If video games provide a way for players to live vicariously through digital marionettes – to become, for instance, a professional footballer or a heroic soldier – then you have to wonder why anyone would think to create a video game about a blind girl looking for her lost cat.
Not all games are power fantasies, but they’re all fantasies. Who fantasises about being blind?
There’s a chance, of course, that Beyond Eyes, which isn’t a walking simulator so much as a stumbling-around simulator, is an empathetic exercise; an experience designed to foster understanding in people with sight about the trials and tribulations of people without it. The young protagonist in Beyond Eyes sees the world as a living watercolour that paints itself as she meanders through it, arms outstretched, letting her fingers brush walls and flowers and her hearing dapple the framework with colours. Sometimes, her working senses betray her. A trickling fountain morphs into a leaking drain; the incessant knock-knock-knock of a woodpecker becomes a ticking traffic light at a busy intersection. You’re supposed to marvel at the mundane dangers a blind person must navigate each day.
I was wondering: Where are this girl’s parents?
I’m all for being respectful of people’s differences and disabilities, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with suggesting that perhaps video games aren’t always the best medium for such things. I understand that a blind person must walk slowly and carefully, but I have no desire to experience that, especially in a game which requires a lot of movement just to become navigable. The little girl, Rae, remembers the touch and smell and sound of things she encounters, so as she wanders, what started as a blank screen becomes an environment she – and, by extension, the player – is familiar with. This is a good idea, in theory. In practice it’s insufferable. If the pace of Beyond Eyes was any slower, the whole game would be a painting.
What can you do, though? It’s a game about a blind girl. It would be unreasonable of me to expect her to sprint and leap around, and I’m willing to meet an experience halfway, but I think it’s unreasonable of the game to pull the kind of dick moves that it does, especially when it starts to rain and the noise of the drops wipes out all your visual progress.
Stuff like this – and there’s more, such as the crushing realisation that the entire game really is just walking around and rubbing up against things – are what make me wonder, not unreasonably, if the world has any use for an experience such as this. I didn’t emerge on the other side feeling as if I knew anything more about what being blind might be like; I felt as though I’d played a bad, boring game for an hour.
I did emerge with a higher Gamerscore, though, and considering that’s the only reason I sought out Beyond Eyes in the first place, I can’t grumble too much. The game’s easy, too – how can it not be, with so little gameplay? Finding everything is a nuisance, but the game is mercifully small, and I guess you could charitably describe some of the visual revelations as interesting. But I must admit that towards the end, I was mostly discovering things because I was determinedly scouring the map’s edges for a ledge I could steer Rae off of.