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Video Games and the Deaf Community:
By: Riley McGuire
Any video gamer can use video games as a portal to really interact with the world of imagination. You can choose to engage in chaotic battles with your favorite characters, have a racing competition, care for online pets and so many other gaming topics. Having complete enjoyment in your game requires the game to let you be able to play the best way you can. Not every game comes with options that can be set for Deaf players to play with full enjoyment. This paper talks about what changes games need to include to be Deaf accessible, how some games are being developed with more appropriate detail, and this paper lists suggestions of Deaf friendly retro and modern games for those who are searching for them.
Melanie Jayne Ashford, the author of What Video Game Developers Should Know about Deaf Accessibility, wrote about some very important aspects of Deaf friendly games and what needs to be developed further. Tinnitus at varying degrees, is an ear ringing that some Deaf people have when there is not enough sound. Here is what Ashford said from her article, "For someone with tinnitus, a game with barely any sound might increase tinnitus and feel uncomfortable." (section Tinnitus). Tinnitus is why music is still needed in games, although it is less effective using just ambient sound. Ashford talked of how sometimes games may include cut scenes, but unfortunately some of them still don't include subtitles. That can leave the story incomplete for Deaf gamers. Ashford mention sound cues that are sound effects or vocal recordings that would give a hint about what is going on and or what needs to happen next. But Deaf gamers have difficulty with that. If you can't hear the sound of an enemy approaching, then you have a problem. What needs to happen is visual cues. (Ashford, 2021). An example of a visual cue could be a shiny icon indicating where an object critical to finishing the game is.
Ashford in the previous year wrote an article called Deaf Accessibility in Video Games, which included the idea that game designers actually need to know about the lack of Deaf friendly video games. "Let's not forget that game devs are artists; they want you to play the whole game, and not put it down because it didn't work for you." Ashford said in her article. (section What do game devs say?). (Ashford, 2020). And I think that is an excellent point to consider. If the designers are aware of this, they have the power to add the options needed for enjoyable game play.
In the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Accessibility Guide written by Courtney Craven, she was very descriptive about some important topics of what Deaf gamers need to have to play successfully. One of the main options that Deaf gamers need for game play is subtitles. She suggests a variety of solutions to make subtitles work more efficiently. An important example would be that subtitles need to have a solid colored background of their own, otherwise the text can become difficult to read. There are many different types of text that can be used to help set the theme. Some text styles use curly cues to make them look fancy, but that can cause subtitles to become difficult to read. It is best to give Deaf gamers the option of having sans serif text only. Sans serif text is text with no fancy strokes, which would be more easily readable. (The text you are reading now is an example of sans serif.) The size of the subtitles are important too. Craven said, "Text size options are necessary as well and remember, what is legible to you when developing your game as you sit at your computer won't likely be legible to someone playing your game on their console, sitting across the room." (para. 1). Colored text is another way of setting the scene, but colored subtitles can be difficult for some people to read. The solution is to give the option to turn the colored subtitles off. Also it would be helpful to not have subtitles all in capital letters. Sometimes subtitles don't indicate who is speaking at that moment in a game. That would cause a little difficulty to Deaf players. In order to accurately know who is speaking, speaker labels are the key. A speaker label is a name tag next to the subtitles to indicate who is speaking at that time. That way Deaf gamers will know what's going on when the characters speak in the game (Craven, 2021). I personally think that Courtney wrote an excellent guide for those who are curious about Deaf accessibility, and for game designers who want to improve their games to Deaf satisfaction.
Meet the Actress Blazing a Sign-Language Trail in New ‘Spider-Man' Video Game, by Laura Zornosa talks about how a Spider-Man video game has a character that helps Spider-Man. Her name is Hailey Cooper, the actress is Natasha Ofili. Hailey is an African American Deaf graffiti artist that signs in ASL, and has a real ASL conversation with Spider-Man. Spider-Man signs with her! Now there is a well known character that signs ASL! (Zornosa, 2020). All Deaf gamers experience the lack of Deaf characters in game play. Deaf characters need to be developed, so Deaf gamers can feel like they are being involved in the gaming story. Deaf players need to have main characters that sign in ASL, wear hearing-aids, or both.
In an article written by Anthony McGlynn, Breaking Deaf Stereotypes and Normalizing Sign-Language Through Gaming, McGlynn discusses the features of the game "Deafverse" in Deaf accessible gameplay. Quoting from McGlynn, "As the 2010s come to a close, a game called Deafverse is trying to reach another milestone by becoming the first fully American Sign Language (ASL)-accessible game." (para. 1). It is a game that is a Deaf teen simulator, including how to interact with the world and the challenges along the way. The themes in which can be chosen are fantasy and sci-fi. And yes "Deafverse" has subtitles, ASL, and speech for those that aren't so fluent in ASL. Another feature is, what you choose to do will influence what happens in the end, meaning the end won't be the same every time. (McGlynn, 2020). This game certainly makes a perfect example of what Deaf players need to play. Deaf gamers need more Deaf involved games, so can feel involved in the story beyond the glass screen.
A game's age influences whether there is the presence of subtitles and visual cues in that game. Retro games played on tower computers included speech, game Designers of the time didn't think about Deaf accessibility as observed by the lack of subtitles. Compared to some retro games played on vintage gaming systems such as the "Super Nintendo Entertainment System" for example was and is a terrific system to play on, because it included subtitles as the way characters communicate. This paragraph lists some suggestions of retro games played on the "Super Nintendo Entertainment System" and all of the games here except "Ms. Pac-Man" (1996) have music. The first game's title is "The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse" (1992). With help from Goofy and a wizard, Mickey goes on an adventure to save Pluto from the evil Emperor Pete. Mickey and the other characters communicate using colored subtitles with a background to indicate what they are saying as the brave mouse battles Pete's magic for the sake of Mickey's loyal companion Pluto. There are visual cues vital to game play, but there is one sound cue involved, when Mickey is wearing his magical turban to make magic, and holding down the button the sound coming from the magic changes after about three seconds, when you release the button the magic will be stronger in stopping enemies. There is a weak visual cue with it, as the sound changes, so does the flashing magic, but it can be less obvious to notice. The second game I will discuss is "Ms. PacMan" (1996), the game's heroine has the bravery to dodge and consume the same ghosts that chased PacMan to no end. This pixilated wonder does not include speech at all. Although it does have sound cues to indicate your score boost. It just means you have to every now and then take a quick glance at the score to know if it has improved. I mentioned earlier that this game does not have music, but it has a lot of sound going on as you play. It is played the same way as the original PacMan game. "Secret of Evermore" (1995) is the third game I will talk about in this paragraph. It is an adventure through many magical ancient based kingdoms with a boy from Podunk. With his dog by his side, he goes on many battles using magic to try to get back home alive and out of these dangerous worlds. As the boy meets friends and foes, they use fantastically developed subtitles including a background to understand what needs to be done next. I believe this magical quest is definitely Deaf friendly. Now I will talk about the fourth game. "The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past" (1992) is a well known favorite retro game. The young boy Link takes his sword on the quest to save Princess Zelda with help from others and fairies to keep the hero going. The people Link meets tell him instructions through clear subtitles so he will know what to fight next. This one is full of excitement with Deaf Friendliness. The last retro game I will discuss is "Mickey's Ultimate Challenge" (1994). Playing as Mickey or Minnie, while asleep your character can help friends solve different visual puzzles to figure out what is causing mysterious earthquakes in the kingdom you are dreaming in. The characters use colored subtitles with a background to help each other understand the circumstance and what needs to be done.
This paragraph discusses modern games played on the "Nintendo Switch" and "Nintendo Switch Lite" consoles. They are terrific for some Deaf accessible games. Unfortunately not every game on the Switches has Deaf accessibility. Here are a few examples of Deaf friendly games played on the "Switch" consoles. All of these games have music. "Bee Simulator" (2019) is a sweet example of a game with excellent visual cues to indicate locations colored differently to show which mission is in that location. The characters which are honey bees talk with speech and subtitles so a variety of players can understand what is going on, the text includes a solid background. The cut scenes also have subtitles. I believe that game is an awesome Deaf friendly game. It tells a good story about what it's like to have a life of a honey bee buzzing through beautiful scenery along with learning the importance of honey bees. You can battle with evil wasps, understand struggles bees are having due to humans, and so much more. The second game I will mention is called "De Blob" (2018). It is a paint splattering colorful fight to get Chroma City out of the invading Inky Empire's dark clutches. Playing as Blob, the main hero is guided by friends with excellent subtitles. Even though a little of the subtitle text is colored, they have a white background. The game even shows fantastic visual cues to show where the next mission starts and flashing lights indicating which building to paint next including what color to paint with, these cues are vital to game play. Unfortunately there is a video clip you can earn through game play that has to do with the Inky Empire taking over Chroma City including speech with no subtitles at all. Other than that "De Blob" is a messy marvel to the eye. The last game discussed here is "Ice Age Scrat's Nutty Adventure" (2019). It is a game bringing Scrat the nervous squirrel back in action, this time he is on a big adventure. Though Scrat's guide on the adventure doesn't have the friendliest attitude, he communicates to Scrat through sans serif subtitles. There is a little colored text, but the text has a background. This game has visual instructions to follow when Scrat learns something new. There are no sound cues vital to game play at all. This freezing cold adventure is full of excitement with icy sights to see, awards to collect along the way, and enormous prehistoric beasts to battle.
Games have become a mental entryway to adventures with your favorite characters by your side. Being given the ability to play the best way you can play is the true key to enjoyment. Games with the need to get adjusted can be improved. What the game is about and how it is designed is meant to suit the player's needs to play successfully, and what the player wants in his game. By observing the game's features, those who seek Deaf accessible games can research them, so they will know what to choose to play. Game design has grown a lot and will keep growing as long as gamers want more from the gaming world. For the love of exploring different worlds, caring for pets of unrealistic types, fighting for justice, and racing to see who wins. In order for gaming to improve further, all we need is someone to speak out, someone to listen, and then someone to take action.
Ashford, Melanie Jayne. (2020, Oct. 16). Deaf Accessibility in Video Games. I Need Diverse Games.
Retrieved 11, Feb.2021: /https://ineeddiversegames.org/2020/10/16/deaf-accessibility-in-video-games/.
Ashford, Melanie Jayne. (2021, Jan. 18). What Video Game Developers Should Know about Deaf Accessibility. Accessibility.com. Retrieved 11, Feb.2021:https://www.accessibility.com/blog/what-video-game-developers-should-know-about-deaf-accessibility.
Craven, Courtney. (2021). Deaf and Hard of Hearing Accessibility Guide. Can I Play That?. Retrieved 11, Feb.2021:
McGlynn, Anthony. (2020, Apr. 24). Breaking Deaf Stereotypes and Normalizing Sign Language Through Gaming. ars Technia. Retrieved 11, Feb.2021: https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2020/04/breaking-deaf-stereotypes-and-normalizing-sign-language-through-gaming/.
Zornosa, Laura. (2020, Nov. 20). Meet the Actress Blazing a Sign-Language Trail in New ‘Spider-Man' Video Game. Los Angeles Times.Retrieved 11, Feb.2021: https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/story/2020-11-20/miles-morales-spider-man-video-game-natasha-ofili-hailey-cooper#:~:text=Meet%20the%20actress%20blazing%20a,%3A%20Miles%20Morales%E2%80%9D%20video%20game.
Below are references for the retro and modern video games mentioned in this paper:
References for retro video games played on "Super Nintendo Entertainment System";
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to The Past. Release date: Apr 13, 1992. Platform: Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Published and developed by Nintendo.
The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse. Release date: Dec 23, 1992. Platform: Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Published and developed by Capcom.
Mickey's Ultimate Challenge. Release date: Feb 1994. Platform: Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Developed by Designer Software. Published by Hi Tech Expressions.
Ms. Pac-Man. Release date: Sep 1, 1996. Platform: Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Developed by Digital Eclipse Software. Published by Williams Entertainment Inc.
Secret of Evermore. Release date: Oct 1, 1995. Platform: Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Published and Developed by Square.
References for modern video games played on "Switch" and "Switch Lite";
Ice Age Scrat's Nutty Adventure. Genre: Platformer. Release date: Oct 18, 2019. Platform; Nintendo Switch. Developed by Just Add Water. Published by Outright Games.
De Blob. Genre: Platform. Release date: Jun 16, 2018. Platform: Nintendo Switch.
Developed by Blitworks. Published by THQ Nordic.
Bee Simulator. Genre: Simulation. Release date: Nov 14, 2019. Platform: Nintendo Switch.
Developed by Varsav. Published by JP: Oizumi Amuzio WW: Varsav Games.
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