Blindness

This is the kind of video that I would tweet along with some kind of cryptic message like, “See if you can figure out which person in this video understands the value of game design.” It’s the kind of tweet that would get a few favorites, perhaps. But it would ultimately fail to spark the kind of conversation I want to instigate. And I would have to wait until I got home from work to show my brother, Marcus. I’d probably stand behind his shoulder pretending like I’m not waiting to see if he reacts to the same messages from the video that I do; holding my breath to see if the key words jump out to him like they do in games like Ocarina of Time.

You may be wondering how a video about the color blind relates to design or video games. The key isn’t that these people are unable to see certain colors, it’s that they live in a world where others can see them.

I didn’t really know there was such a thing as color blindness at the time. I think I was six or seven. I thought maybe I wasn’t intelligent enough to tell, because I didn’t know… So I just stopped painting and drawing.

Is this why people give up? Of course there are plenty of common, legitimate reasons for someone to stop painting, drawing, playing piano, or playing a video game. If someone told me they quit because they didn’t have enough time or money, I’d nod my head because I’ve been there. Still, I’m curious about the people who quit for more mysterious reasons like “I’m just not feeling it.”

For example, I love platformers. I love tracking Mario’s position as he moves in arcs across the forever blue background of the Mushroom Kingdom. Simply moving Mario around does it for me, it hits me in a way that I appreciate deeply. I’ve talked to plenty of people that feel nothing about Mario or other platformers. Maybe they just don’t know how to play them or they haven’t found a platformer that suits their style. Inevitably, confronting someone else’s feelings forces me to consider the feelings that fuel my appreciation and opinions are in part reactions that I cannot control. I either have it or I don’t. Feel it. Or feel nothing. So if we can sit down and hold the same controllers, play the same game, and JUMP on the same 1-1 level yet I feel engaged and you feel nothing, then isn’t that in itself a kind of blindness?

There are times where I wish I could see how my kids put the colors together and what they were visualizing.” “All these things that are intentional in life, I never caught on to it.

Like the dad in the video who watched his kids meticulously pick over crayon colors, there’s a degree of intentionality that we cannot know, that we cannot even suppose of each other, when we cannot see the difference between one choice and another. We define ourselves largely by our choices. I’ve spent the majority of my thinking life trying to better understand why I take ownership of my seemingly random assortment of preferences. My favorite flavor of the five-Ss is salty. My favorite color is red. My favorite video game character is Kirby. Why? Why? Why? If I keep answering this question I’ll eventually reach the definitive, “because I do” which roughly translate to “because that’s how I feel” or “because this is who I am.” At such a level it’s difficult to dig deeper into my motives, intentionality, and personhood. As mysterious as this why-ward journey is, I see all expression, art, and design as a collection of externalized intent that allows us to navigate toward the indescribable, voiceless spiral of self-affirming feelings.

I just want to cry a little bit. I never realized…how much I was affected by the fact that I can’t see the world like the way other people see the world.

The woman in the video can’t see pink with her naked eye, but I can. This is just one example of many experiences we cannot share via direct experience. Certainly there are cultural and biological differences between us. But what about things like music? Perhaps she can “feel” a melody just by looking at a piece of sheet music. I’ve been a musician for 20 years and sheet music still looks like meticulously organized scribbles of silence to me.

In the end, the experience of color is so private that you don’t really know how to explain that.

This is the part of blindness that worries me the most. The kind of blindness I’m talking about isn’t a matter of seeing color or not. It’s not even about vision. Blindness is about how we struggle to relate to experiences we cannot feel for ourselves. Because we’re all blind to some experiences, there are gaps in what we relate to and how, which hinders us from understanding the intent of others. Are my private feelings, the ones that are most quickly and strongly felt, impossible to explain? Is there a limit to the ability for words, expression, and design to reach across the gap and connect people? How far are the gaps between us? Does it widen as we age?

 

If we can make glasses that bring color to the colorblind, then I know that we can find the words to illuminate the dimensions of game design.