Subtitles are in most modern games, but good subtitles are significantly harder to come by. More often than not, developers don’t realize just how many players use them. Ubisoft accessibility project manager David Tisserand previously noted in a twitter thread that even when the default was off, 60 percent of Assassin’s Creed: Origins players turned subtitles on. Similarly, when Far Cry: New Dawn released, the game automatically had subtitles turned on and 97% of players didn’t turn them off. When people talk about subtitles it is often in the context of deaf accessibility but the truth is, there are a lot of players who benefit from them.
With that being said here are the top five reasons games need subtitles:
1. For Deaf/HoH Players
The most obvious answer but still an extremely important one. Video games are an incredibly unique and immersive experience that everyone should have the ability to enjoy. When you are hard of hearing, like me, the difference between subpar and great subtitles can make a game playable and emotionally gripping. Far Cry: New Dawn isn’t the most emotionally driven game, but for me, it will forever hold a special place in my heart because it was the first time I did not struggle to play a game because of my hearing.
2. Players With Cognitive Disabilities
While I cannot speak for all cognitive disabilities, I can speak for my experience with ADHD. Having ADHD feels like having 100 tabs open on an internet browser and struggling to remember why you opened any of them. Needless to say, focusing is incredibly difficult for me, even when I play games. Usually, gaming helps my ADHD but it doesn’t make it go away. During long cut scenes or important sequences, the best way to keep my mind focused is to follow along by reading the subtitles. Reading them while hearing (what I can) for the spoken dialogue helps me center my mind on the task at hand.
3. Players Who Need Struggle With Reading Comprehension
Video game plots are not known for their simplicity. No matter how many times I play Final Fantasy XV I will never fully know what is going on. And for players who struggle with reading comprehension, subtitles can be a lifeline to help them further understand narratives. According to Dr. Frank Serafini, author of Audiobooks & Literacy, “hearing the sounds of spoken language while pairing those sounds with the printed word helps struggling readers to better focus on the meaning of words.” Subtitles, with proper speaker titles, can make a seemingly incomprehensible plot understandable.
4. Hearing Players Who Want or Need to Play With Low Volume
Many don’t realize the sheer amount of non-disabled players who use subtitles. Whether you are trying to keep it down for your roommate or your child that finally settled down enough to go to bed, subtitles are necessary for many people. I often turn off the sound while playing Animal Crossing and instead use the time to catch up on podcasts. Being able to play a game on low volume or mute without losing any of the gameplay and narrative components is important to more than just disabled players.
5. Players Who Are Not Native Speakers of the Game They Are Playing
On a similar note, subtitles are a must for anyone playing a game who is not a native speaker of the game they are playing. While this is most common with non-native speakers of English, it can also apply to Japanese games who feature voice acting in Japanese. Persona 5 offers players the ability to play the game with the original Japanese voice cast. Additionally, the Yakuza games only recently received English dubs and the option to play the game with the Japanese voice cast is still available. This means the subtitles need to be near-perfect to avoid anything that might be lost in translation.
At the end of the day, good subtitles that offer speaker titles and visual cues should be the standard not only for deaf/hoh players but the millions of other players who rely on them. With so many individuals using them, good subtitles can make or break a game, and for anyone still on the fence, just know that having good subtitles is a good business decision.