Accessibility has started to become more of a priority for entertainment, on the basis that nobody should have their quality of life or ability to enjoy media determined by the results of audiology tests.
Interactive entertainment is in a unique place when it comes to accessibility for the hard of hearing, in that as the technology, design and ambitions of game developers increase, the number of people who are capable of enjoying these experiences decreases.
Organisations and resources such as “Can I Play That” have focused on cataloguing, reviewing and advocating for improved accessibility for people with partial or complete hearing loss as well as criticising common mistakes.
With that in mind, here are some unique accessibility features that help everyone to enjoy video games on a level playing field.
Over the past three decades, the world of online gaming has become increasingly sophisticated and the ways players communicate with each other have advanced considerably, with text-based communication largely being replaced with voice chat.
An unintended side effect of this is that hard-of-hearing players are playing with a disadvantage now that they did not have before, as many teams and players coordinate moves and strategies via audio.
The 2019 battle royale game Apex Legends found a few interesting ways around this, one of which is ambitious, whilst the other became a revelation for online gaming.
Apex Legends subtitles every line of dialogue with various font sizes, speaker labels and backgrounds, which includes a voice-to-text function that translates sentences spoken by teammates. Whilst not perfect, it does allow for tactical information to not be lost.
The more intuitive and far-reaching feature was the ping system, which allows players to highlight any interactive element of the game world and communicate to other players without the need to type or vocalise it. Hit the ping button or hold it for a more nuanced command to be relayed to teammates.
This system would quickly spread to other games in the genre, most notably Fortnite, and allow for more people to play together with as few barriers as possible.
The Last Of Us: Part II
A highly ambitious, artistically visceral and emotionally resonant game, The Last of Us: Part II’s greatest legacy and forward advances are in how accessibility is treated, handled and managed in big-budget video games.
There were 60 accessibility features available at launch with several more included in post-launch updates with a preset that automatically chooses options that help with audio accessibility.
These include prompts for where enemies are attacking to effectively use the dodge function, subtitles with speaker names and directions, and vibration cues to help with combat.
Even the guitar mechanic, a system that inherently has an aural component, has vibration cues so players know when they are in the right position to play the song.
Its greatest legacy to accessibility besides being built from the ground up with all players in mind is that it understood that there is no perfect accessibility mode but instead provides as many options as possible to ensure everyone can enjoy their game.
Naughty Dog once described their game as so groundbreaking people will describe games as being made before The Last of Us: Part II and before, and whilst such bravado is almost impossible to justify, there may be a case that TLOU II is a game changer for accessibility.