Before Your Eyes – Concepts of ‘Cyborgian’ Gaming

When we think of gaming, we often equate it with an immersive feeling – becoming “part of” a world different from our own by actively engaging with the media. However, what exactly do we mean by “engaging” with games in this sense, and can we take it a step further by speaking of embodied experiences within gaming instead?

In this blog, I will be exploring the game Before Your Eyes as an example of so-called “non-traditional” gaming and link it to Brendan Keogh’s discussion on how looking at games through a Cyborgian lens can help us properly evaluate experiences that differ from the norm.

Image Source: Steam

Before Your Eyes – Blink and You Might Miss It!

Before we start, let me give you a brief introduction as to what the game is about. Before Your Eyes is a game in which the player witnesses the story of Benjamin Brynn, whose life gets retold in flashbacks as he’s guided towards the gates of the afterlife. It explores themes of life and death, grief and loss, and the inevitability of the passage of time.

The key-feature of the game employs a clever mechanic that plays on these themes by using eye-tracking technology that advances the scenes once you blink. So, blink too early and you may skip a scene in the middle of an important dialogue, for example. Furthermore, the autonomy of the player in this game is rather “limited” as actions are for the most part predetermined, and the story will advance forward on its own, with no alternate paths.

But then, is it really gaming?

Now, having read that description, some of you may say this “game” doesn’t really count as gaming, as the player is not really doing much besides blinking, or not blinking. This is where Keogh’s new concepts for gaming discourse comes into play. In his book, Keogh explains that the “hacker” persona – an individualistic, active player – that dominates most games arises as a consequence of computers and video games being historically male-dominated spaces (2018: 179-180)1. It remains the standard way in which “gameplay” is understood and valued.

However, Keogh advocates for a way of discussing video games beyond these rather limited views, namely by way of framing the player as Cyborg. By allowing us to view player and game (or more broadly, machine) as constantly re-shaping each other, we see how even ways of “not doing anything” or more accurately, not being able to do anything, has just as much value as being an active participant (Keogh 2018: 187)1. If we shift towards Cyborgian ways of understanding ourselves – both body and mind – as being connected to the game, we go from merely engaging with these media to actual embodiment.

In the case of Before Your Eyes, we see this represented in the most literal sense. Going beyond just having your hands on a keyboard or controller – which are already ways of experiencing games in a Cyborgian fashion, mind you – this game turns the bodily function of blinking into a game mechanic that can dictate the speed at which the story moves, but not the direction it takes. Concurrently, the game offers an insightful exploration of how, no matter the actions we take (or don’t take), life will continue to move to move forward. . .

In the blink of an eye.

  1. Keogh, Brendan
    2018 A Play of Bodies: How We perceive Videogames. MIT Press: Massachusetts. ↩︎