Video gamers who are deaf or hard of hearing make up between 10 and 20 percent of the more than 1.8 billion players in the global gaming community. The online gaming community has taken notice of this sizable demographic, and is taking steps to make its games and gaming streams are more accessible by providing captions or subtitles for all of its players.
According to their website, “Twitch is the world’s leading social video platform and community for gamers, video game culture, and the creative arts.” Each day, close to 10 million visitors gather to watch and talk about video games with more than 2 million streamers. Twitch is all about providing accessibility for gamers who are deaf or hard of hearing, and use closed captioning services for their events (Twitch Weekly, TwitchCon, etc.). However, streamers are not required to have captions in their videos and the majority don’t do it, even though these gaming channels are able to transmit caption files embedded in their streams or via their broadcast encoders.
In games that heavily rely on audio cues, people who are deaf or hard of hearing are not able to understand what other players on their team are saying, and often miss out on what the opposing team is doing. One of the most popular games on Twitch at the moment is Overwatch, and audio cues and communication are crucial to its gameplay.
“A game without subtitles/captions is like a book with pictures, but no text — no one would know what’s going on.”
Without captioning/subtitles, this leaves gamers who are deaf or hard of hearing at a huge disadvantage. They try to adapt by observing what other players are doing and by using the pre-programmed text commands like “Need Healing” and “I’m Charging My Ultimate”, but it isn’t sufficient. When these gamers try to go online to find a stream of the game or “how-to” videos to play it and get a better understanding, they find very few that are captioned and they aren’t able to fully understand what is happening in the game.
Providing the option to turn on and off captions/subtitles would be a huge win for the global gaming community. From gaming streams to the video games themselves, captions and subtitles would provide accessibility to all and give the power to the gamers to enjoy the game the way it was meant to be played.