Gaming Synesthesia

Those without the trait can experience simulations in new games

Posted Jun 19, 2013

For those who would like to experience synesthesia, there are a number of video games in the marketplace loaded with special effects mimicking the experience. And for you old school gamers, a new board game in development named "Synesthesia 7" just debuted on Kickstarter.

Child of Eden video game

A screen shot from the Child of Eden synesthetic video game.

My favorite video games in the genre are "Child of Eden" and "Rez" by Tetsuya Mizuguchi, published by Ubisoft. Both were presented as an experiment on synesthesia and integrate sound, vision and touch in a total sensory experience, featuring music by Genki Rockets. Child of Eden is about a young woman named Lumi. She was the first person to be born in space, on Sept. 11, 2019 aboard the International Space Station. When alive, Lumi dreamt of visiting Earth, and composed songs about her longing to people on her ancestral planet. When she died her body was preserved and her memories and data were recorded and archived. Later in the story, humanity advances greatly into space exploration, and creates a universe-wide Internet platform known as Eden. Eden is described as a fountain from which all knowledge flows, and is designed for those who never lived on Earth. It has all human history and knowledge in an archive. In the 23rd century scientists attempt to use Lumi's preserved data to bring her back to life as a hologram. Just as she emerges, she is attacked by a computer virus and gamers have to try to free Lumi.

Here is the gorgeous trailer for the game: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xuYWLYjOa_0

The game Rez is set in futuristic computer network called the K-project where an artificial intelligence named Eden controls the information flow. Eden is overwhelmed by the amount of data on the network and begins to shut down. The video game player must hack into her system and reboot it. Much of the game's visual features were inspired by the Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky.

"Rez is basically the foundation for which all modern synaesthetic games are based," according to www.fastcodesign.com. "The game is played like any other on-rails shooter, but all the sound effects & visuals in the game are synchronized with the beat to the music, and tonally & sonically crafted to become a complement to the song. This gives the effect of the user basically creating a song as they play the game normally, as opposed to a rhythm game where playing a song is the entire purpose, and failure results in dischordance. Failure in a synesthesia game simply results in a less complex song."

Here is the trailer for Rez: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2a1qsp9hXMw 

Tetsuya Mizuguchi is famous for pioneering this genre, and later went on to apply the design philosophy to the Tetris-like "falling block puzzle" genre with Lumines. Since his creation of Rez, many more games have popped up with synesthesia as a main concept, such as Space Invaders Extreme. See it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sI0XrW9d-hY 

Those who would like a retro look should check out 140, by Danish designer Jeppe Carlsen. There's still plenty of sound but the design is minimalist and there is no storyline or characters. You simply sync your movements to the soundtrack and watch as your avatar changes from a triangle to a square to a circle according to different landscapes.

Synesthesia 7 board game

The board game "Synesthesia 7".

For a quiet evening with friends interested in expanding their sensory awareness, try the new Synesthesia 7 board game by Henry Rivera. The Kickstarter campaign for the game, currently in development, is here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1197046515/synesthesia-7-board-game-to-drive-your-7-senses

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