Linh Dao

Assistant Professor, Interaction Design, California Polytechnic State University. 




Linh Dao

Interaction Design, Assistant Professor, California Polytechnic State University


Small Aspirations
Interaction Design


Small Aspirations
is a virtual reality artistic experience that uses critical play to critique, subvert, and explore alternatives to the public's misconceptions and attitudes about immigration. The experience uses traditional forms of play (such as three object fortune teller rituals) as well as video games (such as puzzlers) to immerse the player in a surreal space in which they can engage in interactive art explorations. The player takes on the role of a first-time labor immigrant, coming to a new country with less applicable skills, and a more disadvantaged educational background (Segal, 2006), having limited career options to navigate such as restaurant workers or construction workers when they arrive in the United States. It helps the player gain a deeper understanding of the challenges immigrants face when building their lives and families in the United States, with humble but essential occupations, a deeply understood privilege that comes with a heavy burden. This exposes the misunderstood and unpleasant truth about these jobs that are thought to have been stolen, fostering empathy and leading to healthy conversations about who get to stay and how. Those without access to high-end virtual reality headsets will be able to play this experience as well via a web browser. Using virtual reality, I invite the public to explore the extent and influence of the immigrant diaspora in the United States, and therefore, the essence of culture, politics, and society in the U.S., which is one of the challenges associated with studying populations of color and disadvantaged groups.


While many Americans agree that immigrants do not work in desirable jobs (Krogstad, 2020), policymakers continue to disagree about the impact of immigration on the U.S. labor force and wages, particularly during recent tough economic times (Greenstone, 2012), making immigration policy a key issue of debate among federal, state policymakers, and citizens alike. In this hostile environment, immigrants continue to find work in industries such as agriculture, construction, personal service, leisure/hospitality, and manufacturing, essentials businesses that sustain a strong economy, regardless of whether they are here legal or illegally. They suffered from being underpaid and exploited based on their immigration status, with employers committing workplace violations against those who lack status or having a temporary, precarious status at a vastly higher rate than U.S.-born workers (Costa, 2024). They came despite the soaring job losses during the pandemic, and the belief that they did not deserve federal supports for job pandemic loss, echoing the established sentiment that they collect excessive government benefits and are a drain on the economy (ACLU).
Data shows the opposite is true, with one of the highest recent share of U.S.-born individuals with a job, somewhat stagnant immigration force growth (Costa, 2024). In spite of our desire to embrace these unique advantages, and continue to thrive economically and culturally on our human capital, we have not yet done away with the discourse surrounding immigrants. It seems to be something that we are at odds still. Are we a nation of dreamers and whose dreams are we allowing?

Besides the less novel, but just as pressing, political, economic, and social backdrop of the U.S., there's a need for art to take part in this significant conversation through meaningful engagement with new and emerging technologies as they become more available to the public. I have always been interested in its diverse nature and its potential to be the underlying thread that ties us together as a nation, as well as to help us understand our global place, as a dream destination. With its exploratory and resilient nature, the immigration experience embodies the most American experience there is. It is something we can unite over, instead of tearing ourselves apart over it. I have been working toward this goal for quite some time, acquiring necessary skills that I did not possess previously, in order to build a solid conceptual and technical foundation for this project.

This project was created for the Meta Quest 2 and webGL, using Untiy, Visual Studio, Blender, Substance Painter, Substance Sampler, Substance Designer, Adobe Photoshop,  and Audacity. The soundtrack was created by Scott Buckley. 


Azoulay, Pierre, Benjamin Jones, J. Daniel Kim, and Javier Miranda. 2020. “Immigrants to the U.S. Create More Jobs than They Take.” Kellogg School of Management, October 5, 2020.

Bochicchio, Sarah. 2023. “How These Artists Reimagine the Immigration Process | Art & Object.” Journalistic, Inc. July 23, 2023.

Costa, Daniel, and Heidi Shierholz. 2024. “Immigrants Are Not Hurting U.S.-Born Workers: Six Facts to Set the Record Straight.” Economic Policy Institute. February 20, 2024.

Krogstad, Jens Manuel, Mark Hugo Lopez, and Jeffrey S. Passel. 2020. “A Majority of Americans Say Immigrants Mostly Fill Jobs U.S. Citizens Do Not Want.” Pew Research Center. June 10, 2020.