KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It’s a chapter of American history that remains close to the Kansas City area’s heart.
Now, video-gamers can experience playing in Negro Leagues baseball games for themselves, as well as the civil rights injustices that came along with it.
All the triumphs and tragedies of the Negro Leagues era baseball landscape are now as close as your computer.
Dr. Derek Ham, North Carolina State media arts design professor, and his students have produced “Barnstormers — Determined to Win,” a virtual reality experience that puts users in the midst of baseball games and social settings, in a time when Black athletes weren’t permitted to play alongside white athletes and racial degradation was common.
Users will find themselves filling the roles of people from that era.
“When you think about wanting people to reflect on history, and have an empathetic view of the world, we talk about being in the shoes of another person. With VR, literally puts you in the skin of another person,” Ham said.
The video experience features famous names from that era, including Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson. Ham spent long stretches in Kansas City working with Negro Leagues Baseball Museum President Bob Kendrick to ensure the project’s authenticity.
“To be able to step out on the field of a Negro Leagues game, and essentially hold the bat while you’re facing someone, potentially, to the magnitude of a Satchel Paige, but hear the jeers along with the cheers that come along. That’s a different kind of experience,” Kendrick said.
Kendrick and Ham agree the immersive nature of this technology will pull viewers into this historical experience, and give Negro Leagues athletes the glory — and dignity — they should have experienced all along.
The Negro Leagues were also featured in the recent video game release MLB The Show 23.
“Barnstormers — Determined to Win” is available on the gaming platform Steam. You’ll need an account for that website along with a computer and virtual reality headset.