30 April 2007

Subtitles In Games

Sign Language

I was reading an article about putting subtitles in games. It is a request I fully understand (though I'm not deaf) if only to give the player the option of turning their speaker volume down. Obviously in the case of people who can't hear it's essential to their ability to play a game. I remember in Prince of Persia: Sands of Time there was a point where you needed to hear the sound of running water to pick the right door. I was stuck on this for a long time due to not having my volume up enough and not getting that audio cue I needed to progress. Eventually I checked an FAQ site and found I needed to hear it. For me that was annoying but a deaf person would need someone to guide them through that; a simple visual clue as well would have solved this. There would also be points where the prince was talking and you couldn't hear it over the sounds of some circle saw beside you. It stopped the story being as complete for me but meant a deaf person missed out on the story pretty much entirely.

The article asks who can be contacted about this. It's a good question and for console games I'd suggest that Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft are the leads in this. I don't think they should stop companies publishing without subtitles but they should try and promote subtitles as much as possible. Obviously we can't achieve similar goals to what the web accessibility initiative is trying to achieve: games aren't semantic, we just can't remove visual or controller requirements (though even then you can insure things like checking your colour setup and customised controls) but, for most games, voice and other story audio can be displayed (through subtitles and graphics). Whether the companies could then take it into their own hands to warn people about the lack of subtitles (or, I suppose, to go the other way like DVDs and list it as a feature).

I noticed there is a site called Deaf Gamers that reviews games with that in mind. It would be great if this didn't need to exist and deaf gamers could buy any game with confidence that it will have provisions for them.

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