Accessibility in gaming has come a long way, enabling gamers with physical challenges to also enjoy them. Video games are unique in the entertainment space as they are interactive in their nature, meaning that user input is vital to their enjoyment. Having complete or partial hearing loss or other hearing impairment can be a barrier in a number of ways. For one, a lot of multiplayer and competitive gamers are using voice chat to communicate. Sound and audio cues in games, particularly in action-oriented titles, are important to the overall gameplay.
While some game genres may feel inaccessible to a person with hearing impairment, the gaming spectrum is quite wide. This means that there are plenty of games that are far more welcoming to those with a hearing impairment that can scratch nearly any gaming itch.
One of the most popular genres in the competitive game space, MOBAs are actually one of the most accessible to the hearing impaired. As team-based games, titles like League of Legends and DotA 2 offer a number of communication tools that are primarily visual. Minimaps, for starters, give a bird’s eye view of the battlefield, depicting points of interest as well as enemy and team member positioning. One of the genres biggest innovations, however, are contextual pings. With simple keystrokes and selection wheels, players can leave markers to both the map and battlefield in front of them to denote a communicate information, such as enemy positioning and attack preparedness. DotA 2 also offers the ability to share pre-written short texts as well as create your own messages. While there is something to be said about the role of sound cues in MOBAs, the fact of the matter is to be successful you must have visual awareness of what is going on. This makes them highly accessible to the hearing impaired.
In terms of sound design, fighting games are actually quite robust. Movement sounds, special attack callouts and hit sounds that denote block or hit all make for a complete audio treat. So much so, in fact, that a blind player was able to not only compete in a tournament but also make it rather far. However, fighting games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat can easily be enjoyed without sound as whatever you see on screen is all the information you need to play. Arenas are quite limited and coupled with the fact that as games they’re 1v1 by default means you only need to be aware of what only one person is doing.
The greater majority of sports games are, in fact, primarily visual affairs, even at their most competitive. Games like FIFA and NBA2K offer very little gameplay-vital sound information. Play games like these is like watching them with an added interactive layer. One would even argue that inability to hear the cringey commentary is actually a plus.
One of the hardest sells for hearing impaired gamers are, in many ways, FPS games. The main reason is audio plays a vital role in ascertaining enemy position and reacting to sudden attacks outside your field of vision. Most FPS games, such as CoD and Destiny 2, these days offer a variety of visual cues to alert you that you’re under fire. Unfortunately, these cues usually occur when you’re actually hit which, in most cases, means you’re likely dead. Destiny 2 has a radar that shows relative enemy positioning as well as how close they are to you, which help mitigate the possibility of being cornered or ambushed. CoD and Apex Legends have also implemented MOBA style pings that can be used to visually communicate critical combat information, such as enemy and loot locations.
The bottom line is that competitive gaming isn’t out of reach for those with hearing impairments or even complete deafness. The industry still has a lot of barriers to lower but as design and technology advances, the gap for those who are hearing challenged closes a little bit every time. What also helps is finding communities of deaf and hearing-impaired players to share experiences that can be communicated to developers to get your voice heard.