Notes on Blindness Review
Developer: ARTE Experience
Publisher: ARTE Experience
Platforms: Gear VR, Go
Genre: 360 Experience (non-game), Educational, Exploration, Narrative, Simulation
Virtual reality allows a person to get a sense of space and time they would not regularly be exposed to, whether it be playing a character in a game or experiencing Mount Everest. Another encounter would be to go in-depth on what being blind is like.
Notes on Blindness is an immersive virtual reality that reimagines life in darkness. Writer, John Hull, went completely blind in 1983 after years of slow atrophy. As Hull became blind, he decided to record an audio diary to document the world he was now exposed to. This virtual reality is a six-part documentary. The recordings of Hull are what guides the storyline and animation to explore the world of the blind. Each chapter addresses a scene in his tape recordings and gives the illusion of what Hull was psychologically and emotionally experiencing.
Chapter one is called How Does it Feel to Be Blind. The screen is black and white, writing in the center begins to appear and reads off the background story of John Hull, and thus begins the basis of what the virtual reality is going to be about. The writing disappears, and the low, crackling sound of old tapes begins to play with Hull starting to talk. The scene is set up in a park where he takes his children. A specific sound of walking or people playing allows a quaint image of them. It is mostly a blurred outline of figures, and they have a faint blue color along them to know what is being seen, but not fully emerging the image. The blue starts to glow more as the sound of the subject is heard.
These are not full pictures or scenes. Things show up as Hull describes them and they disappear to something new. The audio is most important to the experience and being somewhere quiet is how to enjoy the sounds and visuals the most. There is never a full image as Hull cannot see, but his hearing allows him to visualize what is in front of him.
“Where there is no activity there is no sound, and then that part of the world dies,” said Hull, as the sounds and screen turn black at the end of chapter one.
The chapters all identify significant points in Hull’s journey being blind. A chapter that was relatively more intriguing than most was Panic. The set-up is that there is snow, and Hull is standing on his porch. Snow is hard to keep track of the sounds, and it is easy to forget the direction to go toward. With this specific chapter, there is the ability to walk forward, slowly, and slightly understand the situations that can arise from being blind. During this chapter, there was sheer anxiety from my side, as the audio becomes quiet, and you can now hear yourself breathe.
These chapters put you through a sense of Hull’s experience and make it become yours. It was emotional. A sense of helplessness arose, and the game was now immersing itself onto my life.
A chapter that was more interactive than the others was one on the wind. This chapter puts an outside setting along with a stream of water, trees, and a swing set. The directions are to follow the bird, so as this is occurring, the bird is flying to different objects, and once at the object, the wind blows on them. The sounds that form after the wind blows is musical. The swing sets and trees all in tune with each other and the stream of water whispers in the wind. These simple sounds put a mood of relaxation, and appreciation for sound rather than sight.
Then the rain begins. Hull loves when it rains as he explains in the audio for specific reasons. He hears more of what is out there and what is happening during the rain. The next chapter is a cognitive one. The scene changed to inside Hull’s home. It is dark, but the rain is heard from the outside. Little drops are heard inside hitting pans or plates. The interactive part occurs when you look around the room, and the image of an object appears, such as a pot or cup. As that image appears, the sound of the rain hitting it gets louder.
The rain is suddenly pouring now inside the house, hitting all of the objects at once and they all light up, still as a blurred image, but with the outline, so there is the ability to know where the pot or cup are located. The sound is loud, the pots are loud, but Hull’s enjoyment of the sound brings joy through listening to it.
In the last chapter, there is a choir. This is one of the most visually pleasing performances. As a person that can see, viewing things can be distracting because not a lot of listening is done. During the choir performance, there is a sense of just listening as each person singing appears one after the other. Hull said that he was describing what the scene looked like and he went off to conclude that he liked that he couldn’t see it because picturing what was happening did not matter. The voices and sound from the choir made it that much more special.
The screen goes dark, the audio shuts off, and silence in darkness appears. To experience in the slightest, the journey of what blindness is like is all brought by virtual reality technology. Notes on Blindness is an emotional experience about a disability that is a challenge to reciprocate through a screen, but this specific game does a spectacular job doing so. It may not be as accurate, but it gives an understanding for those who have sight.
Story: 4.5/5 – The narrated VR experience is actual tape from John Hull, a man who was blind and made recorded notes during his life on what blindness was like. Each phase was a different part of his journey and allowed various discoveries of what the blind can go through. It is mainly directed by audio.
Visuals: 4/5 – There is attention to detail when something is being described through audio. The point is to imagine you are blind and whether it be spot on or not, there is a sense of darkness and understanding through visuals of what being blind is like.
Playability: 3/5 – The VR experience is a storyline that follows through chapters, but there is no game to it, more of an experience. It becomes one big story that is endured and discovered with a few interactions such as walking straight, staring at objects or following a bird. The story and idea are powerful enough to intrigue the audience.
User Interface: 4/5 – To look around and follow the sounds and images, head movements are required. When wanting to walk forward, you look at the footsteps on the floor, so there is a decent amount of user interface which makes everything clear and easy to navigate.
Replay Value: 3/5 – The experience is one of a kind in the sense that it reimagines what being blind is like and gives a new feel to darkness. As it is a narrative rather than a game, and no other options to play or storylines, the replay value is low.
Overall Score: 4/5