Making Deaf Accessible Games—Why is it so hard?

Summarized by Rachel Cain, staff writer

At “n3rdabl3,” a website about gaming and technology developments, James Knack posted about a topic in the gaming community that’s bothered him for years: the shortage of games that are accessible for members of the deaf and hard of hearing community.

Knack is the hearing child of two deaf parents. He initially became involved in gaming at a young age when he and his parents would play videogames together after school. They’d play games such as “Bomberman” or “Lemmings,” which all of them could enjoy, regardless of their hearing levels. However, as noise became a more integral part of the gaming experience, Knack found himself playing videogames on his own rather than with his parents.

Over the past decade or so, videogames have come to involve more and more audio into the gameplay. Not only are sounds designed to enhance the gaming experience (such as through soundtrack music), but they can be necessary for playing the game. Sounds may indicate the position of another character through footsteps or other events through dialogue.

One way deaf and hard of hearing players can better enjoy video games is through the use of subtitles. Yet, Knack argues, the subtitles currently included in many games are not sufficient. The subtitles often do not provide context, such as something as simple as indicating which character is speaking.

In the past, gaming companies frequently did not have the resources to make videogames deaf-accessible. However, as time has progressed and companies have gained more resources, the issues still remain. Knack says that, from the game developers he’s spoken to, the games are not made more deaf-accessible because the alterations that would have to be made to the games would cost too much money.

However, some games do exist that are well-suited to members of the deaf community. Specifically, as Knack wrote, the game “Tomb Raider” includes “subtitles that are displayed contextually while also being easily visible without taking away from the central experience.” He discovered just how deaf-friendly this game was when he encountered his deaf mother playing it for three straight hours.

“Her glee brightened up the whole room,” he wrote. “This was a woman who hasn’t played a video game since the 1990s—not for want of trying—but for the first time she came away satisfied from the experience instead of fraught with frustrations.”

Also, Knack notes that smaller or independent teams are more likely to produce videogames that are deaf-accessible.

Read the full story here.

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