Friday, December 20, 2013

BlindSide: A Video Game Without Video

I am not a gamer by any means, and I'm not really up to date on the new consoles and technologies and what have you; Nintendo 64 is about all I can handle. However, my attention has just been caught by an awesome sounding (in more ways than one) thriller-horror game called Blindside.

BlindSide is an audio-only survival horror video game that doesn't actually feature any video. While many video games have accessibility options built into their programming, especially games for phones and tablets, BlindSide was designed specifically for the visually impaired.

In the game, Case, an assistant professor, and his girlfriend, Dawn, wake up inexplicably sightless. They aren't the only ones, either. Everyone in the city has become blind and must survive the menacing-sounding monsters that now roam around. Players must navigate Case by using audio cues from both Case and the environment. For example, since Case is new to being blind, he bumps into things around him and gives verbal hints about what he feels: “The door is to my left.” 

Environmental cues might be the sound of traffic as one approaches a window and the speaker in which those sounds are heard depending on the direction one turns. If one faces the window directly, sounds are heard in both ears, but if one turns to the right, the sound is isolated to the left speaker. Also, if using mobile devices, players can actually move themselves in order to move Case, rather than being confined to arrow keys on a computer. This element of mobility seems to help players, particularly sighted ones, get a clearer mental image of the environment.

Start screen for BlindSide's mobile app.

BlindSide was designed after Aaron Rasmussen, half of BlindSide's development team, was temporarily blinded after a red phosphorous and potassium chlorate explosion. After the emergency room drugs wore off, Rasmussen woke up to blackness. His corneas eventually grew back, but Rasmussen doesn't take advantage of his sight anymore: “The whole experience made me value my sight more, in a way that makes me treat it with more care.”

Rasmussen got together with a former colleague from Boston University, Michael T. Astolfi, and after raising over fourteen thousand dollars on Kickstarter in December, 2011, the two worked from their homes in Los Angeles (Rasmussen) and New York (Astolfi) for the next twelve months. They modeled real-world locations in 3-D and reproduced over a thousand sounds that would be heard in those environments, adjusting them to walk the line between authenticity and playability.

BlindSide won an innovation award at the Games for Change Festival in June and has been downloaded thousands of times on iOS and PC since its release last year. Rasmussen and Astolfi have no plans of making a sequel to the game, but they have helped the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute make an assistive app using the game's technology, and they hope that other gamers and independent game designers will continue designing accessible games that don't feel limited.

BlindSide is available at the iTunes App Store for $2.99 or on the BlindSide website for $3.99.

I'm extremely tempted to try it out; rumor has it BlindSide is pretty scary. Sounds good to me! What do you think?


  1. This is an awesome post! Not to mention a great idea. It seems that the high-tech, in-your-face, hyper-realist video games these days can be too daunting for recreational players and consume too many senses at one time, so I like the idea of a game that relies solely on sound. It offers the player a chance to use his or her imagination per the sound as a sort of primer, rather than completely take the player out of the mind with inundating visuals. There should be more of these, and not just for the blind; anybody can benefit.

    BTW, where are all the comments on here? I've enjoyed reading all of your posts, and have learned a great deal from them, too. I really admire what you're doing, and hope the blog/organization keeps raising awareness for these pressing issues that the average person never seems to consider.

    Keep it up, Shelley! I look forward to reading future posts : )

    -An old friend

  2. Thank you for reading and commenting! I (and everyone at MHKC) appreciate it. :D