A deaf gamer has brought up what may well be an very important and overlooked point. In a letter he sent to the ESA, and now reprinted by Kotaku, he points out that a great deal of the modern gameplay experience is lost by deaf and hard of hearing gamers through the absence of subtitles as a standard, across the board feature.
While maybe not something a lot of gamers and developers consider, this failure to include something presumably so simple to integrate really is an obvious oversight in modern game design. In the old days, when games were a simpler, primarily visual medium, it wasn't as much of an issue, but as technology has progressed, games have very much become a multi-sensory experience ...
This has obviously led to some incredibly immersive gaming exeriences, where sight and sound are used equally to communicate both atmosphere and plot, as well as to blend otherwise jarring instructions and hints seamlessly into the game world. However, developers seem to have overlooked the downside to this reliance on sound, and it's quite possible that this oversight is now having the inverse effect of confusing deaf gamers and divorcing them from the experience.
As A_Zombie points out in his letter, modern squad-based and FPS games in particular become only half the experience to a deaf gamer, as while objectives may briefly flash up on screen, full explanations and tactical advice are lost along with the in-game dialogue. And that's to say nothing of games that use sound cues to signify everything from impending danger to vital gameplay points. Dale's story on the blind Super Mario Bros. run gives evidence, if it were ever needed, of just how important sound is to video gaming, and the amazed reactions of the spectators of said feat prove just how overlooked its significance is to many hearing players.
Obviously, many games do provide in-game text, but aside from the few current games that still only make their plot advancements through separate subtitled cut scenes rather than in-game action, deaf players are often left with few options other than RPGs if they want to get the full experience.
Let's face it, video games have come a long way in the public eye, to the point where they're now going toe to toe with movies as a consumer entertainment medium. The film industry accepts the obvious need to cater for all audiences equally, and so it's unthinkable that a DVD would ever be released without subtitles as standard. If the games industry wants to continue being taken seriously in this mainstream arena, surely it needs to catch up and start behaving like the modern, all-inclusive medium it has pushed for so long to become? Aside from the massive benefit to deaf and hard of hearing players, subtitles can be a help to hearing gamers as well. Anyone who's ever tried to keep the noise down during an all night gaming session will tell you that.
With the issue raised and considered, it seems ludicrous that such a small but useful tool shouldn't be a standard feature by this point. Given how the pastime of gaming has modernised and spread over the last ten years, little details like this now make big differences.
[Thanks for the tip Rachael]