VR and the act of seeing

December 8, 2018
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My uncle is blind. I don’t think he sees nothing at all, though. I don’t think that’s how blindness necessarily works. I think he sees lights and shapes but not too much that he can really make practical use of. I gather, and mine is a very limited understanding, that blindness is a spectrum.

You might hope that my uncle’s experience of blindness – I love him very much, and despite the geographical distance I think we are close – would make me very aware of my own privilege of sight. But of course I largely take it for granted. I am long-sighted, so I often complain about newsprint and how small everything is on my monitor, and multiple sclerosis meant that I had a period of double vision a few years back which lasted for several weeks and was extremely odd and unsettling. But then it went away, thankfully, and since then I haven’t really given my own sight much thought. More fool me, obviously, because sight is fascinating.

And the thing that has finally made me realise this is VR. PSVR to be more precise. I have spent the last few months with things like Tetris Effect and Déraciné, the last of which is a sort of experimental adventure game from the people behind Dark Souls and Bloodborne. I say experimental – in fact it’s a very traditional, even slightly boring adventure game. You explore, you collect items and you think of ways that they might be useful for advancing the scenarios you find yourself in. But what I’ve realised is that in the muddle of all these boring tasks, I look at things more. I look closely at the things in my inventory – dead flowers, ornate keys, a dead mouse at one point – and I look more intently at the surroundings in which I find myself. Déraciné is set in a Victorian school or orphanage or some such. Many games take you to places like this, and yet here I stare in wonder at everything I see: the chalk boards, the prints of birds, the rugs that have lumps and folds in them, the stacks of books on counters and the brass handles on the wooden doors.

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