Video games are a wonderful, magical form of entertainment that can put you in someone else’s shoes, giving you experiences that you wouldn’t otherwise have in your day-to-day life.
Want to be a spy? Great, play “Splinter Cell.” Want to save an old lady from a burning building using your ice superpowers? Nothing’s immediately coming to mind, but there’s definitely a game where you can do just that.
Most games have robust customisation options, allowing you to adjust the brightness, volume, and difficulty level exactly to your individual tastes. But there’s one simple feature a lot of games can’t get quite right, and it’s one that deaf gamers in particular need to fully enjoy a game: Subtitles.
“We need everything that’s spoken in the game captioned!” said Chris “Phoenix” Robinson in an email interview with Business Insider. “This is 2016 and gaming industries should have got it by now but it’s like they keep forgetting deaf/hard-of-hearing gamers are buying their games too.”
Robinson, who’s deaf in one ear and has severe hearing loss in the other, runs a Twitch channel called Deaf Gamers TV with Brandon “Zero” Chan, who is also deaf.
“I feel [game developers] are slacking,” said Robinson. “It’s like subtitles/captioning is the last thing they care about.”
In games, just like in movies or television, a vast majority of the story’s information is conveyed through dialogue. When you can’t hear what a character is saying — or read it in subtitles — suddenly, the simple act of playing a game and understanding its plot become nearly impossible. And even when games do have subtitles, it’s often incomplete.
For example, a Redditor named Tigersharkdude recently called on Bungie, the developers of “Destiny,” to add better captions for its deaf players.
You can see the problem he and other deaf players of “Destiny” face in a YouTube video uploaded by TechRaptor. Even though subtitles are enabled, none of the dialogue is popping up on screen. The only time subtitles appear in “Destiny” are during fully fleshed-out cutscenes rather than in the small, passing conversations you have with characters as you walk around.
Recently, Chan tried to play through “Deus Ex: Mankind Divided,” a dystopian sci-fi game, but found its subtitles (or lack thereof) made it difficult to play.
“In Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, I was a little disappointed with the subtitles,” says Chan. “When there are subtitles enabled during a cinematic, they put whole dialogue of what [a] character is saying on screen at [the] same time. In addition, the subtitles’ size, colour, and background don’t go well together. That makes it difficult for me to read.”
As you can see in the image above, the subtitles for “Deus Ex: Mankind Divided” are quite difficult to read. Sometimes, the dialogue is broken up into individual lines, but other times, it’s just plopped on screen in one giant block, often over other text within the game itself.
There are several moments in the game’s opening sequence that are not captioned at all. Footage from a news program that shows an anchor discussing social issues plaguing the city has no subtitles whatsoever. At that moment in the game, all you can see are soldiers shooting at unarmed citizens. Without hearing (or reading) the newscast, crucial contextual information is totally lost.
“So yeah, the gaming industry is definitely not doing a good job with accessibility to deaf people lately,” said Robinson. “Either they’re not listening or just don’t care. I hope this will improve over times [sic] though.”
Through their Twitch channel, Robinson and Chan hope to raise awareness for this issue. They’re not alone in the fight, either. The AbleGamers charity, for example, works to improve accessibility for all types of gamers.
Because, at the end of the day, all they really want is to play the games they love.