, and new technology, she recently completed a digital humanities focused fellowship at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.

Eric Poehler

Eric Poehler is an Assistant Professor of Classics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. His research interests include Greek and Roman Archaeology and archaeological theory and method. He is the co-director of the Pompeii Quadriporticus Project, an archaeological investigation of one of the largest monumental structures in Pompeii, in which he employs non-invasive methodologies and cutting-edge research technologies. Poehler has a long involvement in the digital humanities, beginning in 2001 as part of The Pompeii Forum Project’s work with the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia. Most recently, Poehler has founded the Pompeii Bibliography and Mapping Project, an online resource for Pompeian scholarship.

Isaiah Mann

Isaiah Mann is a fourth year from Hampshire College. He’s concentrating in game development and computer science. Isaiah has a wealth of industry experience. He's interned for Nickelodeon Games, MassDiGI (The Massachusetts Digital Games Institute), Petricore Games, and Fay Games. He’s also worked for Chisa Studios, Mustachio Games, and founded a student game development studio in Western, MA: GlowLime Games, for which he currently serves as the Executive Director. He’s well versed in software engineering, web development, project management, version control, and gameplay programming. Isaiah has developed numerous games using Unity engine and is currently Lead Programmer on a game project using the software.

Elizabeth Alexander

Elizabeth Alexander is a graduate student at Cornell University, focusing on contemporary black women's and Afrofuturist literature. She attempts to bring technology and media concepts to bear on literature, as well as using digital technology as a novel method of presenting critical work.

Additional Information

In November 2015, The New York Times and Google collaborated to include Google cardboard units in the Sunday edition of the New York Times. Over 1.5 million devices were shipped. That December, Verizon soon followed suit, offering specially branded, limited-edition cardboard units as part of an exclusive Star Wars promotion. It was important to get millions of people interested in “Cardboard”— a new high-impact, lower-tech way to deliver Virtual Reality experiences through the mobile devices many people already own— because companies like The New York Times have already begun investing immense resources into developing immersive content: VR is the next frontier, but many people did not realize that it is already here!

While exciting, normalizing sensory immersion as a narrative experience brings a slew of questions. For while we agree with tech-writer Marcus Wohlsen’s assessment of Virtual reality’s potential, what does it mean to make a “powerful empathy engine,” and what does it mean that having the capacity to do so is perceived as isolated to a select few? As this new entertainment and educational standard spreads, very few scholars are in a position to to develop a robust arts and humanities framework for the critique of VR texts, much less design and build one.

With that in mind, ViRVE is a proof of concept experiment. It is known that people learn about arts and technology not just by consuming, but by also by making. The purpose of our project is to teach others to make their own VR experiences. Demo creation will help us develop affordable VR creation workflows, and we will share our information with anyone who is interested.

We have identified four pathways we are qualified to pursue as our proof of concept / demo project, and we would like our donors to tell us which they would like us to complete first!

# The Hear Me on Your Map Project (an advocate toolkit)

Using an innovative mix of spoken word poetry soundscape development, and immersive photography, this project takes up the question of how VR might be used to help youth create VR experiences that immerse users in their aural and spatial worlds, but also spark youths’ critical engagement with the materiality of their own lived environments.

# Octavia’s Notes – Following a Writer’s Journey (an archival experience toolkit)

This project would develop an innovative VR interface that would engage users in an interactive experience with selections from the copious Octavia Butler manuscript archive at the Huntington Library. Butler maintained thousands of notes pertaining to dozens of novels and short stories, each with multiple versions. This VR gaming experience would give users an experience of recovering stories from of scraps of paper and piles of notes.

# The Do You See What I See? Project (a diversity and inclusion toolkit)

Building on Fox Harrell’s (MIT) work on empathy and gesture, this project will tackle the complex problem of micro aggressions-- a kind of aggression that is very difficult to articulate when experienced, but often identifiable when experienced.

# The This Is Where She Lived Project (a cultural site toolkit)

This project utilizes the ViRVE team’s proximity to the Dickinson family homestead in the town of Amherst to produce immersive 3D models of Emily Dickinson’s dwelling place.

* * *

Experiencing VR for the first time isn’t just cool; it’s revelatory... VR can act as a powerful empathy engine, a uniquely direct way to put us in someone else’s world. This makes me hopeful that VR will become much more than the next level of escapism for an already screen-addled generation.

— Marcus Wohlsen, Wired

An unfolded Google Cardboard unit. Photo by Runner1928 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Project Backers

  • 74Backers
  • 108%Funded
  • $3,905Total Donations
  • $52.77Average Donation
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