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January 7, 2020 1:09 PM   Subscribe

We Need to Talk About Font Sizes in Games [Push Square] “Considering I’ve spent roughly half my life in dark rooms staring at blisteringly bright screens, my eyesight is decent. Do you know what’s making me feel like I’m going blind, though? Video games. This isn’t a case of my peepers slowly withering away and losing their clarity – all other aspects of my life remain unaffected and unchanged. No, I blame developers who are intent on decreasing the size of their titles' fonts as each year passes by. I’m not exaggerating: the size of text in video games is getting smaller, and as user interfaces increase in complexity, it’s becoming a problem.”

• The Year In Tiny Video Game Text, 2019 [Kotaku]
“Games are cheaper than ever, but the three cataract surgeries I paid for this year in order to read the words in them has made the hobby itself way more expensive. In all seriousness, it’s 2019 and so many games, both big and small, are still impossible to read without squinting until a blood vessel pops. The problem of tiny game text reared its inscrutable head last year as well, and we’ve arrived at some solutions, such as zoom-in features and other optional settings. Both The Outer Worlds and Death Stranding released with headache-inducingly small words, and were later patched to make them more legible. Fire Emblem: Three Houses is on Switch where players can zoom in at their leisure. But these are more like band-aids over the problem than ideal fixes, like shipping books with magnifying glasses rather than also publishing them in big print form.”
• Obsidian, please make The Outer Worlds’ text size bigger [Polygon]
“It’s not just me. The text size in The Outer Worlds is too small, and folks are speaking up about it online. Obsidian’s newest role-playing game, which evokes the action of Bethesda’s Fallout 3 while simultaneously evoking the narrative and pacing of the original Fallout and Fallout: New Vegas, is a lot of fun. The character dialogue is especially well done, and includes tons of voiceover work. But the font size is way, way too small. Now that the game is live, people are turning to Reddit and other places to complain. This is not to say that Obsidian hasn’t considered accessibility. The game works with the Xbox Adaptive Controller, for instance. There’s no colorblind mode, but that’s only because Tim Cain — one of the game’s creators, and one of the folks behind the original Fallout — is completely colorblind and built the game from the ground up to meet his needs. Cain told me he had artists build the UI in grayscale before they were even allowed to add color to it. But it looks like his team may need to do another pass on the font size.”
• Developers Need To Stop Making In-Game Fonts So Tiny [The Gamer]
“The technical scope of game development is continuously expanding, and as a result there are less and less excuses not to make every effort to increase game accessibility, especially in AAA projects where resources are readily available to allow for it. One particularly salient example concerns the size of in-game text: game developers really need to stop making in-game fonts so damn tiny. This has been an issue for ages, with the first biggest controversy coming from Dragon Age: Inquisition's fans who struggled immensely with reading the game's text, especially when playing on consoles. It was so bad that a petition was started in an attempt to convince the BioWare developers to fix the subtitling and general lettering in the game. Some fans took matters into their own hands by creating mods for DOI that overhaul the illegible fonts, replacing them with more reader-friendly ones. That was in 2014, but even now - five years later - many game developers still don't seem to be keeping vision accessibility in mind. This is super weird, considering how straightforward and possible it is to do just the opposite.”
• Game accessibility quotes of 2019 [Gamasutra]
“2019 was a year of huge change in the accessibility field, with progress across every corner of the industry - post on that coming soon. But public discourse was dominated by just a few topics – text size, difficulty options (and off the back of that how accessibility relates to creative vision), and subtitling. Below are a few things gamers and developers have said over the year that stood out for me, covering those topics but also some others too. It's a long page, but an easy read. Some of these quotes are inspiring, some are thought provoking, some have practical advice – and some are a wake-up call. It’s also a handy list of awesome people to follow on twitter!”
posted by Fizz (87 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Two hills I’ll die on as a designer:
1. Your text is too small.
2. Radio buttons should be stacked vertically.
posted by feckless at 1:21 PM on January 7, 2020 [55 favorites]

OK Boomer.

Actually this rant really applies to all human facing tech as far as I can tell. (Grey fonts on smart phones anybody?) There has always been an energetic streak of abilism in this area.
posted by Pembquist at 1:23 PM on January 7, 2020 [5 favorites]

They must take their cues from museum painting description designers.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:23 PM on January 7, 2020 [17 favorites]

YES THIS. My 32 inch tv is only at the foot of my bed and my partner and I have to scoot into the middle to play borderlands 3 split screen. I missed a ton of Death Stranding lore before they made the text bigger too. If TV screen games and pc games are going to be the same they need universal design.
posted by Betty_effn_White at 1:23 PM on January 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

The text size in The Outer Worlds is too small, and folks are speaking up about it online


I had to sit less than 3' from a 36" TV to be able to read the subtitles in TOW. Finally got disgusted enough to move the PS4 from my bedroom to the living room (55" 4K TV, seating is about 7' away) and still had to use the larger text toggle in the patch to read anything at all.
posted by hanov3r at 1:24 PM on January 7, 2020 [8 favorites]

I'm glad I'm not the only one bothered by the tiny text size in games; I get it, they want everyone to see the beautiful visuals, but the text needs to be readable! Especially as a significant portion of gamers enter that time in life in which you need some real-life mods to read normal sized text anyways.
posted by nubs at 1:26 PM on January 7, 2020 [5 favorites]

Also, all the effort that programmers put into in-game lore, books, etc. I know many people blow past things like that in games, but there are those of us who read these things so that we can truly live inside of the world that has been built for us. It feels like such a slap to the face to the writers who spent so much time and energy on these items/stories and then not have the ability to read them properly because of tiny ass text.
posted by Fizz at 1:30 PM on January 7, 2020 [9 favorites]

I never have problems with text size in games. I play on a monitor on a desk, sitting in a chair. I prefer smaller type.

That said, I messed around with a handheld Switch for a while, and that thing is the Goldilocks Problem made physical. I was constantly moving it in and away from my face, and never felt comfortable playing it. I really dislike handheld gaming, it turns out.
posted by SoberHighland at 1:30 PM on January 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

Also fun is text overlaid on graphics that are almost the same exact color. Orange HUD for range to destination in Star Citizen that matches one of the planet's surface almost exactly is my current bane. Guess I'll just wait for the proximity alert alarm and then frantically pull up.
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:31 PM on January 7, 2020 [4 favorites]

So glad I'm not the only one aggravated by the tiny font in Outer Worlds. I was struggling so much and considering every item and screen comes with a paragraph of text, it's rough. Shocked it's not dynamically salable given the abundance of 4K TVs and monitors it'll end up on.
posted by msbutah at 1:42 PM on January 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

We actually bought a larger TV because the age 50+ gaming majority in this house couldn’t read the text on several games for the PS4. Would really have loved an option to increase the font size instead; the room is really small for this TV. I’ve been doing much of my gaming on PC (hurries to conceal No Man’s Sky hours) and I think I may need a new monitor soon too. Many of us Pong early adopters are still gaming, and influencing Next Gen players. It would be cool to see more accessibility issues considered.
posted by Nancy_LockIsLit_Palmer at 1:49 PM on January 7, 2020 [8 favorites]

I have this problem in Breath of the Wild. My eyesight is quite poor even with corrective lenses, and getting poorer by the month. I have to perch on the edge of my ottoman to play it on the TV. Handheld it's okay but then I'm dealing with a carpal tunnel situation.
posted by soren_lorensen at 1:52 PM on January 7, 2020 [2 favorites]

Go get your own games to play, dad.

Ever heard of the Americans with Disabilities Act?
posted by the_blizz at 1:53 PM on January 7, 2020 [24 favorites]

Oh man, Battlefront 2 has this problem in splitscreen mode. Completely illegible text, and I'm sure it's because splitscreen mode was an afterthought.
posted by condour75 at 1:57 PM on January 7, 2020

Go get your own games to play, dad.

Here's what I've learned as I grow older: the accommodations and needs of "the olds" that I mocked when I was younger have a way of coming back around on me, and that making those accommodations actually makes life easier for everyone.
posted by nubs at 1:58 PM on January 7, 2020 [44 favorites]

I'm sure it's because splitscreen mode accessibility was an afterthought.

posted by Fizz at 1:59 PM on January 7, 2020 [8 favorites]

Mod note: One comment deleted -- not sure if that was meant to be ironic ageism/ableism, or just the real thing, but regardless it sure falls flat when you're talking to fellow Mefites for whom this is an actual problem. Don't be that guy.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 2:03 PM on January 7, 2020 [23 favorites]

I'm just grateful for subtitles at all these days. Between hearing loss and auditory processing issues, I almost always need them. I do most of my gaming on a PC screen about three feet away though, and leaning in to squint at too-small text would probably be more irritating if I wasn't so used to it by now.
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 2:07 PM on January 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

It would probably help matters if game devs used monitors more akin to what the average player has, and not some umpteen-k wonderscreen.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:08 PM on January 7, 2020 [14 favorites]

Steve “Blind Gamer” Saylor has a few things to say about this. Most of them are repeatable in polite company. He was the genial host of #a11yTO Gaming in Toronto last October. He has no time for your get gud shit.

(part of my job is accessible gaming support for a charity. There are more gamers out there with disabilities than you could possibly imagine.)
posted by scruss at 2:09 PM on January 7, 2020 [7 favorites]

I'm sure it's because splitscreen mode accessibility was an afterthought.

Regular mode is small because accessibility is an afterthought.
Splitscreen mode is ludicrously small because regular mode was already too small. So, sure.
posted by condour75 at 2:13 PM on January 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

Yeah, the Switch is sort of a loss for me as a portable since it feels like everything is using beautiful 12px helvetica chickenscratch on that tiny little 6" screen and my middle aged eyes just ain't having it. It's fine on either of my TVs, and some (mostly older, huh) re-releases are fine in portable, but modern games are really hit and miss.

It's funny - the lower pixel density on the 3ds meant that the text was generally OK there, even if the 400x240 screen is low density enough that it gets kinda blocky.
posted by Kyol at 2:21 PM on January 7, 2020 [4 favorites]

I wonder how much of this is conscious changes in font size by developers and how much is due to the decrease in physical size due to higher DPI screens. They should be putting in the effort to make their games accessible either way, but I suspect that the hardware manufacturers are making it harder than it should be.
posted by wierdo at 2:30 PM on January 7, 2020 [2 favorites]

how much is due to the decrease in physical size due to higher DPI screens

Dynamically changing the font size to account for increased DPI shouldn't be that hard, but I remember opening a game (maybe Cold Waters?) after installing a new GPU and cranking my default resolution to REALLY EFFING HIGH and getting a loading menu that was almost literally just tiny dots instead of letters.
posted by hanov3r at 2:34 PM on January 7, 2020

Ever heard of the Americans with Disabilities Act?

OK Boomer.

Having visual disabilities to the extent of being entirely dependent on corrective lenses is not a great place to be, though. My 40-plus year-old nearsightedness is mixing with farsightedness into an unholy mess, where I can watch and play video games on TV, but I'll need a selfie stick to hold my phone away from me when playing games on it. I'm trying to hold off on progressive lenses due to severe expense and vanity, but it's getting progressively harder and harder to do so.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 2:34 PM on January 7, 2020

As someone who is colorblind and has struggled with gaming at times in my life, it suddenly occurs to me I never had similar struggles with any Tim Cain titles.

I mean, no wonder, apparently he is even more severely colorblind than I am.

So, thanks Tim. You were saving me a lot of trouble back in the day and I didn't even know it.

I wonder if this has anything to do with why those titles grabbed me, ease of access compared to other titles at the time that weren't accounting for colorblindness.
posted by deadaluspark at 2:44 PM on January 7, 2020 [7 favorites]

(Old QA/QA Lead from the games industry here)
A large part of this bad design seems to be that computer games - like most things - are made by sitting at a computer, less than a meter from your face. The UI designers of the text boxes see the game this close every day. So does QA, even when testing on consoles. So do the team leads. The games are occasionally shown of internally in larger environments (conference rooms and whatnot), but I'm guessing that by then the developers are so used to the product that they don't really think about it.

It is frustrating, to say the least. And two of the three companies I've worked at has had written guidelines for accessibility, where text size (and text color) is explicitly mentioned, but not really followed.
posted by Dee Grim at 2:46 PM on January 7, 2020 [16 favorites]

Ever heard of the Americans with Disabilities Act?

OK Boomer.

Hi, I'm actually an Xennial and a programmer, but thanks for assuming. The point is not the ADA, specifically. The point is that accessible tech is a huge problem caused by anything from arrogance to ignorance. Like, my organization is really inclusivity-oriented, and even our products have accessibility bugs because devs and designers just aren't taught to build for accessibility.

Actually, the problem is yet larger—it's that, across design fields, things are built for the "average" user, who is usually assumed to be white, male, young, cis, able-bodied, right-handed, etc.
posted by the_blizz at 2:47 PM on January 7, 2020 [27 favorites]

OK Boomer.

Can we fucking NOT, please?
posted by hanov3r at 2:51 PM on January 7, 2020 [53 favorites]

I guess my real point is, don't be a jerk about people's needs. It only adds to the problem.
posted by the_blizz at 2:51 PM on January 7, 2020 [18 favorites]

Apologies for the playful jab at people who don't know the ADA exists. I do data science so we likely share many of the same goals where accessibility is concerned, in any case.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 2:56 PM on January 7, 2020 [3 favorites]

loading menu that was almost literally just tiny dots

Loading menu I could excuse, because maybe the game hasn't yet loaded the stuff it needs to account for varied resolution.

One possible complication is font hinting, where getting the font to align perfectly with the pixels keeps things from looking blurry. So when programming that into it, they might not account for allowing free scaling. Paradoxically, font hinting is more important for readability the smaller the text is, so you could avoid any need for it by making the text really big.
posted by RobotHero at 2:59 PM on January 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

Dynamically changing the font size to account for increased DPI shouldn't be that hard

It certainly shouldn't be, but it often is due to a lack of support by the device/OS maker or broken libraries or even sometimes hardware that lies about its properties or can't tell you what its pixel density or physical size actually is.

That situation has gotten a lot better in the past 10-15 years. There are standards-based ways to communicate the necessary information between components and consumer OSes have at least mostly-workable support for scaling. I'm not certain that the console makers are including those software bits and support libraries in their firmware, though.

Without that underlying framework, it would be quite a project to provide automatic scaling. However, developers certainly can and should provide configurable scaling options that a user can adjust regardless. None of that underlying support is necessary to give the user the means to rectify the problem manually.
posted by wierdo at 3:00 PM on January 7, 2020

Oh and yeah, get a 27" 4K monitor in Windows and _pray like hell_ there's a UI scaling option. MacOS is better? ish? from a baseline OS perspective, but the number of games in both OSs that just work from pixels and not display points and your first introduction to the game is a buncha squiggly mm-tall text, woo. If they'd designed with accessibility in the first place, that wouldn't happen _and yet_ here we are.
posted by Kyol at 3:04 PM on January 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

If you came here to pooh-pooh the article or the need to accommodate anyone else besides people with "normal" vision or abilities, remember that you too will someday become disabled at some point. It's not a matter of "if", it's a matter of "when" and "how". Hopefully people will treat your needs with more respect than you have.

If you are doing this in a sarcastic tone and actually agree with the premise that needs should be accommodated, maybe also keep in mind that sarcasm *really* doesn't read well in text.
posted by Aleyn at 3:05 PM on January 7, 2020 [28 favorites]

According to the US Census Bureau, 12.8% of Americans have disabilities. That is too few for every American to have a close friend or family member with evident disabilities and a willingness to talk about them, so cut the disability-ignorant some slack -- maybe the moment they get woke to disability is just around the corner.

That said, if you think it's just fussy old people whose blood pressures rise because so many web, game, and application designers are indifferent to visual disability, it is now officially your responsibility to educate yourself to the contrary. Start by rereading this thread.
posted by mississippi at 3:05 PM on January 7, 2020 [4 favorites]

We actually bought a larger TV...

So did I, recently. I found playing games on the Switch handheld was actually easier than trying to play them on a 32" TV in my living room. (48, bifocals, have had poor vision since I was 12 or so.)

I have no interest in going to a 4K or 8K monitor for my PC, because 2560x1080 on a 29" monitor two feet from my face is already more detail than I can really see clearly.
posted by Foosnark at 3:55 PM on January 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

I got a brand new giant ass 70" TV and an Xbox One earlier this year. First time I've had a TV or game console since like, the SNES days.

I have good vision and am not old. I cannot read the type on a 70" screen on half the games.

I thought surely there must be a setting for this. Nope.
posted by bradbane at 3:57 PM on January 7, 2020 [4 favorites]

I would have thought the standardization on 1080p would make text sizes better; finally there's one screen size we can design for! Lol no. Or rather they have standardized, for tiniest possible text. Death Stranding really was terrible. Good contrast, but tiny tiny fonts.

I assume the problem is the games are designed and tested by young people.
posted by Nelson at 3:59 PM on January 7, 2020

Oddly, I've never had any difficulty adjusting the text size on my terminal when playing nethack...
posted by jim in austin at 4:10 PM on January 7, 2020 [7 favorites]

Go get your own games to play, dad.

I just did this! Traded the dull and derivative Outer Worlds for most of the cost of the ps4 retreads of Baldur's Gate & BG2.
posted by biffa at 4:29 PM on January 7, 2020 [2 favorites]

OH MY GOD. I started KH3 earlier this year while I was getting used to new glasses and I was so worried that something was wrong with them because I couldn't read the fucking text. Finally realized I had zero problems on the last 10 games (which I had just been playing as well, multiple of which also while getting used to new glasses) so no, the font was just too goddamn small.

Btw, I'm 25, with a -12.5 prescription and it gets worse every year. The real Boomer move is assuming young people can't have health problems and accessibility needs.
posted by brook horse at 4:58 PM on January 7, 2020 [6 favorites]

I have been nearsighted since I was 8 and this has really only been a problem with the last four or five years of games, so I'm gonna blame thoughtless asshole designers dealing with improved resolution in a lazy way rather than my own tragic and inevitable descent into senility.
posted by aspersioncast at 5:00 PM on January 7, 2020 [2 favorites]

Also it's not universal - in particular fuck whoever designed the God of War menus.
posted by aspersioncast at 5:01 PM on January 7, 2020 [4 favorites]

Though I thought this in jest, I do wonder how much can be attributed to things like k10k aesthetics and Kottke so aggressively championing bitmap fonts. The mechanics and limits of earlier technologies get baked in as cultural referents that persist even as display technology improves.
posted by 99_ at 5:11 PM on January 7, 2020

Resolution solves all problems, including both outline and bitmap fonts. Either one scales and it all works out fine if you bother to do it.

We've not really addressed the form-factor problem. In theory, yes, all the scaling technology is solved. But... is the user sitting right in front of the 8K screen, or across the room from a 4K screen. To say nothing of handhelds... how far away are you supposed to hold them?

I was an idiot and bought an iPad mini with the idea of using it as a home theatre controller. But there were exactly zero apps designed for it. They were all iPad apps that simply scaled down their graphics so that everything was too small to see and often even too small to reliably gesture with.

It turns out that designing against all of scenarios is hard. But it would be nice if more designers stepped up to do it.
posted by sjswitzer at 5:29 PM on January 7, 2020 [2 favorites]

I wonder how often this problem comes from Japanese developers not leaving enough room for foreign languages that tend to take up more space than Japanese. I bet that's why the text in the English version of Death Stranding was so tiny before they patched it.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 5:56 PM on January 7, 2020 [2 favorites]

I love that in a post about accessibility, the clever-dick use of smallcaps in the post title means screen readers read this as "F S S L X"
posted by introp at 6:00 PM on January 7, 2020 [9 favorites]

In other words, fuck your asthetics and let me read your goddamned text.
posted by introp at 6:01 PM on January 7, 2020 [11 favorites]

The text size in Cultist Simulator! Where the lore is the entire point of the game!!!
posted by praemunire at 6:09 PM on January 7, 2020 [2 favorites]

Like, my organization is really inclusivity-oriented, and even our products have accessibility bugs because devs and designers just aren't taught to build for accessibility.

So hire some devs and designers with disabilities.
posted by toodleydoodley at 6:12 PM on January 7, 2020 [11 favorites]

I missed a ton of Death Stranding lore before they made the text bigger too. If TV screen games and pc games are going to be the same they need universal design.

One of my friends was playing Death Stranding on a 65" tv, and I had to physically get up and go close to the screen to read some lore/menu options to her.
posted by littlesq at 6:34 PM on January 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

Reading through the links, it's curious (yet unsurprising) that highly-developed regulatory regimes have sprouted up around game piracy among other things, but not around accessibility. It's vaguely akin to YouTube being able to move with lighting speed on copyright takedowns, while simultaneously arguing "Oh geez, we just don't have the tools to deal with all these Nazis!"

Some reading on that...

Video Game Accessibility: A Legal Approach

The bulk of video game regulation deals with censorship, piracy, and addiction. For example, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act prohibits the unlawful copy and dissemination of electronic media, including video games (2014).

The industry's regulation is far more comprehensive in foreign nations. South Korea's Ministry of Culture and Tourism regulates nearly every aspect of the video game industry including censorship and addiction (Harlan, 2010; see also Ministry of Culture, n.d.; see also Lee, 2014). The industry is deeply intertwined with the country's culture and economy, which makes it difficult to both promote and regulate the medium (Woo, 2013).

In the United Kingdom, games containing "strong pornographic content" are classified by the British Board of Film Classification, a governmental agency (British Board of Film Classification — Video Games, n.d.); whereas all other games are rated by the Pan European Game Information system, which is legally enforceable (UK enforces Pegi, 2012).

The United States has a self-regulatory scheme that classifies content into different age groups (Marketing Violent Entertainment, n.d.). After the all too frequent gun massacre case, child protection groups urge legislators to pass laws prohibiting the sale of violent video games; but such laws have been held to violate the First Amendment (Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, 2011).

After examining the laws of the nations mentioned above, one will find a complete absence of any accessibility standards for the medium. A lone exception in the United States is the application of the CVAA to the "the communications functions offered via gaming" (Richert, 2012). Gaming industry representatives requested that they be exempt from the CVAA's requirements; but the FCC denied the request after noting "how important gaming has become for social interaction, education, and even the fostering of professional and intimate relationships" (Richert, 2012). The FCC's determination concerns the communication elements of video games and not the design elements..

posted by mandolin conspiracy at 6:56 PM on January 7, 2020 [5 favorites]

It's always games that have a lot of lore and in-game texts to read, too. AssCreed does this all the damned time. Here's a little popup telling you how to use this new mechanic--better hope you can read the tiny text before it disappears!

I will say I was pleasantly surprised by how huge you can make the subtitle text in Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. And you can add a bar behind the text and set it to an opaqueness level you like. Props to them!
posted by lovecrafty at 7:38 PM on January 7, 2020 [2 favorites]

As a game developer I'd like to share that there are those of us who do recognize and do what what is within our power to correct issues of accessibility and playability. When a big cheese wants a problematic design to get in, the average developer has very little leverage to fix or prevent it. Or maybe it was just my studio with the terrible power dynamics and other studios were better.

Anyway. The most effective force for change is when players get on a game's Discord, Reddit, or FB channel/page, or tags the developer or publisher (or personally tags the big cheese!) on Twitter with screenshots and a description of the offending issue. In my experience multiple players publicly calling out these offenses is what makes change happen.

So, please screenshot and post where the decision-makers can't help but see the need to be better about this and other issues of concern!
posted by Goblin Barbarian at 7:48 PM on January 7, 2020 [15 favorites]

Reading through the links, it's curious (yet unsurprising) that highly-developed regulatory regimes have sprouted up around game piracy among other things, but not around accessibility.

I suspect this is partly because it's much easier to look at a finished game with a particular accessibility concern in mind and identify problems than it is to come up with general rules that make sense across the vast and unpredictable range of possible approaches to interface and gameplay design.

For example, you could have a rule that all text in a game must be resizeable and available as audio on request, but would that mean that game designers wouldn't be allowed to incorporate text in the gameplay environment? (Like, say, the little in-world sign boards that get built over some road intersections in Death Stranding to give directions.) Or, if the rule only applies to "user interface" text, does that mean that developers aren't allowed to make games that don't have a clear demarcation between UI text and in-game text? Etc etc.

There might be some cases where regulation does make sense, like the CVAA regulation of in-game communication - because it's easier to see ways to standardise simultaneous player-to-player verbal communication than gameplay or interface design in general. But otherwise, the solution really needs to be developers thinking these things through and paying attention to players when they point out problems.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 8:15 PM on January 7, 2020

I don't see well. I'm what you'd call legally blind. I'm glad to hear about some realizations that accessibility for those who have no other choice usually also significantly helps everyone else. As a result of this I've effectively never been a console games fan, checked completely out of AAA titles in the last decade, and spend person-weeks every year in css overrides to make the web minimally usable like I'm a real person. (Recognizing I'm still massively privileged above folks who have to basically rely on the good graces of screen reader compatibility to access even more limited content).

I'm also floored at the casual shitty reactions, even in jest, even in wry ironic-gamer-ableism, just casually injected in this discussion. The thing to keep in mind is that everybody gets excluded sometimes, but there is no rage quite like the rage of realizing somebody made a design decision without even considering there might be people who physically cannot abide the purely aesthetic choice at hand. Effectively, treating humans as non-people whose opinions don't matter.

I'm working to not take every casual assumption about who can read what and how small it can be as a casual attack on my being a person who matters, and this discussion makes that conscious effort that much harder.

I'm thankful for folks who have brought context of the decision making process into this discussion, and I'm all too familiar with the decision making process driven by leadership with little agency to intercede.

And it's also glaringly obvious much of the "ok Boomer" and "Grandma font size" observations of complainants are whistling past the graveyard of the reality that everyone faces declining capabilities as they age, and holding some domains intentionally outside accessibility can help shore up the creeping mortality of the precariously successful.

But why be a dick about it?
posted by abulafa at 8:36 PM on January 7, 2020 [34 favorites]

everyone faces declining capabilities as they age

And some of that decline is caused by spending a lot of time staring at tiny things. The tiny text is going to help speed up one's eventual need for glasses. Maybe having larger font sizes is also better for those who have good vision because it won't cause as much long-term damage. Larger font sizes = win-win
posted by acidnova at 10:01 PM on January 7, 2020 [3 favorites]

But why be a dick about it?

Because it's not just games, it's Gaming, and if you're not a huge dick to everyone online you're not a Gamer.

Evidence: all in-game chat ever.
See also: Twitch.
posted by aramaic at 10:03 PM on January 7, 2020 [6 favorites]

But why be a dick about it?

the last thread on disability and accessibility in gaming was dominated by one complete fucking unbearable asshole who filled me with such concentrated pure loathing that i can't even breathe thinking about it. this one is a giddy hugfest in comparison, tragically.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:09 PM on January 7, 2020 [9 favorites]

My eyes suck and I've never had a problem with the font sizes. I assume that's because I play on a monitor rather than a TV, as god intended.

That said there's no good reason not to include a font scaler. If people want or need to increase the font size even though you think it makes the game look a little worse? Let them. No one is forcing them to make the font size bigger, they prefer it!

But before you do that, include a FOV scaler for first person games. Playing at FOV 60 causes major problems for lots of people.
posted by Justinian at 3:43 AM on January 8, 2020 [2 favorites]


...seriously, though, I'm glad it's not just me. Onscreen text is hard enough to read sometimes--I'm on several medications that have "dry eyes" listed as a potential side effect, and my vision can get a bit blurry if I'm not hydrating properly. (I'm also fighting the usual age-related presbyopia battle, but that doesn't generally come into play with video games.)

Even when my distance vision is working the way it should, though, recently text in a lot of games has gotten so goddamned tiny that half the time I just don't even bother trying to read it. There were a couple of instances in The Outer Worlds where I actually had to go halfway across the living room to read some flavor text, and now I'm going through Borderlands 3, where the weapon stats are so small that sometimes I just have to go by the color of them to figure out whether a given gun is an upgrade or not. I thought part of the problem might be my TV (it's ten years old this year, and a lower-end model), but it sounds like this happens even on larger, newer TVs.

I'm not going to stop playing games any time soon--with any luck, I'll be playing Civilization 12 in the nursing home--but it's definitely been less enjoyable lately. Here's hoping the industry listens and starts scaling their UIs a bit better.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 4:28 AM on January 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

Because it's not just games, it's Gaming, and if you're not a huge dick to everyone online you're not a Gamer.

This cliche needs to die, so people stop reenforcing it. There are plenty of positive streamers on Twitch if you want to go find them.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:33 AM on January 8, 2020 [4 favorites]

This phenomenon puzzles me, because modern video games are almost infinitely customizable and this is comparatively a really easy problem to solve. Rendering engine that can handle 10^24 different permutations of facial features? No problem. Alphas gradients that let you control the depth of black vs. white, with sensitivity down to the photon level? You got it. Fine-grained control over texture mapping quality so as to gracefully degrade performance to any combination of last-gen technology? You bet it'll be there day 1. Custom key mappings so that you can control navigation with the number pad or bind all your common actions to keys pressed by your right hand? You'll be raked over the coals on the internet if you can't plug in your USB SNES controller and have it just work.

Adjustable font size, which has been trivially easy to implement for nigh onto 30 years? NOW HOLD ON JUST A GODDAMN SECOND, there are important aesthetic considerations at play here.
posted by Mayor West at 6:42 AM on January 8, 2020 [5 favorites]

Sometimes the sausage maker sucks though.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:48 AM on January 8, 2020

Adjustable font size would be great and is important, but even that would be less of an issue for most people if the text was reasonably sized to begin with.

I'm nearsighted, but with contacts or glasses, my vision is 2020. I don't have any age-related vision problems. My partner has perfect vision. Our television is next to the couch. We've both had problems reading text in games. I figured it was the size and resolution of our teevee, which is only 36", instead of one of those mattress-sized 50" or 70" ones, but it sounds like that might not actually be the issue if people with giant screens are also having problems.

I've been kind of baffled by it, tbh. If you are going to put all this time and effort into developing text that drives the narrative of a game, wouldn't you want people to actually be able to read it?
posted by evidenceofabsence at 7:45 AM on January 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

I no longer say horrible things to get a laugh, even ironically. Dropping "OK Boomer" into a discussion concerning people who can't read small text in games is an example of stuff that I myself choose not to say anymore.

True, some people laugh when I say horrible things. But other people feel bad when I do that--sometimes very bad. That's because they are getting their asses kicked daily by whatever subject I have chosen to treat flippantly. Since I don't have their problem, it's funny to me. But the subject is deadly serious to them.

It hurts people when I say stupid nonsense to try to look cool. Also, it makes me look like an asshole. So I stopped doing it.

I offer this not in the spirit of, "you aren't allowed to say that," but out of my ongoing embarrassment with how long it took me to learn this, in the hopes that it might help someone else.
posted by springo at 9:00 AM on January 8, 2020 [15 favorites]

My anthem in all of these threads:

Accessible. Design. Benefits. Everyone.

I’ll beat that drum till I croak. Bigger fonts. No serifs. Quieter restaurants. Sound field amplification. Fewer stairs. Lower switches. There are no downsides beside a little cost.
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:47 AM on January 8, 2020 [10 favorites]

Outer Worlds is especially egregious.

I play in my living room, and until a month ago I played on a 47" TV. The room is wide, and the couch and TV are on opposite walls.

This was JUST FINE for every game I've played on the succession of XBoxes I've had in this house. Text size was never and issue in Fallout 3, Fallout New Vegas, Fallout 4, Borderlands, any of the BioShocks, any of the Deux Ex games, etc.

In Outer Worlds, it's a goddamn crime. They patched it to make some text bigger, but the patch didn't affect any of the encountered text you have to read -- it only embiggened *the text that the characters actually read to you*, so it's a patch with no real efficacy.

I'm still super salty about it. I mean, what the fuck, guys? I'm a privileged white guy with vision corrected to 20/20. I have a nice big room and a nice sized TV. God help you if any of that isn't true.

Now, as it happens, we bit on a Black Friday sale and upgraded to 65" Samsung. But the text is STILL too small, if you want to know the truth. Turning on the TV's "game mode" helps, but holy christ none of this should be required.
posted by uberchet at 10:10 AM on January 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

Also it's not universal - in particular fuck whoever designed the God of War menus.

Sorry about that. We did patch in a larger font, eventually, but it should have been done for launch. I think we were blindsided by developing on HD monitors at desk-work distance. Even when we do large TV stuff, the rooms are small enough that you're really close to the TV. This wasn't really an issue in the previous generations, because pixels were larger, and you had to have larger fonts for them to read at all. I think with 1080 and 4k we crossed a threshold. Pixels got smaller, and fonts could get smaller. This is great for me as a developer, as I can put more information into debug overlays that obscure less of the screen. But I work about 2' from the screen, even though my sofa is more like 10' from the TV.

That said, we are VERY aware of this and other accessibility issues now, and will not be making the same mistakes again. I feel personal shame over this, and I hope the whole industry can learn from this.

Again, apologies.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 10:14 AM on January 8, 2020 [28 favorites]

Not to abuse the edit window, but back in the PS2 days, my devkit monitor was 14" and 480 lines. Now it's 28" with 1080 lines.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 10:17 AM on January 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

That said, we are VERY aware of this and other accessibility issues now, and will not be making the same mistakes again. I feel personal shame over this, and I hope the whole industry can learn from this.


Holy shit, that's twice this week we've summoned a long-registered-but-heretofore-unknown MeFite by invoking their name in-thread.

If you're reading this, Elizabeth-Warren-who-has-been-quietly-been-lurking-for-years, I want you to know that I think you are just aces.
posted by Mayor West at 10:30 AM on January 8, 2020 [7 favorites]

Related: How Accessible Were This Year's Games? (Game Maker's Toolkit)

This is excellent stuff. It should be a no brainer. It's good for everyone. The developers only have to invest a little thought and effort and in return they get access to a whole new customer base, not to mention good PR. Meanwhile the rest of us benefit too, whether it's that we're too lazy to use both hands, are trying not to wake up the neighbours, or just want to sit a little further away from the screen and still be able to read. It's a win-win. Seeing those kids at the end enjoying games brought a tear to my eye.
posted by Acey at 11:37 AM on January 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

This is all so true. I gave up on the text size issue a few years ago, while playing Witcher 3. I was like, "This game looks incredible on our 70" TV but I am tired of having to get up from the couch and stand in front of the TV just so I can read item descriptions and encyclopedia entries."

I moved my gaming from the living room into my office. I have an Xbox One X, which I play on a 24" TV set up on my desk the same distance from my face as my computer monitor. Not quite as glorious or as comfortable as it's meant to be played, but at least I can read stuff.

Some day I hope accessibility is enough of a "thing" in gaming that games start offering a migraine/seizure toggle to turn off strobe light effects. I've had to stop playing several games (or play through the flashing bits while mostly looking away from the screen) due to photosensitive migraine.

But given how rare colorblind mode is in games, when something like 10% of men have some form of colorblindness, I'm not holding my breath.
posted by ErikaB at 12:28 PM on January 8, 2020 [4 favorites]

It turns out that designing against all of scenarios is hard. But it would be nice if more designers stepped up to do it.

Designing for "all" scenarios may be nearly impossible. But designing for "a scant handful of scenarios we know ~80% of gamers use" (13" laptop, 27" desktop monitor, 50" tv at normal living-room distance, handheld device) shouldn't be outside of their range. Games designed to be playable, text designed to be readable on all of those should cover plenty of the edge cases as well.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 1:31 PM on January 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

One of the things that could get me excited about the next console generation is system-level controls over subtitle display. This has apparently been a solved problem for playing movies, and while I can appreciate that there are differences between the two, the fact that it hasn't been done for games, even on the same console, is a bummer.
posted by subocoyne at 1:32 PM on January 8, 2020 [3 favorites]

And this even extends beyond the games themselves.

I have a PS4 & a pair of headphones for it. The text indicating what all of the tiny buttons do is minuscule, in dark grey font, against a black surface.

Any notion that this low-contrast chic is something from which I benefit is, to my mind, somewhat undercut by the fact that they're on my head, where it's pretty hard for me to revel in the aesthetics.
posted by The Outsider at 2:32 PM on January 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

Movies are so horribly unlike games. Movies have a standard platform that runs on almost anything. Games are custom applications that all do everything differently.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 2:44 PM on January 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

Is this an inappropriate story to point out how interestingly websites break when the browser's minimum font size is set to a modest 18 pts?

(I am horrified that even Macs no longer render type at actual size on the screen. To work in MS Word at actual size requires 150% magnification.)

On topic: games on my small-screen phone are horrific; I know that type is meant to be viewed on a phablet.
posted by JawnBigboote at 6:11 PM on January 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

I hope developers start letting you change stuff in both directions, though! As I said, since I play on a monitor font size being too small isn't generally an issue for me. But in addition to the occasional FOV problem (which I believe most devs have gotten the message on now) the biggest offender isn't font being too small, it's the text being arbitrarily confined to a little box in the center that can't be resized. This is generally only an issue on stuff which has obviously been optimized to play on consoles but it does sometimes occur even on PC exclusives.

Like if I'm playing an RPG and pick up a book to read, do not put the text in a little square "book" in the center that's like 10 lines long and takes up a small fraction of the screen space and forces me to click (without a $*#*#@ keybind instead!) seven times to go to the next page when you should be able to fit in on *maybe* two screens.

I have so many of these pet peeves. So many.

(ALSO, if a keybind brings up a menu or screen the same keybind should also CLOSE the forking menu or screen. Do not let me bring up a menu with a keybind and then have to click the damn X in the corner to close it, this defeats the entire point.)
posted by Justinian at 9:24 PM on January 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

For things like flavor text and character dialogue (in games where it's not spoken, it only appears on screen due to localization issues, BotW I am again looking at you) I'd love to have an option to turn on a text to speech reader. Like yes I know a robot voice will wreck the aesthetics or whatever, but that should be my choice as the player. Sometimes I just want to crank out a side quest before dinner while relaxing comfortably on my sofa and the text size (and low color contrast) for any quest that involves any character interaction at all makes that impossible for me.
posted by soren_lorensen at 5:26 AM on January 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

I wonder how much further out it is, honestly - I mean if you download all the high quality iOS voice assistants it's big but not unreasonable for a console to store, and you could even have hinting so different voices are used for different characters. Yeah, proper voice acting will always be appreciated and I usually go the other way - please display the whole section of dialogue immediately, I can read faster than your bouncing ball, but it would still also provide better accessibility for the visually impaired. I mean, I don't think Nintendo could actually license Siri, but there have got to be equally high quality 3rd party voice systems, right?
posted by Kyol at 10:55 AM on January 9, 2020

Can we fucking NOT, please?

With regard to the phrase "OK Boomer" I think the first step in co-option is using the phrase where it is pretty much ridiculous. Which in this case it is and I'm not even the right age cohort, I'm on the bubble between X and B and frankly that stuff is pretty effing pointless anyway so whenever somebody says there wife of 30 years has died of a heart attack I am going to say "OK Boomer" to expose the casual cruelty of the phrase and essentially state: you don't get to go "whatEVER" to the pain of other humans. I have had a little to drink.
posted by Pembquist at 10:43 PM on January 9, 2020

Intentionally misusing a phrase out of context and then claiming that your deliberate misuse is some kind of slam dunk against it is... well, it's certainly a choice you made.
posted by tobascodagama at 7:28 AM on January 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

"OK Boomer" is derisive and dismissive, period. Combine that with the number of "boomer isn't an age, it's a mindset" posts about that phrase, and using that phrase in this discussion, in response to people who are complaining about an actual issue, makes you look like a derisive asshat.

Having said that, my response, quoted above, was intended to be read in response to they sucked his brains out!, who was absolutely being dismissive of a reference to the ADA.
posted by hanov3r at 9:51 AM on January 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

OK Boomer is absolutely dismissive, but usually I see it used to dismiss someone's opinions on cell phones or financial advice, not exactly "the pain of other humans."
posted by RobotHero at 11:14 AM on January 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

I'm also wondering about a game going the exact opposite direction and having overlay text that covers the entire screen. Thin lines or semi-transparent sans-serif if there's problems seeing the rest of the game. Play it up as your aesthetic.

Like, if you've seen Super Hot, they have the words Super Hot really big on screen, do that for all the dialogue in a game. Or like those movie posters with words on faces.
posted by RobotHero at 11:34 AM on January 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

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