dkirschner's Beyond Eyes (PC)
| [August 12, 2016 09:22:05 PM]
| I have a reason for playing this. I am teaching an upper level course, Sociology of Disability. After having some fun with my summer class using Never Alone in a lesson on culture, I must have been paying attention to games about disabilities, because I noticed Beyond Eyes, which puts you in the role of Rae, a blind girl looking for her missing cat. So I wondered if this would be somehow useful for a lesson on anything in the disabilities course. Well, I played the game, and the answer is yes. I can see this fitting right alongside a discussion of the harmfulness of disability simulations.
Before criticizing the game's portrayal of a blind child, I'll say that it's much better done than I thought it would be. But that's the insidious part of trying to represent the experience of someone with a disability. You will never succeed. The game tries from a place of good will, and is heart-warming and empathetic. But let's pick it apart anyway.
1. Rae is blinded in a tragic fireworks accident, so she acquired her disability at, say, age 8. It is said that she was out with her friends. After becoming blind, it seems she is very sad and sits in her garden alone all day. She befriends a cat that comes into the garden, and nothing else is said about her other friends. Where did they go? Have they abandoned her because she is blind? Has she socially isolated herself? This is a common myth when people acquire a disability, that they become socially isolated and their friends desert them. This is also one reason we fear becoming disabled. Granted, she finds one of her friends later in the game, and the game closes with them talking after [spoiler spoiler]. So perhaps the game shows Rae's process of coming to terms with her disability and not becoming socially isolated after all.
2. Rae wanders around in her garden in the snow with no jacket. People with blindness are not stupid. Why doesn't she have a jacket on? She even hugs herself for warmth. She is portrayed as helpless, and this is visible throughout the rest of the game as well. This perpetuates the myth of dependence.
3. Rae seems very jumpy and afraid. Blind people are not jumpy and afraid. According to the narrative, she had been blind for a year before she goes wandering out of her garden after her cat. She would have gotten used to it. This shows how we often assign character traits to certain disabilities. Blind people are like this, deaf people are like that, etc.
4. Rae seems to have trouble detecting what is what in her environment. She cannot cross the street, which I presume is because she cannot tell when cars are coming. She things the clicking of the pedestrian crosswalk thing is a bird. She thinks a lawnmower is a car. She mistakes all sorts of things for other things. Especially having been sighted for ~90% of her life, and then blind for a year already, she would not be constantly making these mistakes. She would know what a lawnmower sounded like and she would be able to cross the street by listening for cars. I found this sort of insulting. People with acquired disabilities tend to adapt quite thoroughly, and children adapt quite quickly.
5. People who are blind are adept at identifying sounds and navigating their environment. They do not walk at Rae's snail pace. Blind people can play sports and walk without constantly running into things (though that is common) and are usually very adapted to space. They often go through orientation and mobility training to help them master this skill. Often they learn the use of a cane, or learn how to have others help them. Rae, on the other hand, inexplicably wanders off alone, and thanks to the player (who is "experiencing blindness") constantly runs into things and gets horribly lost. The experience of a blind person is not to constantly run into things and get horribly lost, nor to be afraid all the time.
There you go. A quick little demo of this game in class could show how the (well-intentioned) game perpetuates some common myths of blindness.
Now, critiques aside, I enjoyed the game. The idea is great. Since Rae is blind, the player can only see what she perceives, which is what is right around her and what she can hear, such as birds chirping, cars driving, dogs barking, tree leaves rustling, etc. When she hears things, they become visible wherever they are nearby. It is a neat way to traverse the game world. I played another game some time ago called Lurking. It was a horror game set in a house, and it had a similar mechanic. You could only see by making noise, either your character or you, by breathing into the microphone. But enemies detected you if you made noise, so you had to manage noise--make enough to see, but not enough to get killed. It was cool. Anyway, this is a similar idea without all the dying.
The colors are pretty. The game uses a lot of bright pastels and it has a "paint-brushed" feel to the world. When Rae gets scared (by a dog barking or whatever), the colors will mute and the world will turn decidedly more brown. The music also dampens and becomes sadder. It clearly conveyed the emotions Rae was feeling. And although I criticized her running into things (my fault, I'm sure), she does walk with her hand out if she is near something, to guide her. That was a nice touch. If the game were more technically advanced, she would react to what she touched, be it leaves, or a fence, or water, or a dog, or whatever.
All this amounts to an oddly calming and/or boring game. I was literally falling asleep at my keyboard. I'd jolt back awake with my finger still holding the W key down to run. Again, it was a mixture of being really boring (because you just walk really slowly and try to figure out where the hell you're going, and hope you hear the cat so you can follow the sound) and really calming thanks to the nice music and pretty art design.
I wasn't too keen on the ending. I liked how emotional it was. Again, that was conveyed very clearly. But, without spoiling what happens, I didn't follow Rae's logic, or the logic of the game too apparently. What seems to have happened in the end is in no way a certainty. I don't know why Rae assumed what she did. I sure didn't. And our difference doesn't have to do with being blinded or sighted. It's a difference in reasoning, and hers is jumping to conclusions without sufficient evidence. Yeah, I thought the ending was bad. But I liked that her human friend came to visit her.
That's two games this week with endings I didn't like. What's happening?! Is this a sign of the end times?!
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dkirschner's Beyond Eyes (PC)
Current Status: Finished playing
GameLog started on: Wednesday 10 August, 2016
GameLog closed on: Friday 12 August, 2016
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