Research Summary

To summarise my research, I have found that most deaf people seem to be isolated from society, communicate primary via text methods, such as SMS or e-mail, they have a preference to older games due to their lesser focus on audio and larger focus on visual aspects of the games, and that they are usually upset or frustrated that many modern games don’t have accessibility for deaf people. I also found that most obvious way of making a game more accessible to a deaf audience is through subtitles, closed captions and subliminal cues, as the most important things that seem to be missed in a game can be rectified through these. Subtitles can very easily help a deaf person follow a games plot or storyline, as well as help to track objectives, inventory and much more. When using subtitles, the text used should be in a readable font with very clear and simple text formatting, with a high contrast between the text itself and the background. White text with a black border seems to fit on all backgrounds, and is relatively easy to read. However, the text colour may need to be changed to help identify the speakers, as the speaker will need to be identified in most dialogue, to help identify the context and the mood of the scene. Visual indication should also be used for communication in games outside of story and dialogue, such as when the game needs to point out a path or an objective, or players need to talk to each other. Objectives should be very clearly highlighted and important locations should be marked clearly. In the case of a multiplayer game, a text chat should be provided. Any audio cue that is included in the game should be accompanied by a visual cue of some sort, such as a red tint for taking damage or a screen shake when a trap is triggered. Another thing that should be easily identified visually is effects, whether they are positive or negative, such as a flame for something that is burning or a green tint for poison. Another thing that I found in a game that I would like to apply to my project is the enhancement of the game through visual effects, such as a fade out effect when a battle starts, as they are helpful to the experience, even if they aren’t necessary. I also found that when dialogue is too long, it can make me lose interest in a game due to the speed of reading vs the speed of listening to dialogue, so while I should apply subtitles where there is dialogue, I should try to keep the dialogue itself to a minimum.

Secondary Research

For my secondary research, I looked through the data on a few websites and related it to my own project.


People with hearing impairment have to rely on visual and senses other than sound to get by in life, due to their lack of ability to hear in a ‘normal’ sense. For example, Most deaf people seem to prefer text-based forms of communication such as SMS or e-mail. BSL Zone’s ‘Research into the deaf audience’ paper published in January 2016 tells me that “There is evidence to suggest that email is the most widely preferred, however SMS is more common among younger Deaf people”. Most Deaf-born people also seem to have a speech impairment as they are unable to learn speech through sound, The BSL research paper tells me that ” Fellinger et al. (2012), in their global review of the mental health of deaf people, identified similar studies in the US with findings that deaf students aged 18 to 19 years read at a level similar to that of the average 8 to 9-year-old hearing student”. The research also states that “There is evidence from the literature to suggest that Deaf people are excluded from society and are subject to social isolation. “, as it is very difficult for Deaf people to interact with people.

The same research paper also tells me that “In 2010 there were 56,400 people registered as being deaf in England, and in 2014 there were at least 48,125 deaf children aged 0 to 19 across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales”, and Microsoft’s Technical Article ‘Making Video Games Accessible: Business Justifications and Design Considerations’ tells me that “In the U.S. alone, over 28 million people are affected by some sort of hearing impairment”, and that “17 out of every 1,000 children under the age of 18 are affected with a hearing impairment”. This shows that there is a very large potential audience for games that can be played by the deaf, and makes me question why there are still so many games that aren’t suitable to be played by deaf people.
There are many examples of obstacles a deaf person could come across when attempting to play a video game, and how to overcome these obstacles as a designer.

Loss of hearing can affect specific frequencies more than others, so having specific control over different parts of audio is important The player should be given separate individual controls for sound effects, speech, background noise and music, down to silence. This will help hearing impaired players understand what is happening in the game. This can also be considered a cognitive accessibility feature as it can help players comprehend what is going on.

Subtitles and Closed Captioning should also be included for accessibility, with an option to toggle them on or off. If a gamer with a hearing impairment is playing a game, any ambient noise should be capture with text on the screen, particularly for horror, spy and stealth games. Speech should also be captured with text in the same way, using coloured text to denote different speakers and captions for possible mood setting noises and music. The subtitles and captions that are provided should be in an easily readable font size, with clear text formatting and high contrast with the text and the background.

Alternatives for sound effects should also always be provided. Conveying important information through sound alone is an obvious barrier for people with physical hearing impairment, but also causes problems for situational impairments. Subliminal cues can be used to replicate the role of audio in this case, to indicate when something important is happening, such as the screen turning red when the character is injured or low on health. I should think about what gameplay experiences are lost when the sound is muted, then try to put those back in with an alternative output, such as an icon, or a visual or text prompt.

 

Primary Research

For Unit 10, I did some research in the form of interviewing someone that was deaf from birth (Ricky Collins), as well as play League of Legends and Bravely Second without any sound to try and get a feel for deaf gaming myself.


For some primary research, my class had an interview with a deaf person, Ricky Collins. This helped me get some direct input from someone that was deaf that helped me to design my project.

Ricky’s opinion is that older games, such as Sonic and Mario are preferable over newer games, due to their lack of reliance on sound and heavier visual impact, which made the games more immersive to him, as nothing was specifically audio-based, so no important part of the gameplay was missed. This tells me that I should have a more visual focus on my project, and only implement audio cues and effects as luxury effects, so deaf people don’t miss out on anything important.

Another point that Ricky made was that certain auditory cues were difficult to pick up if they weren’t accompanied by a visual cue. This, again, is something I should consider when I design my project, and I will need to make sure to accompany all my audio cues with visual cues. This may be easier if I reverse the process, and instead focus on the visual cues first, and accompany those with audio cues.

Ricky also stated that he found conversations in games to be somewhat condescending, and showed some distaste towards the lack of subtitles in many current generation games, as it would be very difficult to follow what the story and even objectives of a game would be without knowing what is said during conversations. It is also difficult to follow who is talking during conversations sometimes when subtitles are provided, which makes it difficult to ascertain the context and the tone of the conversation. I will need to make sure I keep dialogue to a minimum, and that I very clearly indicate the speaker and add subtitles in the instances where dialogue is needed. I will also need to make sure to visually mark important objectives.

He also gave his opinion when asked about how vibrations could affect gameplay. He said that they could be helpful, but it would be difficult to gain the correct feedback without full-body vibration, except the hands, as it would make it harder to play the game. This strikes out any plans for using vibration in my project, as I would like to avoid designing it with a reliance on any peripherals.

 

As another part of my research, I played a few games with the sound disabled. The first was League of Legends.

League of Legends is a 5v5 multiplayer siege game, where each player chooses 1 ‘Champion’, and the objective is to fight amongst 3 lanes and the space in between (the ‘Jungle’) and eventually reach the opposing teams base, and destroy a structure called the ‘Nexus’. The Nexus is protected by 3 ‘Inhibitors’ and 11 turrets, 3 for each lane, and 2 nearby the nexus. A very large part of the game is communication, which is made easier by in-game pings.

The first problem I ran into involved pings, as when a ping is made it has a very clear audio cue, but the visual cue only appears if the ping is already near you in the visible range of what you can see and on the minimap which only takes a small portion of your screen. This made it very hard to tell when a team member was attempting to warn me of a missing enemy or something happening on another part of the map I wasn’t looking at, if I wasn’t already looking at the minimap. This indicates that my project will need to be designed in a way where any pings are either clearly marked on the screen, or the player is reminded to glance at the minimap, although this effect should be toggle able.

The second problem involved the certain abilities. Some abilities require earlier knowledge that the ability has been used, such as long-distance, high-speed dash or charge abilities, so the player has ample time to react. These effects are usually indicated by an audio cue, but have no visual indication. This made the game very frustrating to play at times as I wasn’t always able to react to these abilities easily. This tells me that I should make sure to give a very clear visual indication when a distant powerful effect or trap is triggered, to make sure the player has ample time to react to stop, disarm or avoid it.

However, there were also a few situations where the visual information in League of Legends were very good, such as having extra bars under a champions health and mana for passive effects, or certain visual effects on a champion when they have a buff, and a text chat for communication with your team.

 

The second game I played was Bravely Second, which I had no issue playing with no sound. The game had plenty of ways to make up for the lack of sound.

The audio-cue when a battle starts in the game is accompanied by a screen fade-out in to the battle screen. Whereas the switch to the battle screen is indicative of the battle in itself, the fade out makes the transition a lot less jarring and makes the player more prepared for what is coming.

Dialogue in this game is also all subtitled, and the speaker is always highlighted unless it is intentionally kept a mystery. This makes it very easy to follow the plot and context of the story and text, although I found the dialogue to drag on for a while at times, almost to the point of making me lose interest, but the story I found entertaining enough for me to want to keep reading.

The game also had objectives very clearly marked on a map with symbols, which were also colour coded to show which were main story objectives and which weren’t. This helped to keep track of the objectives very easily and I never found myself lost as to what to do during the game. I should make sure to clearly mark any objectives in my project.

Other than dialogue, the only sounds I found in this game were luxury sounds, such as footsteps or a chime when selecting options in a menu, or sound effects for attacks. Everything had a much clearer visual effect which I think had much more of an impact for the game.