Unseen University: The Blind Monk’s Society

By Craig Pearson on January 19th, 2012 at 11:09 am.

This is an actual screenshot of The Blind Monk's Society
What did you do during the great battle of SOPA? What will you be able to tell your grandkids about the stand you took? The stand you took for our freedom to say “bottom” to a librarian? Me? I joined in the great blackout by playing a game without any graphics. In defiance of SOPA, I played the old but thoroughly delightful Half-Life 2 mod The Blind Monk’s Society.

Your character has had his eyes plucked out by ravenous birds, so you need to “see by hearing”. You learn this by guiding yourself through the map according to the narrator’s instructions. He’s a jolly sounding monk, charming, witty, and utterly dedicated to the world of auditory delights that you face. He explains the layout of the map, telling you how to discern the direction you need to go: keep a river on the left, head towards the ringing bell, etc.

Plug in a pair of headphones so you can better discern the direction sounds are coming from. It’s played with typical first-person controls, but I’d suggest a few control tweaks before you get started: add the strafe controls back (they’ve been cut), and bind a “turn left” and “turn right” to the arrow keys. After starting the game, remove your hand from the mouse. It’s slow going, and I over steered a lot when playing with the mouse: I resorted to binding the keys in order to know that I was making consistent movements, tapping them to turn, and to ensure my character wasn’t facing up or down. The best tip, though, is to close your eyes. Instead of the distraction of glowing monitors, the desk, and everything in my peripheral vision, the darkness brought me onto the world.

The most detailed screenshot you'll ever see.
All you need to do is walk along a river and find a wind chime to return to the monks. Simple, but painfully tricky to do when moving unsighted. Every step creates an odd sense of paranoia: my thought process trolled me so many times, telling me I was moving too fast to hear subtle changes in the river’s direction, or warning me that I’d veered off course completely. I slowed down, taking uneager and hesitant steps, listening intently to the sounds: footsteps, rushing water, wind. I found myself wishing for a brief flicker of sight so I could orient myself. Even so, it’s worth getting lost if only to listen to the gentle annoyance of the monk. It’s a game that wouldn’t have worked if the voice acting and script were an afterthought, but there’s been a lot of care taken with the silly voices and Pratchett-esque lines. They’re aural anti-aliasing.

Going blind really undermines your judgement. I missed my eyes and cursed my ears and brain for their pathetic inability to take over. I was knee-deep in water more than once, panicking when a few steps in what I thought was the opposite direction didn’t take me out. Instead of leaping joyfully through the world, I’d stop and take it all in and try and build a mental picture of where I was, constructing the physical world from the background noise. That’s a remarkably hard thing to do, but it’s rewarding beyond belief when it turns out your senses and instinct were correct. Better than a headshot, but a billion times more stressful.

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33 Comments »

  1. Richard Beer says:

    Are ravens always ravenous?

  2. Furiku says:

    Why are we protesting soap again?

  3. jon_hill987 says:

    “and to ensure my character wasn’t facing up or down.”

    Did the raven give you an inner ear infection as well? As much as I like the idea of making games for/about the blind, it is going to be hard without being able to simulate the other senses we have.

    EDIT: I’m not saying this isn’t an interesting and clever experiment just that, until technology improves, that is all it is.

  4. wccrawford says:

    And here all I did was black out my site like all the others.

  5. mentor07825 says:

    Discworld reference in the title of the article.

  6. gerbillover says:

    Why are so many people protesting soap again?

  7. Uglycat says:

    Review needs more pictures

  8. Williz says:

    Fuck, I actually thought this may be related to anew DIscworld based game looking at the title… Damn you and your Punnery RPS, you have ruined my dreams yet again.

  9. Bluerps says:

    It doesn’t sound like it, but just to make sure: Does this turn creepy at any moment? Like, the person guiding you suddenly remarking “Strange… what is that over th… ” followed by screaming, or the voice turning inhuman and saying “Now you are in position” followed by laughter, or something like that?

    Because I think this concept would work really well for horror – but that would be too intense for me, at the moment.

  10. Unaco says:

    How accessible would this game be for someone with hearing impairment? I assume there are subtitles for all of the dialogue, and visual indicators for the direction from which sounds come etc.

    • Aatch says:

      I see your point, but I don’t think that a game made to simulate blindness really deserves to be criticized for not being deaf-accessible. That’s like complaining that a painting isn’t blind-accessible.

      Games are media, media is art, and art doesn’t have to be available to all. Cutting people out for no good reason is bad, but this game is based on the fact that you have to close your eyes and walk through the world blind, having visual clues kinda defeats the point.

      I guess my point is: Mass Effect should have subtitles, the voice acting is not a critical part of the game (as in, you miss a key part of the experience if you don’t hear the voices), this game should not have visual clues, as that spoils the game and takes away a key part of the experience.

    • Unaco says:

      So… The answer is ‘no’ then? It’s not accessible to those with impaired hearing? That’s all I was asking. I didn’t criticise the game at all. I’m not complaining. Why you’d think that is beyond me. You say you see my point… I don’t think you do. I think you missed my point entirely. If you had got my point, your reply would have been “yes” or “no”.

      The reason I asked is… Between visits from my brother, I tend to collate a small list of little PC novelties and stand out things to show to him… whether it’s just a trailer I liked, a level in a game, or interesting little half hour games/experiences like this. He used to, and still does play videogames, and sitting him down infront of something gives me an hours peace or so. Unfortunately, he usually wants something he can jump straight into (simple action/shooter games) whereas most of the games I have installed these days are of the more involving/complex type. Hence the list of things. My brother also happens to be deaf in one ear… meaning his ability to judge direction from sounds and similar is severely limited. If this isn’t accessible to him, then I’ll skip noting it down and showing it to him.

  11. Berzee says:

    Sweet, I always thought a game like this would be cool. =) Despite the backstory being horrific O_O (ewww birds) I am keen to try it

  12. Koozer says:

    Which resolutions does it run at? Does it go fullscreen?

  13. Craig Pearson says:

    Forgot to say: it’s 15-20 minutes long. Give it a whirl.

  14. jamesgecko says:

    At last! A Source game that my Intel graphics card won’t curl over and die running!

  15. somini says:

    I though this was a picture of John Walker naked…

  16. emertonom says:

    This sounds much more entertaining, but it does remind me of “Be the Wumpus.”

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