So that was a very strange experience. Soundself is “Robin Arnott’s experimental foray into synesthetic chanting, a game that aims to shatter the boundaries of the self in a spiritual sense.” It is a meditative chanting game where the player’s voice creates a visualization on screen, whilst that voice is echoed back to them. The aim of the game was to create a transcendental meditation experience, where the player and the game become one. Those who have played have said they’ve been relaxed and taken out of our world.
However, when I played I had a very different experience. It was recommended that you play in a dark room, with headphones on, to deprive the senses of outside stimuli as much as possible. At first, I was a little confused, I didn’t realize that you could move forward, and couldn’t get the shapes to change much. I watched a video of someone else playing and then got the hang of it the second time round. This is where things get weird. I was oohing at the pretty shapes, when all of a sudden, I managed to make them form a large blue spiral sort of pattern. As I saw this, I got a really strange feeling of bliss, and ended up laughing for about 10 minutes! In contrast, there was a moment where I moved really quickly though red, sharp, triangle shapes, and the sound got very loud. This really shook me up and I actually couldn’t keep going, as I was quite terrified. After playing the game, it took a while to get back into a normal headspace. I think this comes from the transcendental experience – its weird to be just yourself and not sharing your head with the game anymore, if that makes any sense.
The initial inspiration for the game came out of a couple of Arnott’s previous games: Deep Sea and Synapse, games that explored the connection between games, physical sensations and mental ones. Deep Sea used sensory deprevation and awareness breathing to transport the player under the sea, where Synapse uses peoples body movements and kinect to control music. The former game made the player’s terrified, whilst the latter produced very moving experiences. “The first seed of the idea was matching the sound to the player’s own voice, and then synchronize with the visual experience, so that ideally the visual and sonic experiences aren’t able to be separated.” “I became really interested in reaching mental experience through body experience, and what kind of mental experience you can have from a body experience, and how that differs from a video game or a movie that is trying to approach your mental experience more directly.”
“In many ways, ,SoundSelf has been a working exploration of my relationship with the universe and the nature of mind… There’s this wonderful history of meditation technologies — from the mandala to the group-aum to the modern day sense deprivation chamber — external tools for internal exploration. ”
One of the things that worries the developers is taking such a personal game to the public.
“I think that’s something a lot of game designers might have challenges with, conveying such personal experiences to other people in a way that’s inteesting,” he reflects. “It’s really scary to put something out there that feels like part of me. Not only that, but mind-body experience stuff and spirituality… is something I feel like I’m growing a lot in, but I don’t know exactly where I stand.”
In terms of further development, the team plans to add more of an arc to the game, not narrative or anything, just give the game some structure.
In terms of art, it was influenced by nature. “Our first design meeting was a…hike through San Marcos, following the historical path of the San Marcos river and ending at the present location of the river itself. We talked about the fluid dynamics shared between rivers, shifting continents, and galaxies. The come-down brought us to a drum circle and group om. In the evening we recounted our experiences, taking copious notes and drawings.”
” The game, which Arnott describes as something like a trance or virtual meditation, doesn’t melt the mind so much as activate and elevate consciousness to a new type of reality…SoundSelf, on the other hand, pulls the user into a beautiful and dynamic multi-sensory reality, one that creates a sense of calm peacefulness.”
“Arnott also explained that his game design background allowed him to think about SoundSelf’s user interaction as “flow,” which he said game designers have down to a discipline. Flow can be thought of as a player interacting in the moment with the game system. Side effects of these systems’ interactivity, Arnott said, are trance states. So, what he is trying to do with SoundSelf is combine gaming’s interactivity discipline with what monks are trying to do with singing bowls or mandalas. A clash of two different technologies, as it were.”
“There is a lot of interesting things to explore other than what it feels like to be powerful, such as what it feels like to be weak,” said Arnott. “With SoundSelf, when gamers come into it they realize that it’s an interactive system responding to their voice, and they’ll try to take control of it. They’ll try to explore it and understand what it does, playing it like an instrument or using it like a gun in a shooter game, and it doesn’t work like that.”
“In SoundSelf’s design, Arnott attempted to reach the six qualities of a spiritual experience: a sense of unity, an intuitive sense of deep truth, sacredness, positive mood, transcendence of time and space, and ineffability. Arnott was interested in how these qualities can be experienced across cultures in a number of different ways, and wondered if it could be done in a virtual environment. While he said SoundSelf doesn’t achieve an intuitive sense of deep truth or sacredness, he believes the game hits the other qualities pretty well.”
“What is encouraging is that there were moments in SoundSelf, especially when the visuals resembled soft or silky holographic shapes, where I felt a sense of unity. In these moments, SoundSelf’s synchronized input and output—the humming, the virtual shapes flying around, and the vibrations—combined to produce a feeling that I was in another space, but still simply existing in or seeing just another aspect of reality within the cosmos.”
Play the prototype here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/soundself/soundself/posts/430309