If you watch and read Vortex regularly, you’ve probably noticed that we like to watch games from all sides, and we’re also very interested in how people who have a handicap play. Therefore, in cooperation with Tichý svět, we were willing to participate in a survey aimed at finding out what players with hearing impairments need.
Due to limited communication, players need to be kicked out of multiplayer matches.
From the beginning, we hoped that the information obtained could provide not only a general insight into this issue, but potentially also help Czech developers who would decide to facilitate the playing of this group of fans. We collected data from January to March, and more than a hundred players with hearing impairments took part in the survey. The purpose was to identify possible barriers that may make playing difficult.
Detailed results of the entire survey can be found in the attached document, which we will also provide to Czech developers. For the purposes of this article, however, we will draw some of the most interesting and important information. The vast majority of respondents were deaf and hard of hearing from birth. But people who suffer from tinnitus, for example, also got involved. Almost half were PC players, but consoles were also well represented.
But the barriers themselves are important. What bothers players with such a disability and why? We were also interested in whether they could use any compensation tools and what would help them the most in the future. Just think of the fact that less than half of the respondents encountered a game that limited their play, partly or entirely because of their hearing impairment. This may be a bigger problem than you thought.
The difficulties were varied and many of them may not even be realized by the hearing player. The traditional problem is the small size of the headlines, or the lack of color coding of different speakers, or communication in online games in general. Due to limited communication, players need to be kicked out of multiplayer matches. Without audio visualization, it is also difficult for deaf players to know where the enemy is coming from. Some puzzles in games can be built directly on sound. And the big problem is the headlines in general. In some games, it is completely or partially missing in the content, paradoxically even if the game, on the contrary, has Czech dubbing.
“For example, if someone attacks me, the gamepad starts to vibrate and I know something around is wrong.”
Of course, players with hearing impairments use various compensatory aids and tools. More than half of them help themselves in this way. It is not only a hearing aid or cochlear implant, but also a light signal. But players are even more creative. “I used CS: GO scripts that changed the sound of footsteps to text in the left corner to let someone know that someone was moving around me. It was created by a player who had a deaf friend, “said one of the participants in the survey. Another uses a special application that alerts you to sounds in the game, and someone feels the vibration of louder sounds.
We were also interested in what games, on the contrary, met their handicap and where the developers coped well with the restrictions. The most frequently named players were The Last of Us Part II, Cyberpunk 2077 and Fortnite. For example, vibrations in the gamepad help. “If someone attacks me, for example, the gamepad starts to vibrate and I know that something around is wrong,” said one of the players. “I consider games with subtitles for the deaf, ie subtitles that contain information about the surrounding sounds, to be a good environment,” said another.
Titanfall 2 is presented as an example of a multiplayer game with a lot of graphic effects, thanks to which one does not have to rely on sound. Fortnite also visualizes sounds from the surroundings and uses icons of what each sound means and which direction it is. Deaf players praise that Cyberpunk 2077 had almost everything subtitled.
When the players themselves had to say what they would like to change or see from the point of view of their handicap, they suggested, for example, that someone with the developers solve this problem and advise them. Others want more games like The Last of Us Part II, the authors of which tried their best to meet all possible restrictions. But there is also the idea that more characters who are deaf should appear in the games.
The aim of the survey was to obtain information from the beginning that could be of some benefit to the authors of the games and to inspire them. Based on what problems have been identified, there is certainly some intersection that can help create at least a basic package of needs and elements that can form a barrier for deaf players and can in fact be broken down. We will try to pass this knowledge on to game developers.
Many studies have not been very active in this issue so far, but the example of Naughty Dog proves that this is not only possible, but players will really appreciate it. And this initiative is also noticed by those for whom it is not necessarily intended. Based on this, Silent World formulated three pieces of advice for the authors of the games. If they took them into account in their work, they would obviously make playing and easier for the deaf.
Tips for developers
1) Create Czech subtitles for the deaf, ie subtitles that will contain not only dialogues, but also descriptions of noises, musical accompaniment and the like and will be color-separated. Also allow you to adjust their size.
2) Do not create a section of the game, the overcoming of which depends only on the solution of the sound puzzle. If such a section of the game must be in play, ideally allow its alternative solution, which will not depend on the sound, or its skipping.
3) If the game contains any warning signals (eg warnings about enemies) and the player receives warnings about their presence with the help of sound, allow alternative settings of this warning in another form (light, vibration, subtitle).