Valve and Deaf Gamers

Aug 13, 2009

Gabe Newell, from Valve software, recently conducted a focus group session with deaf gamers. Three videos are available of this event: Part One, Part Two, and Part Three. Note that the audio quality is, ironically, pretty bad in each video.

One of the most interesting tidbits from these videos involves Valve's desire to introduce a deaf character into a future game (possibly in the Half Life universe). An idea is floated where Alyx has taught Dog sign language, based on a past crush she had with a deaf individual. In essence, it would be an excuse for Valve to develop the necessary technology for characters to sign. Pretty cool.

I think it's great that Valve is doing this. In the accessibility world, blind people get nearly all of the focus. For a gaming company to branch out into this realm is really quite remarkable. I'm looking forward to see how Valve implements this new technology, and I'm excited to see where the Half Life story goes with this (assuming, of course, that Half Life is the intended universe for this work).

11:20 AM on Aug 14, 2009
I guess most companies just assume that adding subtitles is enough to satisfy deaf gamers. This would be a neat technology for them to license to other developers, too.
8:35 AM on Sep 15, 2009
As a deaf gamer this is certainly interesting, but I would much prefer to see more extensive subtitling rather than signing. For example, I'm really enjoying Far Cry 2 at the moment because all the in-game plot-related conversations are subtitled brilliantly. The only thing that's missing is the *background* conversations which are still not subtitled - these are the off-hand one-liners that the expendable NPC enemies say in passing to you or to each other, but if these were subtitled too it would add so much more to the game.
9:39 AM on Sep 15, 2009
You make a good point, Daniel; subtitling in games could be a lot better. I know some games have subtitling provided as an option (though you usually have to enable it). I'm pretty sure Valve's games are like this. Even though I can hear, I occasionally turn them on because some lines are difficult to understand. I just think it's cool that Valve is thinking about this user space. It will be great to see what they come up with (they rarely disappoint).
5:10 PM on Sep 18, 2009
I always play with subtitles on in games, because I have trouble following the dialog because lip-syncing and facial expression in games still aren't quite as good as TV. Nearly all games from major publishers have subtitles nowadays (the most recent exception I can remember is 2007's Assassin's Creed). I noticed when playing Mirror's Edge recently that they even captioned audible environment cues. For example, an electric fence looks mostly like a normal fence, except it gives off a buzzing sound when you are near it. With captions on, when you get near the fence you see a caption saying "[electrical buzzing]" (or something like that). They also displayed a caption when you approached a sign, but I'm thinking this is probably so they can leave the sign texture in English and just translate the subtitles when they are localizing.
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