“From colorblindness to subtitles, the medium still has a way to go...”
April 20, 2018 3:55 PM   Subscribe

How Games Can Better Accommodate Disabled Players [Waypoint] “Text size is so important, not just for people with less than 20/20 vision, but also anyone who doesn't have a huge TV, or isn't able to sit close to it. It's a classic example of something that is really tough to go back to and fix, but if you consider it early enough in development, it's free, it's just another design decision. Catering for colorblindness is a bit more complex, as it's a design job based on how a particular game mechanic works. But it's generally about just making sure you don't rely on color alone to communicate or differentiate. And if there's no alternative to color reliance, let people choose the colors that work best for them. Subtitles are used by so many people for so many reasons, from hearing loss to playing on public transport, from unpredictable audio mixes to hard-to-understand alien and robotic accents, to playing in a noisy room to when the baby is asleep, so you need the TV on mute.”

• The Problems With Illegible Text In Video Games And Some Solutions To Fix Them [Kotaku]
“Joe Humfrey, art and code director at game development studio Inkle, believes that the primary goal in designing text for video games is “making sure every word is effortless to read.” It turns out that making sure players can read and understand on-screen text is a more complicated task than you might think. You might not spend a lot of time actively thinking about fonts, how to design text or user interfaces, but they significantly impact how a you interact with a game. In fact, you’ve probably recognized and struggled with one form of badly-designed text that’s common in a lot games: really small subtitles. “I could probably rant for an hour about how most console games have tiny tiny text, probably because the developers sit right next to their TVs so don’t care. Please don’t do that,” Humfrey said in a recent GDC talk.”
• Subtitles: Increasing Game Accessibility, Comprehension [Gamasutra]
I realized that it could be beneficial to everyone if there were some kind of guideline we could follow that would help when putting subtitles in our games. So, this article is meant as a means to highlight areas that we need to pay attention to when implementing subtitles within our games and also to potentially serve as the basis for a first-set of guidelines. Please note that this list may not be complete, but it's a start.
1. Use the right font
2. Large enough font
3. Consistent font size and in mixed case
4. Usable on various output devices
5. Try to keep the line length under control
6. Good space between words and lines
7. Can be switched on or off (at any time)
8. Separate button for control
9. User controlled speed
10. Selecting the right color (Different color to system font, They should have their own background, Differing colors between sentences when multiple characters are on-screen)
11. Ensure staggered subtitles if in conversation
12. Include captions and other relevant non-speech information where necessary
13. Always need to be within the safe caption area
14. Make sure the subtitles matches the speech
15. Careful when using unusual speech -- like slang
16. Ensure the quality is perfect
• Games like 'Destiny' and 'Deus Ex' exclude deaf customers by flubbing a single, simple feature [Business Insider]
“Most games have robust customization options, allowing you to adjust the brightness, volume, and difficulty level exactly to your individual tastes. But there's one simple feature a lot of games can't get quite right, and it's one that deaf gamers in particular need to fully enjoy a game: Subtitles. "We need everything that's spoken in the game captioned!" said Chris "Phoenix" Robinson in an email interview with Business Insider. "This is 2016 and gaming industries should've got it by now but it's like they keep forgetting deaf/hard-of-hearing gamers are buying their games too." Robinson, who's deaf in one ear and has severe hearing loss in the other, runs a Twitch channel called Deaf Gamers TV with Brandon "Zero" Chan, who is also deaf. "I feel [game developers] are slacking," said Robinson. "It's like subtitles/captioning is the last thing they care about." In games, just like in movies or television, a vast majority of the story's information is conveyed through dialogue. When you can't hear what a character is saying — or read it in subtitles — suddenly, the simple act of playing a game and understanding its plot become nearly impossible. And even when games do have subtitles, it's often incomplete.”
posted by Fizz (37 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
There are all kinds of things in interface design that causes problems with some people. One of the most simple that people get wrong is coding something as good with a green in a circle and bad as red in the same circle. There is a reason that stop lights have three different circles. The people who are red/green color blind can't differentiate. (There is a code coverage tool for .NET that I use that does just that.)

Many game programmers/designers are in their twenties where their eyesight is good. The same programmers would have a hard time reading the things they programmed when they get to their forties and their close vision deteriorates.

Most of these things can be fixed by making things configurable, but it takes thinking about it and putting in the design work early when it is cheap and easy. Trying to retrofit it later is usually a disaster.
posted by Xoc at 4:10 PM on April 20, 2018 [5 favorites]


As a totally blind gamer, I wish more people gave a little thought to sound design. I'd ideally love a game I could play by sound alone, but that seems harder to arrange outside of a specific audio games market, which is quite small.

Alternatively, I'd love a turn-based strategy game which offered a text-to-speech option.
posted by Alensin at 4:17 PM on April 20, 2018 [20 favorites]


Love this, as I’m reading this in a DC bar before the start of Disability Policy Seminar on Sunday. We need to beat the drum: accessible design benefits everyone.
posted by Lutoslawski at 4:20 PM on April 20, 2018 [4 favorites]


I will not start a video game unless I go to the settings and confirm that the subtitles are enabled. It's the same for film/television. I comprehend and process information better when I read it on a screen, also depending on the medium, the mixing of sound levels makes it difficult to understand what is being spoken on screen due to a loud explosion or ambient noise. I do not have any difficulty with my hearing, but I have come to rely on this feature in most media I consume. I really wish it was given more thoughtful consideration in how it is implemented in games and media.
posted by Fizz at 4:29 PM on April 20, 2018 [5 favorites]


I forget what game I recently played that had such tiny subtitles that they were utterly fucking worthless but my liver damage from huge quantities of migraine medication remembers it very well.
posted by poffin boffin at 4:31 PM on April 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


I always put subtitles on when playing games, just a personal preference. Accessibility features are a benefit to all, but I'm not crass enough to argue for them on those terms (same way one hopefully wouldn't argue for out-of-work benefits as a way of e.g ultimately maximising shareholder returns rather than being socially important).

There was(is?) a neat little UK/Euro focussed Retro Remakes scene, where 8/16-bit games are remade for PC and one-button controls are strongly encouraged as an option too.
posted by I'm always feeling, Blue at 4:37 PM on April 20, 2018 [3 favorites]


This has driven me up the wall in every MMO I've played except WoW- the UI text, particularly when mousing over an item, is always tiny and thin and impossible to read at a glance.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:46 PM on April 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


I don't have any issues with vision or hearing, but I have problems with motion sickness that make some games unplayable.

Horizon: Zero Dawn was the saddest loss. I loved the game - I'll rave about it. But I had to stop playing when my condition got slightly worse. The way the environment is designed means a lot of spinning, upward-looking camera movement as you're looking for the path forward.

Just something as simple as a cheat option that highlighted the path would make the game playable again. Sure, I wouldn't have the fun of finding it myself ... but I don't have that now. Haven't booted it up in months.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 4:48 PM on April 20, 2018 [5 favorites]


Just something as simple as a cheat option that highlighted the path would make the game playable again. Sure, I wouldn't have the fun of finding it myself ... but I don't have that now. Haven't booted it up in months.

Not to get too derailed into CHEATS but I think it does slightly touch on the subject of accessibility, this comment reminds me of the recently released platformer: Celeste.

It provides the following options:
• Force Right
• Force Left
• Force Up
• Force Down
• Float Mode
• Unlimited Jumps
• No Spike Damage
• No Collisions At All
Celeste has a very dynamic and variable "Assist Mode".
Celeste is “meant to be hard,” and Assist Mode is an option, not the default. The default is the game Thorson and his team carefully put together over several years, the one that boots up when you start the game without touching anything. That's pure Celeste.

“From my perspective as the game's designer,” he said, “Assist Mode breaks the game. I spent many hours fine-tuning the difficulty of Celeste, so it's easy for me to feel precious about my designs. But ultimately, we want to empower the player and give them a good experience, and sometimes that means letting go.”
My favourite thing about this is that you can turn it off and on at a whim. If you're struggling with a particular level, you can slow down the speed or allow yourself to have unlimited "second jumps". And then you can turn it back on to the default difficulty at your convenience. It's that we've been given CHOICE and that choice feels so good in gaming. This kind of agency is something I think we need more in games for all kinds of players.
posted by Fizz at 5:03 PM on April 20, 2018 [11 favorites]


Some of the research I've done as a postdoc has been on typeface legibility for reading-at-a-glance (e.g., what Pope Guilty mentioned for object labels), and there are so many examples of companies doing it wrong that I don't even know where to start. Had this FPP come up a few months later, I'd be able to point at a big review paper I'm a coauthor on by way of summary, but the checklist in the FPP pretty much aligns with our last ~7 years of research on this, with one addition: don't design your text with the assumption that your users are 25 years old and have perfect vision.

I would write more, but I have a horrendous cold that's giving me the cognitive abilities of the cat right now...
posted by Making You Bored For Science at 5:04 PM on April 20, 2018 [9 favorites]


What annoys me the most about subtitles is when they're not outlined or against a solid-colored bar. Because if not, the light ones disappear into light backgrounds and the dark ones disappear into dark backgrounds. That's kept me from watching a lot of foreign language films I think I would have enjoyed.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:10 PM on April 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


I'm visually impaired - legally blind, so just enough that I have been essentially excluded from console games ever since the move to all-HD where many a studio just said "leave all the text the same pixel size so it's super clear how awesomely high def we are."

I gave up hoping for a size adjustment option and bought bigger and bigger screens. Now I'm up to a projector and dreading upgrading to 4k when everybody will have made the same lazy design choices again so I have to stand and walk up to the 100in screen to read the menus.

Most of my life, work, etc I don't have to adapt or it's not so bad. Using consoles and actually most modern board games, I just kind of give up and let everybody else enjoy being able to glance at another player's hand and plan their next move. (I'm looking at you, Gloom).
posted by abulafa at 5:11 PM on April 20, 2018 [4 favorites]


slight derail in media type but the first John Wick had some of the best subtitles i've ever seen, it is now my gold standard.
posted by poffin boffin at 5:15 PM on April 20, 2018 [2 favorites]


But ultimately, we want to empower the player and give them a good experience, and sometimes that means letting go.”

I like this sentiment. Sometimes being inclusive means that you have to let go of certain ideas.

Some gamers get upset because they see beating a game as a kind of status symbol. If the game isn't hard enough, you're robbing them of their status. Or, even worse, if there are options that can make the game easier for individual users, you're robbing them of their status. And you're a threat! A fake gamer!

And I know I brought this up in a previous thread, but sometimes these options are useful for more than just the people intended. Horizon: Zero Dawn has a 'story' mode that makes combat pretty much a quick, automatic win. They wanted the game to be accessible for people who couldn't do - or didn't want to do - the combat. But it was really useful for me because I could turn it on when dealing with an aerial enemy, because those were camera angles that made me sick.

I don't consider myself disabled; my experiences are very different than someone with severe hearing or vision impairment, for example. But it's appalling to me how little accessibility is considered, especially in games put out by studios with a lot of money or where the fixes would be so simple.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 5:17 PM on April 20, 2018 [13 favorites]


Horizon: Zero Dawn has a 'story' mode that makes combat pretty much a quick, automatic win. They wanted the game to be accessible for people who couldn't do - or didn't want to do - the combat.

Outlast 2 recently added a "story mode" as well for this very reason. There was a lot of online commentary/feedback about how the story was really interesting but people were giving up b/c the game play was too difficult and so they were abandoning the game early on at only 20-30% completion. The new mode had fewer enemy encounters, and you take less damage when you are attacked.
Some gamers get upset because they see beating a game as a kind of status symbol. If the game isn't hard enough, you're robbing them of their status. Or, even worse, if there are options that can make the game easier for individual users, you're robbing them of their status. And you're a threat! A fake gamer!
I know we've had many conversations about this in other gaming threads but it boggles my mind. Like how fucking fragile is your ego that someone else CHOOSING to play a certain way interferes with your ability to enjoy a fucking game.

It's an option that you have to actively turn on, so if you want to do your hardcore ultra violence run, then do that. If someone else wants to play the game at a slower rate because they have some other considerations (body, mind, accessibility, etc.) let them fucking play that game their way. You still get your stupid made up trophy achievement.
posted by Fizz at 5:27 PM on April 20, 2018 [6 favorites]


As a totally blind gamer, I wish more people gave a little thought to sound design. I'd ideally love a game I could play by sound alone, but that seems harder to arrange outside of a specific audio games market, which is quite small.

Someone has beaten The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time while completely blindfolded, for the purpose of writing up strategies to help a blind player beat the game.
posted by NMcCoy at 5:34 PM on April 20, 2018 [6 favorites]


Yeah, that Zelda win has been on my radar for a few years now. I used to enjoy playing that game for the pleasure of wandering around and killing skeletons at night, though can't imagine actually having the patience to make meaningful progress with it. Granted, I last played as a teenager, so maybe things would be a little different now.
posted by Alensin at 5:48 PM on April 20, 2018


As a minor addendum to my last, one n64 game I was able to play completely on my own was Pokemon Stadium. The audible announcer and memorizing the various moves available for each Pokemon meant that I could pretty easily fight in tournaments and such. It was a lot of fun.
posted by Alensin at 5:49 PM on April 20, 2018 [4 favorites]


Another thing that more developers need to realize is that subtitles are different from captions. I want dialogue to be readable so I don't have to expend brain power to decode weird accents but I don't want every explosion and thud be transcribed for me. This was especially bad in Portal where, in the test chamber that gives you the portal gun, said gun is placed on a rotating platform and it auto-fires a portal every few seconds or so. With subtitles on they were constantly just reading "PORTAL GUN NOISE". Someone had obviously just coded the auto-captioning code so that it just feeds in a textual representation of every environmental sound that is near enough and left it at that.

Also, as a personal preference, I like my subtitles left-aliged (NOT centered) and with a black outline (NOT a background). I can deal with it if this is not the case, but I will loudly grumble about it while playing.

Oh! And don't try to be visually cute when displaying subtitles in your game. Show one line at a time and don't scroll or fade new ones in. Don't color-code by speaker, add the speaker name instead. I'm looking at you again, Portal.
posted by Soi-hah at 6:11 PM on April 20, 2018 [3 favorites]


Hell, most game designers don't even bother to accommodate left handers.
posted by octothorpe at 6:26 PM on April 20, 2018 [7 favorites]


I guess the overall arching theme is: don't tell me how to enjoy the game I bought. Let me enjoy it my own way. Subtitles, different colours, difficulty levels, remappable controls.... But then so many developers kind of get this idea of artistic purity about the One True Way to play and I'm all Cassandra: [ disgusted noise ].

I guess my biggest irritation in addition to too-small subtitles is the overusage of small caps. I mean, any usage of small caps should be shot down. But setting body text as smallcaps is, well, that's not a good thing.

The consoles are getting slowly better. Need to offer more control remapping, though. That's still a big issue.

And, yeah, one of the reasons we use a projector is so we can read the damn text.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:38 PM on April 20, 2018 [3 favorites]


Hell, most game designers don't even bother to accommodate left handers.

It's not perfect but the Steam Controller for PC gaming is kind of wonderful for these types of accessibility/accommodations. So much customization and remapping available. Highly recommend testing it out if you get the chance and this kind of thing interests you.
posted by Fizz at 7:53 PM on April 20, 2018 [2 favorites]


My elderly relative with hand mobility impairments can play an old-ass version of solitaire on Windows with an old-ass mouse all day long, but has a lot of trouble with iPad apps because of the gestures and tiny virtual buttons.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:40 PM on April 20, 2018


Another thing that more developers need to realize is that subtitles are different from captions. I want dialogue to be readable so I don't have to expend brain power to decode weird accents but I don't want every explosion and thud be transcribed for me. This was especially bad in Portal where, in the test chamber that gives you the portal gun, said gun is placed on a rotating platform and it auto-fires a portal every few seconds or so. With subtitles on they were constantly just reading "PORTAL GUN NOISE". Someone had obviously just coded the auto-captioning code so that it just feeds in a textual representation of every environmental sound that is near enough and left it at that.

All of the Source engine games work like this and I love it, because it lets me pick up on sounds I wouldn't have noticed or understood otherwise, and makes it easy to tell who's speaking, and lets me know what's going on at a much higher level than I would otherwise.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:55 PM on April 20, 2018 [3 favorites]


So I'm really big into fighting games, and once in a while, accessibility for disabilities pings my radar, and I generally tend to think it's just, like… really cool stuff. It's generally a relatively forbidding genre for new players even under the best of circumstances, which is why it always impresses me so much when I hear about stuff like how there's a guy who plays Killer Instinct using only the copious sound effects to establish a mental map of where the players are, or how Skullgirls now has full screen reader support for blind gamers. According to the devs of Skullgirls, implementing Tolk (the screen reader support library) took something like a day's worth of work, though it's unclear just how scaleable that might be for other games. (I also have other misgivings about Skullgirls's incredible accessibility work, like the in-depth tutorials that explain concepts, given the absurdly high complexity and execution requirements of the game that make it akin to putting training wheels on a racing motorcycle in practice, but the gesture is great nonetheless.)

On the other hand, Fantasy Strike (a game I've been eagerly following the development of for a while now) has a more all-encompassing approach to accessibility that is more about hitting the tall part of the bell curve for making the game accessible to non-fighting-game-players (but presumably the same sound positioning tricks might help blind gamers, especially now that voices have been implemented), though I imagine that, given adequate resources instead of the current running-on-fumes, they'd also gladly implement Tolk. The lack of joystick motions for special moves seems like it would be very good indeed for, say, players with mobility-related disabilities (like only having one hand).

It's good to see attention being paid to accessibility stuff overall (having dated someone back in high school who wore hearing aids, I've been at least somewhat more attuned to disability-friendliness than the norm, it seems), but it's also remarkable just how far a lot of the industry still has to go. On the other hand, sometimes something cool happens, and you get a case like A Dark Room for iOS exploding in popularity because its nearly-all-text presentation made it super VoiceOver-friendly, and blind gamers made it a (brief) sensation back in 2014. The dev later went on to update it to make it playable from start to finish for blind players — the all-text presentation was intended as a stylistic choice, and the success caught the developer entirely off-guard, in fact.

Anyway, yeah, this is just a really cool topic, and thanks for another great post, Fizz!
posted by DoctorFedora at 10:38 PM on April 20, 2018 [2 favorites]


I don't have any issues with vision or hearing, but I have problems with motion sickness that make some games unplayable.

Yeah, I pretty much drifted away from games entirely since from Half-Life 2 3d games have given me motion sickness. (And strategy games became too dumbed down/time sinks)

I'm not colour blind but have to take it into account in some of the design stuff I do... I really cant understand why games cant' have a option that tweaks the colours. It effects like 1 in 12 men (1 in 20 women), it's not exactly insignificant.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 1:37 AM on April 21, 2018 [1 favorite]


Motion sickness is also an issue for equal access: Women are more susceptible than men. This is going to become even more of an issue as VR takes off, since it tends to be worse.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 2:09 AM on April 21, 2018 [2 favorites]


I’ve found a couple of ways to deal with motion sickness myself! I really wanted to play Portal 2 when it came out, so I actually used motion sickness pills (think Dramamine). More recently, the camera in Super Mario Odyssey gave me the barfs, but I found that trying as much as possible to only use the “center the camera behind Mario” button instead of smoothly controlling the camera with the stick really helped.

This probably isn’t a very helpful comment.
posted by DoctorFedora at 2:37 AM on April 21, 2018 [2 favorites]


It's not a panacea for everybody, but if first-person games give you motion sickness, head into the graphics settings and see if you can adjust the Field of View/FoV settings, as a mismatch between the FoV your brain expects and the FoV it's getting is a common cause of nausea in first-person games. This is especially bad in the lazier class of console to PC ports, as the expected distance between the player and the screen is much higher for console players (i.e., sitting on a couch several feet from the screen as opposed to maybe a foot or so from the monitor) and thoughtless ports sometimes don't increase the FoV to compensate.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:22 AM on April 21, 2018 [4 favorites]


but has a lot of trouble with iPad apps because of the gestures and tiny virtual buttons.

i have dexterity (left) and tactile/sensory issues (both hands) and the tiny stupid touchscreen keyboards make me want to set myself on fire. they are impossible for me to type on, i have been trying for years and the intense frustration of frequently being told that they're allegedly easier for people with hand problems is unbearable. idk what i'm gonna do when there are no more smartphones with actual button-pressing keyboards.

anyway games that let you remap your console's controller any way you want are the best possible games even if the game community itself is largely ghastly. hi, overwatch.
posted by poffin boffin at 6:42 AM on April 21, 2018


I tried changing FOV settings but that didn't help... At some point I keep meaning to get a hand controller so I can sit back from the screen and see if that helps. Also to finally finish GTA: San Andreas - playing the GTA games with a keyboard and mouse makes the shooting parts a lot easier but the driving/flying parts much harder (and the it case of bits of GTA:SA impossible)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:43 AM on April 21, 2018


abulafa, I’m right there with you. I’ve got retinopathy of prematurity, and I find most card-based games (e.g., Magic: The Gathering) and many board games unplayable because they’re so difficult to read. You can tell they’re designed by young folks with healthy eyes.
posted by wintermind at 8:37 AM on April 21, 2018 [2 favorites]


Does anyone have any experience with VR and how things scale/appear, specifically in the context of accessibility? Or would that be pretty much similar in the problems of not being easily read/legible, etc?
posted by Fizz at 1:00 PM on April 21, 2018 [1 favorite]


I just wish that most games had an 'absurdly easy' mode. I have a lot of coordination problems (possibly connected to autism, I've learned) and although I actually really like gaming, the only way I can play most console games is if I have a friend who can take over whenever there's a boss battle or a particularly tricky jump. I've tried to push through with some games in particular that I really, really loved - Alice: Madeness Returns is so pretty, goddammit - but attempting a single tricky move over and over again for hours without noticeable improvement gets frustrating and unfun however gorgeous the graphics are :(
posted by Acheman at 1:41 PM on April 21, 2018 [2 favorites]


Good few years back, but I knew my eyesight had gotten worse when I went back to Ecco The Dolphin on a whim and found it now rapidly gave me motion-sickness when it never had before.

DoctorFedora, I'm well impressed by that Skullgirls fact.
posted by I'm always feeling, Blue at 8:28 PM on April 21, 2018


The "user controlled speed" thing is pretty important from my experience, as games often derive their challenge by pitching the required reaction speed right at the limit of an able-bodied teenager, which is fair enough for the target audience but a little bit limiting for the fringe players like the elderly and disable people. I don't think accessibility needs to interfere with the carefully crafted challenge of a game, which as an expressive artform is a matter of personal preference, instead you could include it organically by modifying the game's difficulty options so that the easier modes slow things down a fraction.

PC gamers can use a tool like Cheat Engine, which has a built-in speed hack that works with almost everything and makes a whole heap of single player games accessible even if they weren't intended to be (Seriously, try playing a Call of Duty singleplayer campaign at quarter speed. Endless, effortless headshots...) Though be warned, you should never use Cheat Engine in a multiplayer game unless you want a steam ban.
posted by Eleven at 4:50 AM on April 22, 2018


Does anyone have any experience with VR and how things scale/appear, specifically in the context of accessibility? Or would that be pretty much similar in the problems of not being easily read/legible, etc?

VR isn't great from a sight-impaired perspective, but also less of a problem than you might think. The Vive headset can accommodate glasses with moderate comfort, and the text tends to be huge anyway because of the low resolution of the hardware. It's VR: You can literally move your head closer to read something.

The big unexpected thing for VR accessibility is the motion controls: If you have a limited range of motion or dexterity issues IRL, you have those exact same problems in VR. Aiming a gun in VR needs just as much fine motor control as it does in real life, some games are exploring mobility like the use of jumping and crawling, and wheelchair users find that things are placed out of their reach. Virtual Reality is just too real :D
posted by Eleven at 5:09 AM on April 22, 2018 [3 favorites]


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