Friday, January 22, 2016

Video Game Proposal: Elephant in the dark

First, let me talk a bit about the only remotely similar game I've heard of.

I was disappointed with the way Pulse handled blindness.  In the game you play a formerly sighted girl who, in spite of losing her sight at an early age, thinks about the environment in entirely visual ways.  That doesn't bother me.  In spite of my total inability to actually visualize, I know that if I were ever to lose my sight I'd end up using the information I could piece together about my environment to create a pseudo-visual map.

In spite of being unable to create images myself in my head I interact with the world in an extremely visual way and have developed a sort of pseudo visualization that's not actually visualization but more like a a half remembered detail light after-image (and that's when it works well.)  This because, while I think almost entirely in audio (I have a constant internal monolog) visual is what I depend on to understand and interact with the world.

So I have no problem with a formerly sighted blind person trying to construct a visual image of the world around them in their mind.  If I were to go blind that's exactly what I would do (badly) because that's what I would need.  It's what I do in total darkness already.

The problem I have with Pulse is that she when she contstruct a model of the world in her imagination (which tends to be quite colorful because sound gives no color information so she's free to pain the world she "sees" in whatever colors she wants) it's completely accurate.

If she can send a pulse of sound (hence game name) into an area she will know exactly what that area looks like.  Human echolocators exist.  They use the visual part of the brain to process the information, so if it is possible for a formerly sighted person to change over to that (I have no idea) it makes sense that they're interpret the information visually.

I don't buy the idea that bouncing one sound off of the area can give her a perfect interpretation down to the leaves on the plants.

But, also, I was disappointed with the missed opportunities for trying to construct a visual world from limited information.  Which brings us to Elephant in the Dark.


The story of the Elephant is old enough that no one is completely sure where it came from.  It usually involves blind men, but honestly I really, really don't buy that people who have been blind enough to be used to blindness would make the kinds of fuck ups the men in the story do, so I favor the the stories where sighted people encounter and elephant they can't see.

Anyway, the story goes that the people touched the elephant in different places and came to different conclusions about what an elephant is based upon where they touched.  So many versions means we reach a lot of conclusions:

Trunk means elephant is like a tree branch or snake or water spout
Tusk means elephant is like a pipe or spear or plowshare
Head means elephant is like a pot
Ear means elephant is like a hand fan or winnowing basket or husking basket
Leg means elephant is like a pillar or tree trunk
Belly means elephant is like a wall or a granary
Back means elephant is like mortar (as in "brick and") or a throne
Tail means elephant is like a rope or pestle (as in "mortar and")
Tip of tail means elephant is like a brush

While human echolocation is fucking amazing, I kind of thing that someone trying to make sense of the world via tactile means presents a more interesting dynamic.  Someone who feels a flat wall doesn't know how long it goes on for, and unless they touch a door itself, they have no reason to assume the wall has a door in it.

I can imagine a game where someone, especially someone with no experience (a sighted person in the dark or a recently blinded person), is trying to make sense with the limited information available to them and the visual game-world (as opposed to the underlying geometry) is constructed based on the person trying to extrapolate from what they know.  Feel a flat wall, and until you have constraints, assume it goes on forever.

Feel only part of something and risk visualizing completely the wrong thing.

A game where the elephant problem is endemic unless the player takes the time to make sure they're feeling the whole of the object.

I think I'd like to play that game, or at least give it a shot.

Also, I definitely wouldn't eliminate sound as a source of world image input entirely.  Especially since hearing something (drip of water, footsteps) directly doesn't require the person to be an echolocator to get an approximate location.

And I was kind of disappointed that Pulse, in which the player character is explicitly imagining the world around her, didn't have any major flights of imagination in the unknown areas.  They were often filled with ominous looking eyes, but little girls can imagine a lot more than that.  Where were the imagined dragons and unicorns to fill in the blank spaces on the map (here there be monsters)?


  1. This is a very cool idea. Reminds me a bit of what is shown in 3rd person about Toph's sense of the world in AtLA.

    Plus the character who is blind but able to see in other dimensions or "see" magic or EM fields or whatever comes up in Spec Fic fairly often. Usually fascinating, tho often poorly developed...

    Different ways of gathering and using information are awesome for characterizing nonhuman characters, and not as fraught as portrayals of disabled humans by the...standardly-abled.

    Disabled human POV chars good too, but Nothing About Us Without Us applies until further notice...

    1. If this ever became a real thing, I'd want very much to make sure the character didn't come across as a representation of blind people and the game didn't come across as a representation of blindness.

      The entire idea revolves around it showing the world as interpreted by someone who is used to seeing but can't right now.

  2. I'm reminded of a game called "BlindSide" that was on Kickstarter a few years ago. It's a video game with no video: the player character is blind, so you have to navigate and figure out what's going on using sound cues (the developers recommend using a good set of stereo headphones).

    I've got my backer copy around somewhere, but I never actually got around to playing it. Reviews I've seen are mixed, but trend toward "fascinating concept, implementation needs more work".

    1. I once encountered someone, online, adapting a game for blind people. A first person shooter with RPG leanings. The impression that I got was that this was hardly the first time someone had done such a thing.

      So it's not like a video game without video (note how the meanings of words change) can't be done.

      That's not where my brain was going with this though. More a thing with a strong visual component where the visuals are ... best guesses that are in flux and represent the internal map being created by a person who is used to seeing but can't right now (and has a very visual imagination to help them construct this "map".)