Deaf and hard of hearing gamers are seeking the same kind of immersion in games that hearing gamers are. We want to know the story, care about the characters, and connect with the game world.
While the ways we experience said immersion may be different than what one may expect upon developing a game, providing Deaf/hoh accessibility options often simply means doing well most of the options present in your game already, with a few extras.
- Subtitles – If you’re making a game that has dialogue, chances are you have a subtitle system. Those subtitles should be in a clear, easy-to-read font (i.e. sans serif, not in all-caps) and they should have an optional background to aid in low contrast situations. 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. And be careful with color for your subtitles. Not many are very easy to read and if you include colored subtitled, it would be best if you give players the option of not using the colors.
- Speaker labels for subtitles – Players need to know who is speaking in order to keep up with the story. Speaker tags must be present for both cutscenes and in-game dialogue.
- Closed-Captions or sound visualization for all essential sounds – This is particularly important for open world games in which enemies can sneak up on your or in games where there is audible gunfire or other sounds of danger indicating direction. For a great example of how to implement this, see the sound subtitles in Far Cry New Dawn and the sound visualization in Fortnite Battle Royale.
- Enemy location/proximity – This is another big one for open world games. Hearing players have the benefit of hearing grass rustling behind them or hearing the distant chatter of approaching enemies. You must provide visualization of this for Deaf/hoh players as well.
- Stealth/noise level indicators – In games that require stealth, often times there are subtle audio hints that a player has been spotted or players can hear that they’re making too much noise. For examples of this sort of system at work see Dishonored and State of Decay 2.
- Controller vibration – This is both a matter of immersion and it helps with danger indication. Pair controller vibration on console games with important in-game sounds like explosions or the footsteps of a massive approaching enemy.
- Subtitles on by default – Why? Because this way you never run the risk of your game launching into an opening cutscene without subtitles, causing your Deaf/hoh players to miss the beginning of your story.
- Options for the appearance of subtitles – By this I mean if you choose to have scrolling text or text that appears one letter at a time, players need the option to have the text appear all at once, either with the press of a button on through your options menu. Not all players can read and comprehend one letter and one word at a time.