Phantom Limb is an arcade-style game for two players, designed to test and retrain their sense of perception. It was developed as a thought experiment; I wanted to find out if an interactive experience could be used to retrain people’s perceptual model of a physical space. Inspired by the writings of Canadian interactive artist David Rokeby, the project explores the phenomenology of an interactive experience – deliberately inverting reality in order to test the way interaction affects the way we see, frame and understand the world.
To begin the game, players position themselves at either end of the table, placing their hands onto control-pads in the cavity below. Both players have eight lives – represented by colored bars projected above the image of their hands. The first player to destroy all of their opponent’s bars wins the game. When players put their hands under the table they see their arms emerge on the opposite side, as if their limbs had suddenly grown out of their opponent’s elbows. The consequence of this inversion are that each player needs to play the game thinking back-to-front and upside-down. This is not easily achieved – especially because the speed of the game makes it much harder for players to overcome their instincts.
Watching people play, I observed different strategies evolve. Some people always struck out with both hands, attempting to cheat the inversion, but never quite sure where to hit out next. The most successful players overcame the instinct to hit any pad, relaxing their thoughts and letting the occasional point go to the opposition. These players became experts at the game, eventually retraining their minds to think in reverse, easily beating a succession of contenders.