Today I went to the Barrick for a VR scene adapted from the book Bitter Grounds by filmmaker Francisco Menendez, a professor at UNLV. The scene I participated in was drawn from chapter 3 fo the novel of the same name by Sandra Benitez. Note the word, “participated.”  After I removed my shoes and stepped onto a soft plot of synthetic grass, I was fitted with a heavy VR headset. A fan whirred,  creating the sensation of breeze carrying a hint of roasted coffee beans.

Virtual Reality on Bitter Grounds

The film takes place in a jungle in El Salvador. I enter the film by flying over what looks like a plantation house and into a verdant jungle clearing. I look from side to side as the scene transitions. I am in a clearing among the green trees and thick foliage.

A man dressed in white approaches me. He is looking right at me. No, I realize, he’s looking behind me. I turn, looking down at the grass in the small clearing and then behind me, gazing up at the jungle canopy. I turn to see several more men behind me. I look back and forth between the man in white, the one who approached first, and then the other men that came from behind. Something teases my peripheral vision and my bare feet shift on the soft grass and look down. It takes a moment, but I realize there are at least four bodies on the ground in front of me. The lifeless bodies of four men.

I look up, away from the bodies because the men are now talking. I’m in between them, so at first it looks like the man is addressing me. He is looking in my direction. But, I realize, they are talking past me– at each other– in Spanish. It appears that the first man is looking for help from the ‘boss.’ His son is sick. He needs help. Of course, help comes at a price– the boss needs “ears.” Then the man, who said his name is Ignacio, is killed. The ‘boss’ just kills the man whose name was Ignacio. He tells the other man to burn the others first, they’re smaller. This one’s big, he says. I stand there, silently, and try to take it in. Then, the jungle begins to go dark. I look all around as the canopy seems to close in- but maybe it’s just the dark. A bird flies over head and as I look into the trees, there are others. Vultures. Are they waiting for me to leave so they can descend?

Teaching ELA with Virtual Reality

When I left the VR experience at The Barrick Museum, my mind was racing. I remembered seeing a TED Talk on the Empathy Machine. This talk explored the VR film, Clouds Over Sidra, which explored the Syrian refugee experience from the perspective of a ten-year-old girl. The film, shown below, was designed to…


In the TED Talk, the ultimate empathy machine would be a more immersive experience. Whole body experience. Research around reading- empathy- the mind cannot tell. Experiencing with body vs. experience with mind. Also can add simulacra and other philosophies. 

Visual Culture

Writing VR

Ready Player One

Other connections

the empathy machine; moving into images, etc. Thinking about how we experience film- implications for language arts?