Blind Spots: The Phantom Pain, The Helen Keller Simulator, and Disability in Games

For the past thirty years, and especially since the popularization of real time 3D graphics processing in the mid-nineties, the computer and videogame industry has been caught up in a graphical arms race: a relentless and blind pursuit of ocularcentric spectacle culminating in the hypertrophy of the visual economy in games like Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear 5: The Phantom Pain. Alongside this cinematic hypertrophy, a generation of players and designers have internalized the logic and codes of videogames to produce games and game practices which engage the non-visual conditions of the medium. These games have made use of atrophy and the attenuation of visual gameplay as a form of critical game design resulting in games like The Helen Keller Simulator, an unpopular internet meme that consists of a black (or blank) image with no audio, promoted as a first person videogame. While The Phantom Pain terminates in unplayable cutscenes, The Helen Keller Simulator deploys the restriction of vision to uncannily similar effect. In contrast to this hypertrophy of cinematic spectacle and the atrophy of minimal mechanics, this talk will examine a little-known practice known as blindrunning: a method through which both blind and sighted players navigate videogame spaces without the use of vision to invent elaborate metagames according to alternate sensory economies. Following Steve Connor’s Philosophy of Sport in which “disabled sports are the only sports there are,” we will examine the way in which blindrunning holds a critical lens up to not only the games industry but software in general. By turning to these dreams of the dark, blindrunners have uncovered the blindspots of capitalism and invent ludic forms that challenge contemporary models of videogame design.