The above screenshot is from Dungeons and Dragons Online, and shows me mid-combat when some magic-slinging undead threw some sort of blinding or fog spell on me. Very quickly, the screen went murky and I couldn’t navigate very well. Because combat in that game happens fast and in real-time, I nervously started shooting all willy-nilly into the fog, hoping to hit something while I was being wailed on and waiting for the spell to lift.
It was a nerve-wracking 20-or-so seconds in which the game — without apology — took away my eyes and told me to deal with it. I did survive, although barely.
This experience was somewhat repeated the next night in a different game. To cross off another quest from my log in World of Warcraft, I went into the Kil’jaeden raid for the first time and got to experience that fight from start to finish. At about the 3/4ths mark, the boss more or less blinds everyone in the raid, bringing visibility down to a bare minimum and causing everyone to run frantically about to look for specific targets before we all got creamed.
So a good recipe for heart-pounding encounters is to put players in immediate danger in MMOs and then take away their ability to see.
It’s a bold move and one that games don’t do very often, for obvious reasons. Used sparingly, it can be a surprising and effective challenge, but more than that it would become highly annoying and set off no end to nerdrage in the forums. We depend on our sight in MMOs to do, well, just about everything, and without it — or with that sight limited — we become crippled in a way that feels constricting and cruel. Again, short bursts of this done very sporadically is an interesting idea, and I’m not saying to nix it entirely. But devs really do have to be careful with this.
MMOs have blinded us in other ways, too. Blindness can be a different kind of challenge outside of combat. Secret World has several instances where players must navigate in near-pitch dark settings, perhaps aided by a very limited headlamp. The darkness there keeps players from getting good situational awareness and makes them feel vulnerable — which, of course, is a great thing for a horror game to do. It slows the player down, makes them more careful and cautious, and could take what would be a routine task and makes it a puzzle by the virtue of a lack of sight.
I’m sure there are other examples, and I’m trying to think of any MMO that experimented with echolocation as a way to navigate while blind, but nothing specific comes to mind. Would be interesting, however.
It also reminds me of the pen-and-paper GURPS roleplaying game, since you could pick blindness or partial blindless as one of your character’s disadvantages. The manual suggested some possible counters to help your character stay viable and not completely dependent on others to function, such as heightened senses, intuition, technology, and magic. I don’t think any of this would really port over to an MMO, although I could see Project Gorgon perhaps being sadistic and creative enough to blind people as a boss curse or something and then letting them deal with it.