This is Sherida Halatoe’s favourite memory of her father.
She is five years old. In the car.
“My Dad starts talking all this philosophical bullshit,” she remembers. And laughs.
He asks Sherida a question. The kind any father might ask.
“Is my yellow the same as your yellow?” He says. “How do you know it’s not blue? What if your yellow is my blue and my blue is your yellow?”
Sherida furrows her brow. She doesn’t have an answer right now but she will.
Sherida spends the next two weeks trying to answer her father’s question, running through every possible scenario. Stretching her brain in multiple different directions. In desperation – at the age of five -- she tries to build an actual camera, to capture her yellow.
See Dad? It’s all the same.
It didn’t work. Nothing worked.
Sherida Halatoe is the creator of Beyond Eyes.
Beyond Eyes: you play as Rae, a ten-year-old girl in a private oasis. Rae lost her eyesight as a toddler. Rae is blind. Her universe is an open canvas of visual possibility. Sensory inputs fill the gaps: the rustle of the grass; wind whistling through the trees; the creak of doors opening.
Opening or closing?
Closing. The door is closing.
Beyond Eyes, says Sherida, is a game about exploration.
A different type of exploration. When we think of video game exploration we think of expansive vistas, desolate landscapes. Vanishing points. In Rae’s world everything is a vanishing point; a visual space to be reclaimed. Rae’s world is smaller. The world of a fragile, isolated girl terrified of loud noises. Every vista must be earned. Every piece of her world explored, interpreted, confirmed.
Sherida Halotoe is not blind. But she is a person who has experienced loss.
Beyond Eyes: it began as a brainstorming session. As a student Sherida had complete control over her very last project. It was a chance to create something personal. For her entire university career Sherida had separated her ‘self’ from the creative process. Video games were not about the creator – that’s what she was taught. Video games are about the player. What if we’re missing something, Sherida wondered. What if we’re all heading down this same, strange cul-de-sac. What if we’re ignoring something more intimate: the joy of the lived experience.
Later Sherida asked herself a question. She asked herself: what does it feel like to be blind?
How would you make a video game about being blind?
In Beyond Eyes the blank canvas of blindness is not black. It is white.
Blindness is not darkness. That’s what she was told.
Sherida spoke to blind people wherever she could find them. On a train. The old man who told her routine was everything. Without routine he would be lost. The train station was changing; in the process of being rebuilt. New routes, new lines. Sherida helped him make his way towards something familiar, something routine.
The person who said losing your eyesight isn’t like losing your eyes. More like your eyes sit further back, inside your head. They are blocked, but still exist. In some ways they still function. In some ways blind people see the same things we do.
At an event in Amsterdam Sherida undergoes an experiment. An experiment designed to help her experience ‘blindness’, or the closest thing to it. A simulated experience. She has to try and navigate a new, unknown space without depending on her eyesight. She is told to listen. To use every single piece of information she can to build a picture, to put it all together: use your ears, use your touch. Can you feel the density of air pressure change as you approach a solid object?
Is that even possible? How is that possible?
The first thing Sherida feels is fear. But she keeps going. That’s another thing her Dad taught her: if you live it you learn it.
“My Dad had a very Carpe Dium attitude to life.”
“This game is about being blind,” explains Sherida, “but it’s also a metaphor for loss.”
Sherida’s father always knew he was going to die.
Not in the way we all know – intrinsically -- that we will die. Sherida’s father knew, for a long time, that he would die young.
The doctor’s prognosis: issues with his kidneys meant Sherida’s father would be lucky to make it to 40. For as long as she could remember, her Father was sick.
It made Sherida’s childhood different. It made her father a different type of dad: the type that made life exciting.
Sherida’s father spent a lot of time planning for his 40th birthday party. The party his Doctors didn’t think would happen.
And they were right. Sherida’s father wouldn’t make it to his own birthday party. Aged 39, he passed away.
Sherida was 10 years old. The same age as Rae, the protagonist in Beyond Eyes.
Rae is named after Sherida’s father.
Beyond Eyes is a video game about loss.
“Loss can make you more adventurous,” says Sherida.
In Beyond Eyes Rae loses her cat. This loss forces Rae to look outwardly, to explore beyond the space she is comfortable with. To experience new things, fill the gaps of her white canvas. Rae is blind, but her world is not dark, it is filled with light, waiting to be bent into shape.
Rae’s world is the world of a 10-year-old girl. It's pieced together in fragments. From sound, from memory. The edges seep and flow like watercolour.
Rae's world is different from ours. Her yellow is not the same as our yellow.