What Video Game Developers Should Know about Deaf Accessibility

Published January 18, 2021

With the US video game market currently worth over $60 billion, and 164 million adults playing video games in their spare time, the game industry is big business, and it’s only going to get bigger. The gaming industry is expecting a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12% between 2020 and 2025.

Gaming is becoming an increasingly accessible pastime, with users demanding more and more accessibility features. Fortunately, it's starting to become quite common to play a game that has an accessibility options menu. Accessibility in video games is a hot topic and even has its own awards, in the Tech4Good Awards.

Deaf and hard of hearing gamers have a few issues when sitting down to play their favorite games. Let’s take a look at what game developers need to know about deaf accessibility.

Audio cues

For deaf gamers, audio cues for things like enemies, opponents, or secret items, are relatively useless. Those of us with hearing difficulties find some games impossible to play for the simple reason that the game revolves around something entirely based on sound. For example, if the only sign of an approaching opponent is the sound of footsteps, a deaf gamer is at a significant disadvantage and may not be able to finish the game.

An excellent solution to this is to incorporate visual cues alongside the audio signals. Many games do this to significant effect, and anyone can use both sets of cues. You can add options to turn one or the other off, and by including both, you’re making your game inclusive for people with both visual and hearing disabilities, as well as everyone else.

Voice chat

Games that rely heavily on voice chat tend to exclude deaf or hard of hearing gamers from the start. However, with Microsoft’s Game Chat Transcription, anyone can participate in team games, even if they can’t hear their teammates.

Offering alternatives to voice chat, such as a detailed ping system, text chat, or transcription, allows all gamers to choose the option that suits them best. Many gamers use accessibility options without necessarily needing them, as they prefer that play style, or perhaps they don’t have the setup for things like voice chat.

Audio instructions

Anything in video games that is solely communicated by sound is a source of frustration and disappointment for deaf and hard of hearing gamers. Many a gamer has been stuck because the only reference to what to do next was delivered by audio, such as an aside from the player character.

Such things are usually left out of any captioning the game has, which seems incredibly counterproductive. All crucial elements of a game should be accessible to every gamer so that everyone has a great gaming experience.

Captions

The video game industry is exceptionally inclusive in terms of captions; however, there are still some glaring omissions. Long-anticipated games have launched without captions throughout essential cutscenes, and some games still don’t caption any cutscenes at all.

There is no way to understand the story for a deaf or hard of hearing gamer if the story is only told through sound. This makes for a negative game experience, and gamers are likely to put your game down unplayed.

Tinnitus

Many with hearing disabilities have some degree of tinnitus. Most games have background music, but there are increasing numbers of games without this. For someone with tinnitus, a game with barely any sound might increase tinnitus and feel uncomfortable. Background music works well, but ambient sound is much less effective.

Almost 15% of Americans have some degree of tinnitus, so tinnitus-friendly options are well worth it.

Deaf and hard of hearing gamers are some of around 33 million gamers with disabilities in the US, which makes up a massive market for video game developers. Offering accessible games for people with hearing disabilities is well worth the time and effort, and plenty of other gamers will use accessible options, too.

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