Deafness is the inability to understand speech or recognize environmental sounds, scaled from mild hearing loss to profound hearing loss. One in eight people in the United States have hearing problems (including being entirely deaf or hard of hearing) according to the NIDCD. This represents 13% of the total population or at least 30 million people aged 12 or older.
In the early days of video gaming, auditory disabled gamers hardly encountered any accessibility problems. Games consisted primarily of text and graphics and had very limited audio capabilities. While the audio capabilities in games grew, the use of text was reduced. This introduced many of the problems auditory disabled gamers still encounter in current games. This is specifically the case with voice dialogs, which are often used for communicating essential information for fulfilling an assignment or completing a level. While most of todays games are playable by auditory disabled gamers, a growing number of them use sound to communicate essential gameplay information, giving gamers a serious and often frustrating disadvantage.
Closed and open captions
The easiest way to provide accessibility is to add so-called “closed-captions” for all auditory information. This allows deaf gamers to obtain the information and meaning of, for instance, dialog and sound effects. An important fact is that closed-captions do not only include subtitling of speech, but provide practically all the information that is provided through sound. The term “closed” in closed captioning means that not all viewers see the captions, only those who decode or activate them. This is distinguished from “open captions,” where the captions are visible to all viewers. Open captions are sometimes referred to as “in-vision” in the UK. Captions that are permanently visible in a video, film, or other medium are called “burned-in” captions. An example of closed-captioning on television can be found through this link.
When closed-captions are provided in a game, not only gamers with an auditory disability will benefit from this option, but also non-handicapped gamers often highly appreciate the optional captions, to make sure no information is missed.
But there are other alternatives to text-based closed captions as well. This site features an article which discusses ideas to adapt game audio using more than text in order to enhance the immersion of the player in the game. See our article on ‘The sound alternative’.