The headset is my ears, the monitor is my eyes

I have seen it with my own eyes ….

It’s amazing how easy it is when we’re deep in a game for our brains to convince us that we are seeing the virtual world directly through our own eyes, and hearing it with our own ears. I’ve had times when I wasn’t aware of the headphones or the monitor. Immersion will do that to a person, and the human brain is smart but can be trained to substitute one metaphor for another – after all, I don’t much notice my glasses when I’m wearing those either.

But all it takes to break the illusion is one little hardware problem. The monitor blows? You’re (virtually) blind. Broken sound card? You’re (virtually) deaf. It’s tricky to talk about this without being disrespectful to people who have sensory disabilities in real life, but being without a peripheral can feel absolutely crippling in game.

I’ve had an ongoing problem for a few months with my microphone, in that it’s way too quiet. This week, we sorted it out (turns out it was something stupid that I’d done which was easily fixed, once we’d found it), and it’s astounding to me how much difference that made in my gameplay.

I could speak on voice chat before, but it was very hard for people to hear me. They would keep asking me to speak up, or complain that they couldn’t hear, and there wasn’t anything that I could do about it. It was frustrating because it broke the metaphor, in real life I can speak up by just raising my voice. But that didn’t work with a malfunctioning mike. It was so frustrating in fact that I mostly stopped even trying to talk, and along with that came a feeling of distance, of unintentional exclusion, and of being less involved in both the game and the community.

Of course I could still type wittily (and quickly), but as anyone knows who has played with voice chat, a lot of people don’t bother looking at the text on the screen. But my disability was relatively easily fixed. I have my voice back. This week I noticed that  every time I am to say something in game, I  hesitate more than I used to do. I still think ‘Oh, no one will hear’, even though they can now.

I’m happy to have my virtual voice back, and it will be nice to feel back in the loop and get used to it again. But that was a very powerful emotional experience, and I’m still not entirely sure what to make of it.

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5 thoughts on “The headset is my ears, the monitor is my eyes

  1. Bad mikes and background noises in voice chat annoy the hell out of me. Regardless if it is my headset or someone else’s. But well, you know that I am not really a fan of voice chat.

  2. “It was so frustrating in fact that I mostly stopped even trying to talk, and along with that came a feeling of distance, of unintentional exclusion, and of being less involved in both the game and the community.”

    I’ve noticed over the years that WoW is one of the games I can play with the sound off and not miss it much at all. Our guild would voice-Skype during instances, but mostly gchat otherwise. I haven’t run into too many PUGs that required voice chat, though occasionally you could tell when a couple of PUGgers from the same guild were almost certainly vchatting each other.

    So I guess the take home is that what you missed about the ears wasn’t the in-game sound, necessarily, but the inability to talk and be heard. Is there anywhere that in-game sounds are essential to play?

    • I can’t play WoW without sound. I never played without and now I’m used to it and without the acoustic feedback I feel “blind”.

      I always think the AH doesn’t work or the bag didn’t open if I can’t hear the feedback sound because I forgot to turn on the speakers. I can see that the bag is open but somehow I looks wrong… hard to describe.

      Maybe that’s because when I started playing computer games, they did not have sound. Only the internal speaker. Since I got the first SoundBlaster I have never turned off the sound again. For me, sound adds so much more than good graphic. :-)

    • For me, as a social type of player, the inability to speak and be heard was really the most stressful part of the whole thing.

      I don’t think there is anywhere that sound is essential in WoW, although the music is actually pretty good for atmosphere. There may be some bosses who have sound effects along with their special attacks but these days we all have raid addons to flash up big letters on screen when that happens.

      I know there are some games where you can actually get the drop on another player in PvP by listening to them approach though.

  3. I always had the Ambience turned way up in WoW, especially when I was soloing. It just added so much more depth to the game when you entered an Inn and heard muttered conversations all around you along with the clinking of glasses, & the clatter of cutlery and crockery.

    I had a Guildmate who would log into Vent but hardly ever speak. He would often claim his Mic didn’t work but a RL friend of his told me he just doesn’t like to use it. We ran together a lot and he ended up becoming my 2-man Arena partner, so he was practically forced to use his Mic, and that’s when I discovered he had a slight lisp. He was also a teenager so having a slight speech impediment on top of everything else teenagers have to go through really didn’t help with his self-esteem, but I thought he was one of the best players I ever ran with and I made sure to let him know that.

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