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Astigmata: Suffering In A 3D World

Featured post Good luck with that, eye-freaks.

Do you care about 3D? As a broken-eyed freak-child, it only makes me feel lonely and left out of the new club for cool kids. Are all games going to start to demand I wear a pair of fetching specs that cause my astigmatism to drill a headache into the centre of my brain? Activision today announces that COD: Black Ops will support 3D play on all systems, so long as you have a 3D TV (which would make you of about seventeen people in the country) or a 3D card that supports it for your PC (much more likely). Presumably there’s a lot of people that want it. But I’m not yet convinced.

I’ve not tried this rapidly flicking shutter tech that’s replacing the blue/green/whatever colour. Perhaps it would work splendidly for me, revealing games in spectacular extend-o-vision, letting me feel as if I were right in the thick of the action, surrounded by the imaginary world. Except, well, I already do. I don’t spend my time playing games with my conscious screaming at me, “YOU’RE LOOKING AT A MONITOR!” I forget that almost instantly (until the game generously offers me the information that it’s “loading” every few seconds).

But I suspect it wouldn’t. I have a rubbish eye. My left eye was born rugby ball-shaped. An astigmatism. Something that I wouldn’t learn wasn’t called “a stigmatism” until my 30s, I can proudly tell you. (Because apparently I was willing to accept that my eyeball had been nailed to a cross, or something.) However, my right eye couldn’t be better. Like the International Prototype Kilogram in the basement in Sèvres, France, my right eyeball is that by which all standards of good vision are measured. It compensates for all of Lefty’s failings in day-to-day life, without boasting or need for credit, letting me see clearly, and binocularly. My right eye is a true hero. But he can’t offer me pretend 3D.

I like to remind myself that my binocular vision affords me extraordinary three-dimensional vision at all times other than when staring at a screen. But even then, I’ve yet to find myself completely bemused by the picture being flat. It seems, in fact, that my brain interprets the depth of field completely splendidly. Rarely have I sat watching a television shouting, “BUT WHO IS BEHIND WHO?! WHY ISN’T HE BANGING INTO THAT TINY CATHEDRAL? HOW COME THEY’RE NOT GETTING WET FROM THE SEA FLOATING ABOVE THE SAND?”

The over-quoted moment (this link works in the UK, but not the US, but this link works in the US, but not the UK – HAHAHA COPYRIGHT) from Father Ted, as Ted explains to Dougal the difference between small toy cows, and cows that are far away, amply illustrates the lack of complexity when it comes to understanding perspective. We could choose to become confused about why the corridor in the FPS gets smaller, and how come the enemies are so small when they walk into it, but even parodying this thought is incredibly difficult without using the word “further”.

Of course, this also means I’ve not been able to enjoy the Things Poking Toward The Audience genre of film, which means I’ve missed out on so very many classics. Presumably while others are having their breath taken away by a game’s introductory cutscene pointing a gun toward their faces, I’ll be simply seeing a gun being gestured toward the screen, which I will have to wildly interpret as being intended to be about me.

But I’m not alone. I can do binocular vision, but I can’t translate that into viewing two individual images and converging them into one. Estimates show that I’m among around 10%-12% of the population (here, here and here). That’s six million people. Of the RPS crowd, three out of the four of us have eye problems that make 3D difficult, or impossible. It certainly gives us all headaches.

No, I’m not about to go on some lunatic crusade, defending the rights of the rubbish-eyed. Because by that logic all games, television, film, magazines, books, paintings and indeed light and its refraction by objects should be banned, because lots of people are blind. But it does suggest that it’s not perhaps the best direction for all media to embrace, if it’s going to take out a tenth of your potential audience.

Of course, it’s equally unlikely that any publishers will be so astronomically stupid as to release 3D-only games. And of course, games have had 3D options for many years. They don’t make much fuss about it, but if you’ve a pair of red/blue glasses, and eyes that can be bothered to work properly, you could enjoy Trackmania with the loop the loops extending out of your monitor.

But there’s no doubt that 3D is having its era. Possibly not for the purest of motivations. Films are increasingly released in two versions, and often with the be-glassed version the definitive. And it’s profitable. Avatar has now made over seventy trillion billion dollars, despite being about the Smurfs. But a conspiracist (or realist) would point out that perhaps a reason behind this movement might be to get cinemas to convert to digital projectors, thus saving the studios a lot of money on expensive film, and once that’s done they’ll go back to making films in sensible two dimensions. And gaming is trying in various ways, with Nintendo’s 3DS appearing sometime early next year, and, of course, the PS3. The PS3’s big motivation is, naturally, money. If Sony can get all films and games onto BluRay, they’re sorted, and pushing 3D TVs to accommodate this is in their interests. Which they just happen to manufacture.

See – you 3D liking idiots are being tricked by The Man! Don’t you see? Everyone, don’t take this! Poke out an eye! Join us half-blinds in our revolution against the evil corporate schemes!

Or maybe I’m just jealous because I see a blue smeary mess and then have to take a paracetamol. I mean – I can force myself to see what 88% of people are seeing for a few seconds, by straining incredibly hard, and I get it – it looks quite fun. Then I collapse and recover in hospital. Although, let’s be honest, no one’s experiencing things in crisp, perfect clarity, are they? 3D is still very washed of colour, no matter which method is used. Is it really good enough to replace the pseudo-3D our brains are so fantastic at interpreting?

Also, everyone looks stupid wearing those glasses.

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John Walker

Senior Editor

One of the original co-founders of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, I'm now a senior editor and hero of humanity. Old and special.

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