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Unseen University: The Blind Monk's Society

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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Craig Pearson

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