The terror of Perception, a first-person horror game currently raising funds on Kickstarter, is that entire world around you appears to be hewn from stone. What chance do you stand in a universe where everything is so unnervingly solid?
The manor in which Perception is set is not actually hewn from stone; it just feels that way. You play as Cassie, a blind young woman with an extraordinarily attuned sense of hearing. By default, the screen is pitch black, but every step you take sends sound waves reverberating around you, which bounce back at variable speeds to provide a brief glimpse of your surroundings. Echolocation can actually be used for navigation, though it is manipulated to achieve somewhat sinister ends in Perception.
At its core, Perception is a game of hide-and-seek, the sort of activity where you’d like to know what you’re in for before advancing. That is, however, impossible in Perception. Moving forward is the only way to learn about your surroundings. There is no such thing as peeking around a corner. In most horror films or games, forward progress feels like a necessary evil. The whole exercise appears designed to make you yell “No, don’t go in there!” Not so in Perception: What other choice do you have?
Plenty of games advertise the opportunity to see everything through a stranger’s eyes—this is the promise of VR, a promise that Perception simultaneously promises to realize and subvert. On the one hand, Perception promises to run counter to the maximalist notion of seeing everything. It is attempting to derive its frights by doing just the opposite. In a sense, however, Perception is also a realization of the “seeing the world through someone else’s eyes” maxim. The game may not offer an entirely accurate depiction of echolocation but it translates the navigation technique into the language of videogames. Sensory deprivation can be both a handy narrative tool and a way of experiencing the world as others do. There should be plenty of horror in Perception, but that promise is almost cheerful.