In Fall 2016, I took a course called American Sign Language I. The course was focused equally on learning American Sign Language as it was focused on the culture of the Deaf and their relationship with the rest of society. I learned about the ways the Deaf have to go about their daily life.
One point covered was the ways in which media must be adapted to make it accessible for the Deaf. For instance, television shows often come with closed captions so that the Deaf may be able to access their content. One of our assignments for the class was to watch an hour of television in two segments, all without audio. In the first segment, we had to watch 30 minutes of television without audio or closed captions. During the second segment, we watched another 30 minutes of television, but this time we were allowed to use closed captions. However, even then, so much information was lost - there are many things that audio can describe that words cannot. At that point, I realized just how important audio actually is when it comes to establishing scenes, summoning forth emotion, and conveying information.
The Deaf are marginalized - our world and society rely so heavily on sound that we often don't think about what it's like to live life and consume entertainment without audio. In the world of entertainment, there exists a power imbalance of sorts between the content producers and the content consumers. So long as their content sells, producers are not obligated to make content accessible to everyone.
Of course, as a developer of video games, I am a content producer too. Just as there are Deaf television viewers, there exists a community of Deaf gamers. I personally believe that content should be produced to be as accessible to all audiences as possible.
There is a variety of design choices that can be made that will make games more accessible to everyone. For instance, in games with audible character dialogue, subtitles should always be available. Better yet, there could be closed captions that notify the player about the sounds that are currently occurring in the game world. Valve has had closed captions in many of their games, and I think it does a very good job. Unfortunately, I don't see closed captions covering sound effects in many games.
I'm not just thinking about the Deaf, either. I've also come to realize how many colorblind gamers there are. There are plenty of colorblind gamers in the world, and yet so many games rely on color to differentiate between different gameplay elements. Changing the color of a sprite or model is something that's so easy and cheap to do that we developers often don't really think about it. Changing the shape of a model or sprite, on the other hand, conveys more information than simply changing the color does. Plus, it manages to get the point across to colorblind gamers that "this object is different in this way."
Until recently, I had not fully realized the extent to which a game's design choices affect a game's accessibility. I was not thinking about minorities.
In order to make games accessible to everyone, it is evident that important design choices must be made. Something worth thinking about is how to best design games where all of the crucial information is conveyed without relying so much on audio or color-based feedback.
I'm glad that I took the course on American Sign Language. It really helped me realize all of this, and it has indeed affected the way I'm thinking about my concentration and how I'm going to develop games in the future.