June 7, 2007

Idea: The Sensory Deprivation game

Note: Do not play the game described below if you are in any potential danger of hurting yourself or others, or if you are near traffic, or anywhere that you aren’t positive it can be played safely. Play at your own risk.

That’s got you curious, huh? What’s the Sensory Deprivation game that’s so dangerous it requires a disclaimer? It’s something I found myself doing one day in college as I was walking across the busy campus and saw a blind student walking in the opposite direction with a walking cane. I wondered what it’s like to confidently walk around, even while unable to see. Blind people seem to do it okay. Could I?

I had my sunglasses on, so I figured nobody would notice if I suddenly closed my eyes. First I looked out at the ground ahead, the people walking around, and figured that if I just kept walking straight I would avoid all of them, and the lamp post. How many steps could I take before I had to open my eyes again? I decided to find out. Without changing my stride, I closed my eyes.

The answer was only around 6 steps. I had no confidence in my ability to navigate at all. I felt like at any second I would smash into something or someone. I must be veering one way or the other, right? When I opened my eyes, I realized that I had been walking straight after all and was actually doing pretty well. So I tried it again. After another 6 steps, I couldn’t bear it.

Why was I only able to take 6 steps? How many would I have been able to take if I’d had a walking cane before I freaked out about bumping into things? How long does it take the newly-blind to be able to get around confidently? Is it faster to learn with a cane, with a guide dog, or with echolocation?

I haven’t really played the game since then. Do I dare, here on the busy streets of Manhattan? Do I get bonus points if I play while wearing my iPod? How many steps can you take?


i used to do this walking to and from class in college as well. Except instead of counting steps i would focus on a landmark (tree or trash can or whatever) and see how close i could get to it before opening my eyes.

i always stayed on a fairly straight course but almost always opened my eyes before i got to my target, thinking i had reached it or getting too nervous too continue.

I’ve tried this a few times sort of randomly throughout my life when the idea strikes me, but the temptation to open your eyes is just too strong! In biblical times, I’d probably have turned into a pillar of salt.

I get on kicks where I try this, too. I’m fortunate enough to live in a neighborhood with intermittently deserted streets during the day, so I can go for a walk and have a good stretch to walk down with my eyes closed. I’ve made it to 40, 50, 60 steps before I had to open my eyes, and it’s always very surprising to see where you are when you re-orient yourself. (Even more surprising when you drift more than you thought, and wind up walking sideways into a parked car!)

I’ve done it downtown, too, on less crowded sidewalks, and gotten twenty steps or so, but it’s way too harrowing, and I still feel like someone’s going to see me walking with my eyes closed and thing… something. One day, super blind ninja skills, you will be mine!

Actually, I tried this game while driving the car on a motorway! I think I managed 200-250 meters or so.

The Prodigy’s latest video is centered on this idea: http://www.xlrecordings.com/broadcast/~voodoo/

I have taken my motorcycle out to the desert where Burning Man is held and driven quite fast across the hard-packed desert floor. Because there is absolutely nothing there (except for the occasional soft spot which could kill me) I’ve been able to drive for several minutes at 80mph with my eyes closed.

I trained as a dancer and we would do a lot of blindfold work as its good for working on your perception of space. One of our favourite things to do was run full tilt at the wall the other end of the studio (a full gymnasium) so see how close we could get before we felt like we had to stop.

With practice that got down about a yard or so. (It is easier indoors, though).

I play this game in the middle of the night when I need to use the restroom or get a drink. I could easily open my eyes, but I consider myself practicing in case I was ever stricken blind.

Going #1 with your eyes closed adds a particularly challenging element to the affair. It’s simple enough to locate the toilet, though as many women are aware, a gentleman’s aim isn’t that great when fully sighted.

My strategy is to initiate staccato locater pulse streams and listen for porcelain and varying depth of water. Once I dial into the deepest part of the water I can increase to my normal stream.

But the flow has a tendency to fluctuate, and ultimately dwindle to individual drops requiring constant target adjustment.

Such luxuries as lid closing cannot be attempted while playing this version of the game, sorry ladies.

It’s really funny that you mention this because I spent half an hour on the treadmill at the gym today with my eyes closed. It keeps me from staring at the heart rate meter and the other doodadds. I thought several times that one could never do this on an actual run.


actually, this is great way to make that long walk to the parking lot kind of fun. I close my eyes for one step and then open for one step. Then close eyes for two steps and then open for one step. Close eyes for 3 steps, etc. I got up to about 17 steps before I either chickened out or reached my destination.

I’ve played this “game” off and on for as long as I can remember! My kids do it too! I wonder what that means? It certainly does give you an appreciation for the senses — but also makes me aware of just how vunerable I would be if I suddenly lost that sense.

Another “game” to try is to go about your daily life without talking. You can smile, nod, gesture, but not talk. It’s amazing just how much you hear when you’re not talking.

Also, you’ve been tagged! Check out this post on my blog to join in… :-)

I’m joining the chorus of those who have long done this… walking to work down an empty side street, I could do 8 steps “naturally”. With practice, that rose to near 50 - but walking along the footpath to keep direction. ie, walking onto the grass would let me re-orient myself without needing to go visual.

I’m out of practice now though, probably down to a dozen steps again…

Why? I feel like I’m practicing… because at some instinctual level, i’d rather be blind than deaf…

6 is the size of your short term memory.

An interesting question — do blind people use iPods?

Another one would be — do blind folks walk around without canes?

Either way, I don’t think it’s unreasonable that you only get a few steps with your eyes closed. You don’t have a lifetime of experience with navigating without eyesight, nor do you have a cane to detect objects and deter humans with.

Huh. Yeah, I’ve done that too. It’s like playing chicken with your brain.

I do this occasionally while driving. It’s exciting and terrifying trying to push myself for one more second.

I do this all the time around my house. Try going as long as I can without bumping into something. I use the certain things I remember about the room that I’m in. It would be quite useful if I ever went blind.