Review: Beyond Eyes

The minute I saw Beyond Eyes on Steam, I was interested. A female protagonist with a disability, gorgeous art, and a mechanic that aims to put the player in the shoes of the blind protagonist were obvious selling points for me. Of course, it’s far too frequent that the playable character(s) in a computer game is/are white, male, able-bodied, and violent, so this was a refreshing change of pace. The game is a short story-driven adventure with gentle music, art reminiscent of watercolor painting, and text narration. You navigate the world as Rae, a blind ten-year-old girl who lost her sight as a toddler. The game’s creator, who is not blind but consulted with multiple blind folks to get a sense of blind perspective when working on the game, describes Beyond Eyes as “a video game about loss.” It is certainly that, in a way you don’t expect. But it’s also a game about sight, sensation, perception, and one’s own internal sense of the world.

A young girl and a cat with the text "Rae had never been this far from home, but she imagined Nani would have come here."
Textual cues expand upon the story and Rae’s inner world.
Unlike some indie games about vision loss, Beyond Eyes doesn’t fully take away the player’s visual cues and force you to rely on sound to navigate. I appreciate this as a hard-of-hearing person—for a game that’s about putting the player in the shoes of someone with a visual disability, it’s nice that it’s accessible to pretty much everyone except those who have that specific disability. Instead of taking away visual cues, the game limits visual cues and uses those limitations to approximate the blind experience for a player with vision. As Rae, you only see on the screen what she can perceive, so you find the world in bits and pieces as she walks around it. As an exploration game and as a walking simulator, this mechanic definitely makes it a bit different. The visual field beyond what Rae has already discovered is white, and so you can’t rely on sight at a distance to decide where to go.

Beyond the disorientation of this basic mechanic, there are also more subtle elements that give you a sense of Rae’s perspective. Early on in the game, you realize that a cool thing is happening. What you’re seeing is not limited to what Rae perceives with other senses exactly, as I’d originally assumed (and been a bit skeptical of, since you actually see a fair bit as soon as she touches one thing), but what she imagines based on that perception. Since she doesn’t always imagine what’s actually there, it’s useful to touch and get closer to the things you can see as a player, as they may change when she experiences them further. You also get (sound and smell) cues from more of a distance sometimes, which can be helpful for making your way.

A young girl stands near a drainage pipe and a ditch.
What at first sounds like a running brook turns out to just be a drainage pipe.
There is actual sound (as well as music) in the game, but Deaf and HH folks will be fine, as there’s no spoken narration and any sounds that are useful for navigation are echoed with visual cues (a crowing bird pulses on the screen, for example). In a practical sense, the game does also guide you somewhat by putting obstacles down when you’re getting way off track. There’s sparse text narration and occasional cuts from one “scene” to another to give a sense of pacing. I did get a bit lost at a couple of points, so the playthrough took 2.6 hours for me, but it didn’t get so frustrating that I ever wanted to stop playing the game.

Beyond the specifics of mechanics, I really like this game for mood and atmosphere. The visual style, music, text, and the story itself all give this game a lovely and distinct feel. It’s calm, but melancholy, and really evokes emotions in the player. You can feel for the girl you’re playing as, but she’s not presented as a victim or someone you need to “save” as the player, which I appreciate. I would recommend playing in a single sitting for an immersive experience—it’s also not super clear if there’s a way to pause or save, so I wouldn’t risk quitting the game. If you’re familiar with other indie adventure games, I’d say it’s similar in mood and feels factor to Gone Home, though it’s not point-and-click and you do have to get used to the fact that your interaction with the world as a player is entirely about walking exploration — there are no resources to grab or journals to read.

You can get Beyond Eyes for less than $15 on Steam, depending on the sale price of the moment, for Mac/OS/Linux, or for either of the current-gen consoles.

Review: The Right Side of History

cover of The Right Side of HIstoryAs I read The Right Side of History: 100 Years of LGBTQI Activism (Adrian Brooks, ed., published by Cleis Press) I vacillated between feeling like this collection is an important addition to the queer U.S. history canon and wishing that it could be just a little bit more. I found the pre-Stonewall chapters quite refreshing, something different from a lot of the histories I’ve read that tend to be either highly academic and theoretical in discussing gendered behavior and queer urban geographies, or tightly centered around the specifics of the 1950s-1970s gay and lesbian movements. Several of those books have a place in my heart, Martin Duberman’s Stonewall in particular, but I’m always in favor of a new twist, and the opening chapters of this book deliver.

The Right Side of History falls in between anthology and single-author work, with about a third of the chapters written by Brooks and other authors taking up one or two chapters each. The topics coalesce around the theme of 20th century queer activism in the U.S., but also vary quite a bit, discussing people as much as movements and wandering between major historical figures and the more obscure. I particularly liked how the pre-Stonewall section of the book focuses on topics you wouldn’t necessarily expect to find in a history of queer or gay activism: Isadora Duncan, Josephine Baker, the 1934 Longshoremen’s Strike. There are some great threads picked up here around how anarchism, socialism, labor movements, and racial justice movements contributed to the development not just of queer activism in the U.S. but of a culture in which queer activism takes place.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find that those threads were consistently followed through to modern history in this collection. The mishmash of personal stories, interviews, and more removed histories is enjoyable, and there were certainly chapters I appreciated about movements post-Stonewall—Merle Woo’s chapter was a highlight, as was the inclusion of a piece by intersex activist Tiger Howard Devore—but the later chapters for the most part fail to deliver on the radical promise of the book’s introduction. While I appreciated the framing of actions in the 1950s and 1960s as radical for their time, I don’t love the way the book sets up an arc from truly radical movements to the 1990s and 2000s gay nonprofit-industrial complex as if interviews with Barney Frank and Evan Wolfson are a natural conclusion to this activist story. While inclusion of authors of color and trans authors is certainly a welcome relief in such a collection, I found myself bothered by the fact that Miss Major Griffin-Gacy’s account of Stonewall is the only chapter that gets a sort of disclaimer and is followed by other witnesses’ memories of the event. Certainly, there are a lot of debates around the facts Stonewall, but was this really necessary?

Overall, I think the book is a worthwhile addition to the canon, and I love the way it ties together political and social history with cultural and artistic history, jumping among perspectives, but it could have gone further. I’d have loved to see interviews with Reina Gossett or CeCe McDonald, for example, rather than so many snippets from Brooks’ personal history.