Double Blind

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Ian here—

I’ve written about synesthetic interfaces before: that is, interfaces that perform a sensory substitution, translating the information normally associated with one sense modality into the phenomenal forms normally associated with another. In my previous work, I’ve usually focused on forms of nonhuman perception and certain modes of perceptual expertise. The release of Perception (The Deep End Games, 2017) yesterday, however, gives me an opportunity to dip into a new topic: disability.

Perception is a horror game about a blind woman exploring a haunted house. Unlike a game such as Papa Sangre (Somethin’ Else, 2010), however—an experiment in audio-only digital game design that has sadly been taken off of the iOS App Store as of this writing—Perception doesn’t court blind and other low-vision players. Rather than featuring robust, binaural sound localization simulation, Perception re-imagines the auditory perception of its blind protagonist Cassie as a kind of sonar vision, thrown up on the player’s screen in spooky, warbly monochrome.

This isn’t the first time games nominally about blindness have been served up to sighted players. In this post, I take up a comparative investigation of Perception alongside Beyond Eyes (Tiger and Squid / Team17 Digital Ltd, 2015), which drops the horror angle in favor of child-friendly, colorful adventure.

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Lesson Plans: The Definitions and Expectations We Have of Games

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Ian here—

This post serves as a little mini-postmortem on two difficult class sessions in my “Frames, Claims, and Videogames” course. There are multiple overlapping reasons why these class sessions were difficult for me. One is that my lesson had to pivot strangely from seemingly-academic debates on the definition of games to a sudden dive into matters of harassment in game culture. Harassment itself is, needless to say, a difficult thing to discuss in class. It becomes exponentially more difficult when one is teaching  a class with a high percentage of international students, many of whom (thanks to the registration realities of late-scheduled courses) have no particular interest in games, and who simply cannot fathom the cultural forces that align to drive a certain subset of American men to use things like changing conceptions of videogames (videogames!) as an opportunity to harass women online. I mean, how do you explain this, really—to anyone at all, let alone someone completely on the outside of American “gamer” culture?

I won’t go so far as to claim that my approach to this material was entirely successful. (The class did not, for instance, become a platform for thoughtful discussion in the same way my unexpectedly post-Trump-election lesson on the politics of American comedy did.) It was, though, a learning experience for me, so it’s worth sharing some details.

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Shattered Memories Scattered Thoughts, Pt 2

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Ian here—

Welcome to part 2 of a 2-part post on Silent Hill: Shattered Memories (Climax Studios, 2009). I’ll admit to a bit of wordplay here. In my first post, “scattered thoughts” referred to my own train of thought, since I’ll be the first to admit that my thoughts in that post weren’t guided by a single, coherent thesis. This post, however, does have a coherent guiding line: it is about how Shattered Memories itself uses distraction and split attention to heighten anxiety. So, the “scattered thoughts” in question here are the player’s.

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Shattered Memories Scattered Thoughts, Pt 1

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Ian here—

It is 2016. Sam Barlow is widely appreciated today for revitalizing the full-motion video adventure game with HER STORY (2015). Why, then, return to Silent Hill: Shattered Memories (Climax Studios, 2009), which Barlow served as writer and lead designer of, which released seven years ago today? Am I prepared to claim that it is a lost masterpiece, a testament to Barlow’s skill at expanding the narrative possibilities of the videogame medium? No, I am not. Shattered Memories is certainly interesting. But it’s also flawed in too many ways to be considered a masterpiece.

Why these critical musings, then? Well, a bit of biographical detail: Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is the reason I bought a Wii. I had no prior interest in the console until word of this title started leaking out in mid-2009. I had played the first three Silent Hill games (all earlier that year, in fact) and loved them, but skipped the most recent iterations due to a seeming consensus that the series had subsequently lagged, especially following the departure of the original Team Silent. But here was something new: a game that actually seemed as if the designers were using the Wii remote in interesting ways, a game that seemed like it had a shot at leveraging the bodily engagement of the Wii platform in the service of horror, a game that was promising to rescue the survival horror genre from its seemingly inexorable slide into the action genre. In 2009, all three of these things seemed like breaths of fresh air.

So I have a personal attachment to this game, even if my feelings on it are complicated. What follows, as the title of this post suggests, are somewhat messy thoughts—although I’m planning to post a more organized follow-up soon.

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Lesson Plan: Horror, Paranoia, and Suspense in Cinema and Videogames

siren-blood_curse_screenshot-1Ian here—

The following is a lesson plan that I first used in my “Comparative Media Poetics: Cinema and Videogames” course taught at U Chicago in spring 2013. It didn’t really come into its own, however, until I re-taught some of the same material, with much greater success, in my course “The Moving and Interactive Image” at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the fall of 2015. I’m especially indebted to the students in my SAIC course for helping me direct this material into its current form.

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Lesson Plan: The Visual Language of Survival Horror

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Ian here—

What follows is a two-part post, combining lesson plans from two separate days of my course “Comparative Media Poetics: Cinema and Videogames.” The learning objectives for the course centered around three main analytical questions, which animated the course and which students were expected to respond to in their written assignments. When looking at a given text, the course asked: 1) How is this particular film or particular game put together? 2) What effects and functions are engendered by its specific construction? 3) How has the historical development of the medium shaped this construction?

All three of these questions come together in a particularly potent way during this week, where we took a close look at game developers who developed a visual style out of technological necessity, but then paired that style with a genre that worked well with its specific effects. On the agenda: 1990s-era survival horror games.

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Gravity as a Horror Movie: Nature as the Villain

Jack Haggerty

Alfonso Caurón‘s Gravity shares many common elements with the typical horror film, including gripping suspense, the element of surprise and a truly terrifying narrative that sucks the viewer into the protagonist’s plight. However, unlike most horror films, Gravity does not invoke the supernatural or a villainous character to instill terror in its audience. Rather, Gravity relies purely on the natural forces of our universe and the limitation on human capabilities to navigate these forces. The undeniable actuality of these two elements lead to the truly terrifying villain that is the reality of life in space, one that does not ask the audience to suspend its disbelief. Additionally, Gravity holds itself to an incredibly high standard in depicting events in space realistically, including the sound’s inability to propagate in space as well as the accurate portrayal of object movement in space.

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