I believe that the Deaf Gamers website should be required reading for any game developer. Too often I see subtittles in games only considered as an afterthought, and even then many times they are innaccurate, or incomplete. Many people in the game industry, and many people in general, seem to think that deaf people have to just miss out, or that they won't really care if they can't tell what people are saying, or that they don't play games. Look, subtitles are not that hard, seriously. There's no excuse for excluded a whole market from enjoying a game. An option for closed captioning would be even better, but I have yet to see a game implement that.

I've actually had a conversation in which I mentioned that a subtitle was missing, and got the reply, "Well, they can hear the words anyhow." When I postulated that the player might not be able to hear, they said, "Are we supposed to make the game playable for blind people, too?" Which I feel is a pretty ridiculous response. It's very very very easy to make provisions for the hearing impaired. It's text, for crying out loud, not to mention that that kind of attitude belies a pretty basically flawed thinking about game design. Remember, you shouldn't design games for yourself, you should design for as many people as possible.

When I made Little Pythagoras, the World Builder language I used had a bug in which on certain newer systems, the sound simply would not play. So I included a pormpt at the beginning which asked the player if they could hear the sounds it was generating, and if not, it from that point on didn't bother playing sounds at all, (In order to free up memory and make the game play faster), and relied on descriptions of sounds instead in the text window. I got e-mail from hearing imparied player sthanking me for considering them in my design, which I really hadn't done (I was thinking of those people who couldn't hear the sound because the computer wouldn't play it), but it made me realize that you really need to think about how any kind of person might be experiencing your game, and try to accomodate them, within reason of course. This is why you have different difficulty levels, video and audio settings, control settings, and subtitles. This strikes me as being common-sense design.

My last girlfriend had a brother who was hearing-impaired (and also played video games), and after going to a few deaf events, I found it odd how they make them accessible to hearing people who don't understand sign language. Even though it would be reasonable to expect that everyone going to see an ASL-using comedian perform would understand ASL, they had an interpreter on hand. This really impressed me that even though such efforts are typically not made for them, events oriented to them specifically still have these concessions.

While I'm on the subject, let's talk about subtitles in DVDs. Recently my roomate purchased the Vampire D: Bloodlust DVD, and there is no option for Japanese audio with English subtitles. Call me snobby, but I think this is really inexcusable. Obciously they already have the Japanese audio, and there's room on the DVD for it, and it's got English closed captioning, so . If one has to pay $20 for a DVD, you should be able to watch it whatever original language it was made in. I know many people prefer to hear the English dub, and that's fine. We had wanted to view it in English anyhow, since a friend of ours worked on the audio for the English version, but especially with anime and other foreign films, many people prefer to see the original language audio with subtitles, and there's no good reason not to include an option for this on the DVD. Same goes for widescreen.

It's really really simple things like this that can make the difference between a product looking professional and cared for, and it looking sloppy and unfinished. Too often it seems as though the folks making these things believe that as long as the part of the product that most people see is fine, then the rest of the stuff can be ignored. When it comes to these simple things, subtitles and other text especially, all it takes is a little proofreading and re-typing. As a tester who gives a shit what condition a game is in when it ships, it's very frustrating to see text bugs waived near the end of a development cycle because they've been ignored for months on end, regarded as not important enough to spend time on, and then regarded as taking too much time to fix when code release approaches. Having improper grammar or poor spelling is much like having graphic corruption (and pretty much equivalent to audio corruption to a deaf person), it doesn't necessarily impair one's ability to play the game, but it just looks bad, and makes the developer look bad.

So, when designing a game or anything that you wish many people to enjoy, don't just consider your target audience, consider all audiences and whether something very simple and easy can be done to accomodate them and improve their game experience. Obviously, one cannot make compromises in all areas but for something as easy as subtitles, I feel it should really be a cross-platform standard. Not only will it make the game appear more polished to anal-retentive freaks such as myself, but you'll have made the game viable for that niche market as well, and that's just good business sense.


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