Go east in Brooklyn, New York, past the blockchain software startups, gentrified co-working spaces and Edison-bulbed cocktail bars, and you reach Brownsville. In a former elderly home near the Langston Hughes Houses public housing complex is the Brownsville Community Justice Center. Within that center, more than 40 young people have been toiling for two years on an ambitious project: creating a faithful, block-by-block replica of their neighborhood and many of its residents in virtual reality for their own open-world video game.
They’ve set up a green screen with volumetric scanning equipment, experimented with game mechanics inside an Oculus Rift and learned to develop using the platform Unity. It’s an uncommon blend of cutting-edge gaming technology, driven and developed by a hyper-local team in an area where 37 percent of adults have a high school diploma and the median household income is around $25,000.
Ray Graham has been working on the game from the start, in early 2016. He’s 20 years old, loves Skyrim and hopes to attend college in the fall.
Players will encounter over 100 real-life residents in the game from chefs to store owners to Graham’s mom’s friends. They might wax lyrical on their first kiss, the best pizza in the neighborhood, the police or surviving the AIDS epidemic, creating a kind of oral history.
The NPC’s stories were recorded by young Brownsville residents able to draw out more authentic dialogue than what an anthropologist or journalist might grab if they parachuted onto the block for a few days of field research. The project is by Brownsville, for Brownsville.
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