I AM A MAN is an interactive VR experience that lets you participate in the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike and the events leading up to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. Created by Dr. Derek Ham, an assistant professor of Graphic Design at NC State University, I AM A MAN was a winner of Oculus’ 2017 Launch Pad, a program designed to help fund VR content from diverse backgrounds.

Update (05/05/18): Derek Ham’s ‘I AM A MAN’ is now available for free on Oculus Rift.

Our original preview, which takes you through the entire experience, follows below:

Original article (02/08/18): It’s a natural thing to look at your own hands in VR. Maybe it’s to establish yourself in the virtual world, or maybe it’s just to see how the developers envisioned one of the most personal things in your possession. Appearing in an alley with two trash cans by my side, I peer down to see a pair of black hands. Of course, they’re no more ‘black’ than my physical hands are ‘white’. Outside of VR, my hands are actually a pale pink color, and my new ‘black’ hands are actually a soft brown that lightens near the palms and the finger tips. When it comes to race, I rely on the imperfect words that resonate with the historical context; both the laughably imprecise and shockingly hateful ones that existed both then and now.

image courtesy Dr. Derek Ham

I AM A MAN transports you to 1968 Memphis, Tennessee, where you, a sanitation worker, are put at the heart of the struggle for equality. Spliced within the interactive elements of the experience, which include dumping trash, reading news clippings, and watching historical TV broadcasts, I see photos and hear audio from an actual worker who speaks about how they suffered unpaid overtime, no sick leave, and how they were meant to feel utterly replaceable at every turn. I learned how the city’s sanitation workers, who were almost exclusively black, would routinely be relegated to the lowest-paying jobs and never given a chance to rise to the role of a heavy equipment operator, a superior, better-paying position reserved for whites. These, I would learn, would form the main arguments behind the creation of the sanitation worker’s labor union and the resultant strike that shook not only Memphis, but unwittingly played as backdrop to MLK’s assassination.

Reading a few historical newspaper clippings in my kitchen, a TV program plays in the corner. I’m not sure where the program is from, but it feels like a public opinion piece on the nightly news.

“If I’m a business man, and people who I do not want in my business insist on either coming in, or boycotting – which is in their perfect right to do – then certainly it’s not going to make me love them,” a well-dressed man explains.

image courtesy Dr. Derek Ham

“A lion might like another lion better than he’d like a bear. That’s just like white people and niggers. I mean, white people are going to naturally like white people better than they do niggers,” a young man says sheepishly.

“It’s just not the things we’re used to down here,” a stone-faced 20-something says. “They come in and they sit down, and we’re not used to them sitting down beside us, because I wadn’t raised with ’em, I never had lived with ’em, and I’m not going to start now.”

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The screen fades to black, and I’m back in the void where historical photos spin around me. The un-named sanitation worker continues:

“Sometimes you would get threats—’nigger, go back to work’—and this kind of thing […] all it means is a man is not a man. Whatever you say, or however you put it, when it comes down to that, a man is not a man, and he don’t have anything to say about his hours and working conditions.”

More interactive vignettes show me the picketers wearing the movement’s iconic placards reading ‘I AM A MAN’. An armored personnel carrier rolls down the street, soldiers glaring at me as I pick up my own ‘I AM A MAN’ sign.

Then MLK enters the story. “People had faith and confidence in him,” the worker says. I can see him placidly standing at the Lorraine Motel. I hear the gunshot of his assassin.

image courtesy Dr. Derek Ham

Now I’m outside of a busted-looking TV shop watching Bobby Kennedy’s speech where he eulogizes MLK and calls for peaceful demonstrations to continue in the light of the clear outrage that was sure to erupt from his slaying. What follows next is truly unexpected…

The experience’s creator Derek Ham told Road to VR the free 15-minute experience is “on track to be available in April,” which will mark the 50th anniversary of the death of MLK. The National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis is also slated to feature I AM A MAN at some point in the future. While he’s given the museum exclusive public usage rights for a year, he also hopes to take the I AM A MAN on the road to venues such as schools and libraries.

We’ll be bringing you a greater in-depth look at the making of I AM A MAN this month, so check back soon.

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  • Daniel Dobson

    I want to experience this. History holds the key to understanding ourselves.

    • Get Schwifty!

      I understand that if you now go as you are to parts of South Africa you might likely experience some of the same prejudices but in reverse. Just saying, or perhaps you should try being a Christian in a Muslim country… you don’t need VR to get these kind of scripted experiences to experience prejudice.

      • Anthony Lazarus

        Wtf is wrong with you. The man is interested in this as it pertains to American history. VR has amazing potential in education, especialy the subject of history. That said, I can assure you many great experiences will come in scripted form, there is nothing wrong with that.

        • RockstarRepublic

          “VR has amazing potential in education, especialy the subject of history.”

          Amazing potential in anything really… including… wait for it… propaganda.

          Real education however will come with critical thinking. If an experience can trigger you to think critically, then you can get a real education out of it rather than whatever narrative or emotional appeal the “authors” are trying to sell.

          • Mike

            VR could be used for propaganda, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a factual exploration of historical events. It would be great for schools to use in history class.

          • Get Schwifty!

            Agreed – as long as it’s equally driven across the board.

      • Warscent

        The point of programs such as this, is to keep racial tension and division embedded in American society.
        This narrative aims to make everyone think among racial lines and not American ones.
        Modern globalism 101.

        • GunnyNinja

          Or the point could a virtual walk in shoes YOU have never put on…

          • Get Schwifty!

            That’s not the only agenda…. and you know it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for increasing awareness, but let’s look at this it this way – why aren’t more Americans (white and black) upset about prejudice and specifically a problem of historical slavery, ONLY focused on this for instance and not the problem of slavery in the world today? Not a word from the community about addressing the problems of slavery in the Middle East (where it effectively originated) and in Africa where it’s rampant…

          • GunnyNinja

            Maybe because people try to use any issue they can to deflect away from the horrible behavior in THIS country. It’s interesting to watch someone try to downplay America’s faults because “they” did it first. One has NOTHING to do with the other. This country is full of people who want to pretend our history isn’t tarnished because they weren’t involved, but are quick to defend it. The “land of the free and home of the brave”. Isn’t it ironic that this country was built using non free people and taken away from “braves”. Hypocrisy is rampant in American history.

          • Warscent

            Sounds like the perfect game for you. Walk on.

      • Lucidfeuer

        You mean in South Africa, the country that segregated and burned black-people until barely a few decades? Also which Muslim country? The one which NATO countries invaded, armed terrorists, bombed, killed and displaced millions of people, or the ones they that still execute people with sword and is the greatest ally of the US in the region?

        Damn didn’t expect so many cliché coward conservative on R2V.

        • Raphael

          Well said Lucidyfeuer. Might not agree on VR but I agrees here.

        • Pre Seznik

          Sooo, as long as one has an excuse, it’s ok to be a bigot? Noted.

          • Get Schwifty!

            Yes… prejudice always has an excuse doesn’t it? Easy to look the other way when it’s not politically correct…

          • Lucidfeuer

            Just to be clear, I’m against any form of bigotry, including ones from SJW against white people, cis-hetero-whatever.

            But the problem with the “white-sensitivity” is that it’s only okay from people who are as sensitive and did as much against other bigotry, which is almost never.

            Because when you compare an official army invading and aggressing a foreign sovereign country to kill millions of citizens (and then of course, steal resources) to a terrorist attack, you’re a dangerous hypocritical degenerate coward as much as the SJWs can be.

            It’s like if nazis soldiers complained to jewish people that when losing the war they were getting targeting by about every other armies at the end of the war. Same goes here: it’s not okay to pain and constantly alienate so-called “white people cis-hetero normative dominant blabla”…but it’s so very little to systemic racism and imperialist aggression that it takes one coward hysterical, evil even, bigot to complain about it and not the rest. To be frank, I’ve never seen a SINGLE one white people complaining about SJWs, being any remotely invested in what their own country had done in Middle-East, Africa or South-America nor about the systemic racism subsisting (which is a way more complex problem than painted by “diversity” BS marketer)…this means what it means.

          • GunnyNinja

            Excuse? If I break your jaw and say I’m sorry, how will your jaw feel? How will you feel about me?

          • Rlee

            Bigotry is human nature. If you deny it, you are a hypocrite. On the other hand, you don’t have to manifest it in the real world even if it is, ever present, in your mind.

        • Get Schwifty!

          Ahem, just about any Middle Eastern Country outside of certain zones… regardless of being bombed, the anti-Christian prejudice inherent in Islam is a real problem. I’m all about consciousness raising in regard to prejudice and treatment, but let’s be sure to include all forms of it especially those today. Your argument here so full of holes its ridiculous…. you are aware of the problems in these countries and is has nothing to do with America’s own issues.

          • Lucidfeuer

            You’re a reactionary simpleton and a coward. Let’s talk in absolute and numbers: 9/11 was not carried out by any muslim countries but a terrorist group and provoked 3000 deaths. You can add to that any terrorist attacks against western countries for the sake of it: the NATO and US alone officially killed 1000x folds this numbers in citizens between Irak, Afghanistan, Syria and Lybia. Not counting African, South-American or South-Asian countries.

            Now let’s talk black and white people in South Africa: exactly what segregative regime is in place against white people, and exactly how many white people were burned as a consequences of that versus black people for centuries?

            You must be an extremely cowardly and hypocrite person to even compare 9/11 to the number of citizens killed by the US alone around the world, or the number of black people segregated and burned by white people in the US or South Africa. So if you want to play the “comparison” and reciprocity game, be aware that we’d have to exterminate millions of white people just to “equalise” the odds. Oh but no you’re only worried when radical lefts starts being slightly bigoted against white people…

          • KuMiK

            Again no blacks were burnt by white people in South Africa, it was black people burning black people that had different political views.

          • Rlee

            I guess you’re going to argue that white people started the slave trade too, right? How many white dominated countries have slave trades now? How many black dominated countries still have slaves? Yeah…. get your head out of your a$$.

          • GunnyNinja

            So you are surprised that people who were persecuted, abused, murdered, and marginalized in every possible way for hundreds of years haven’t gotten over it yet? “Can’t we all just get along…”

          • Rlee

            They did those things to themselves, long before we came along.

          • GunnyNinja

            So if you walk down the street and see a bunch of men raping a woman in the bushes, do you stop them or get in line?

        • KuMiK

          wrt to South Africa, the irony is it was black people burning and murdering other black people. Very few black people were killed due to government intervention. Displacement happened but blacks and whites alike, it’s racial segregation after all. Blacks had an overall better quality of life then than now and there was an emerging black middle class. You also don’t build hospitals for people you hate.

          There is no justification for the heap of shit the country has become.

        • Rlee

          Because bombing crazy people makes them crazy, right? Only liberal logic could come up with sh#t like this. The Muslim religion is evil at it’s core and I’m not a real fan of the Christian religion either. They both have killed more people on this planet than, probably any other entity. Liberals choose the Muslim faith, because well, the enemy of my enemy. Liberals will lay with any monster that furthers their agenda.

          • Lucidfeuer

            Not arguing at that level of degenerate inbred.

          • Anthony Lazarus

            “Liberals will lay with any monster that furthers their agenda”,

            Irony at it’s best. We have the monster Donald Twerp as president right now because of people willing to lay with any monster.

  • Michael Slesinski

    so.. im guessing it would be “wrong” to point out that in the end of the video they really do all look the same? i mean same sign, same height, same hat.

    • Jim Cherry

      One of my biggest pet peeves with vr experiences is the lack of depth and detail. Having npc that look like an army of clones is something flat games conquered around 2010.

      • Laurence Nairne

        I don’t think it’s a VR problem to solve, I think it’s creative lethargy because the creators expect the “VR” stamp will do the selling that creative depth does for every other traditional platform.

        • Lucidfeuer

          It’s not so much about “lethargy” than the very limited bulky crusty tools that haven’t evolved much and the lack of comprehensive resources and implementations for different technologies, assets, plugins, templates etc…

          Unless you’re a big studio which I don’t believe is the case here.

          • Laurence Nairne

            But you can use the range of assets available to game development in Unreal and Unity. Yes you are more limited from a graphics and rendering perspective, but that doesn’t require you to work with cookie cutter assets.

  • Warscent

    More progressive liberal BS aimed at further division through diversity as if “the struggle” is an ongoing one.
    Pure propaganda poison.

    • RockstarRepublic

      Propaganda is right.
      Propaganda works by appealing to emotion rather than reason. Its extremely easy to spot these days once you start noticing the patterns, whether it be in Hollywood flicks, TV or mainstream (corporate) news media.

      • Warscent

        The most effectivel way to combat this social engineering program is to show others that is exists.
        Once discovered, it cannot be unseen. Only ignored.

    • Lucidfeuer

      Nothing to do with “progressive” or “liberal” even under the pretence that the current degenerate radical hides behind those etiquettes…

      • Warscent

        Only the mentally compromised would level factual information as etiquette.

      • Warscent

        Nice excuse.

  • Dmitry

    Condemned
    Larry Nassar for 175 years in prison. But
    did he deserve such punishment? Many
    wanted to punish him. But after all the judge should be guided by
    the law. But not
    by desires of haters.

    Actually
    where did this judgment come from – 170 years of imprisonment? Where in the law is there such an article,
    which presupposes a heavier punishment for not the most serious crime? Well, where in the law is this spelled out?

    Who would explain
    this? Yes, hardly anyone will explain. Because, there is no explanation. There are no such provisions in the law. This is complete arbitrariness. The judge who pronounced such a sentence
    (She also demonstratively stated that she had destroyed of hateful
    oppressor) enjoyed the law as a by broom in his own toilet. And this is a “legal” crime it is accepted “with hurray” by democratic and freedom-loving”
    humanity! They do
    not even notice that they themselves have enrolled in the queue under the ax of
    such a “justice”.

  • Dmitry

    Condemned
    Larry Nassar for 175 years in prison. But
    did he deserve such punishment? Many
    wanted to punish him. But after all the judge should be guided by
    the law. But not
    by desires of haters.

    Actually
    where did this judgment come from – 170 years of imprisonment? Where in the law is there such an article,
    which presupposes a heavier punishment for not the most serious crime? Well, where in the law is this spelled out?

    Who would explain
    this? Yes, hardly anyone will explain. Because, there is no explanation. There are no such provisions in the law. This is complete arbitrariness. The judge who pronounced such a sentence
    (She also demonstratively stated that she had destroyed of hateful
    oppressor) enjoyed the law as a by broom in his own toilet. And this is a “legal” crime it is accepted “with hurray” by democratic and freedom-loving”
    humanity! They do
    not even notice that they themselves have enrolled in the queue under the ax of
    such a “justice”.
    https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/24/sports/larry-nassar-sentencing.html

  • MarquisDeSang

    MLK = Marching Looting Killing
    90% of violent crimes in usa are commited blacks (there are 12% of blacks in america), and 80% of those crimes are black on white. Learn the facts and know your history, not some Spielberg fiction movies.

    • Meow Smith

      The 80% black on white crime figure sounds like a arse backwards lie, people tend to kill these who run in the same circles as them, blacks to this day still tend to group with blacks more often and the same goes for whites.

      Next time Goebbels be less obvious.

      • MarquisDeSang

        I am not a racist, I like Kanye West.

  • Jerald Doerr

    Oh no round two of more stupid, moronic, dumb, selfish, racist people who also think they have a right to decide how VR should be used… this same thinking people believe it’s ok to have slaves… If you got a sour taste in your mouth reading this… just suck on some sausage.

  • Rlee

    More SJW bull$hit. Get over it.