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Atthar Mirza | ARCH 4011 | Fall 2016

Impossible Courage is a virtual reality (VR) experience that uses Unreal Engine and the HTC Vive to place people into lives we otherwise may not be able to imagine. It is based on asylum seekers leaving from Northern Africa to enter Europe through Italy. The experience shares their story in an engaging way. It emphasizes the courage, sacrifices and difficult decisions along their path.


The idea of a VR experience serving humanitarian purposes was sparked in Elgin Cleckley’s TEMP studio. The studio was using design thinking to find solutions relating to the migrant and refugee crisis in Lampedusa. Atthar Mirza, a student in the class, had a personal connection to the struggles of immigrants. His parents immigrated to the United States and his grandparents were refugees of the Gulf War. Atthar saw an opportunity to show immigrants and refugees from his point of view: as hopeful, smart and courageous people.


Atthar and his team want to shift the conversation, make it come from a point of understanding rather than a point of fear. In order to do this more effectively than past attempts, Impossible Courage uses user agency instead of passivity. Instead of watching things happen and being unable to react, the virtual reality experience allows users to make key decisions and control how the story ends. Although most people are able to succeed, the experience will acknowledge migration success rates to show how lucky that outcome is in reality.


The project team includes:

Atthar Mirza, Creative Direction, Level Design, Modeling & Animation

Omar El-Sheikh, Lead Software Engineer

Connor Anderson, UI Design/Programmer

Collin Hansen, Software Engineer

Brandon Sangston, Sound Designer

Claire Poumerol, Research/Outreach