Gaming and accessibility is an important topic that often comes up for me and is close to my heart. The gaming industry is expanding at a tremendous rate and these days games have been growing in depth and complexity over the past years. But the need for accessible gaming has also increased.
One game, clocking over 197 hours into (Thanks Sony for this stat), is the ever-popular Overwatch where I am constantly frustrated at Blizzard for how inaccessible it can be at times. And I am not alone. While Overwatch has been awarded multiple game of the year awards and is praised for its visuals, character design and animation, and the mechanics but the use of audio prompts and voice communication make things more difficult for myself. While this can be annoying in Quick Play or Arcade Mode, it definitely puts me at a massive disadvantage in Competitive Mode where everyone needs to be on point at all times. And believe me, I have faced some backlash from players.
The biggest barrier for myself is the various sound cues throughout the game. The audible indicators when someone is using an ultimate ability (or even the ultimate itself) allow hearing players to prepare or avoid the ability. Imagine not knowing about a fire in a hole or that “It’s high noon” before you decide to run into an area. Even the sounds of jetpacks, jingling chains, and running can be useful warnings that I’ll miss.
The real question is: what could Blizzard do?
For some players, it could be as simple as having “captioning.” What if the character’s one-lines being said appeared on the screen in subtitles, allowing myself to hear what other gamers are saying? Or even Ultimate abilities, like Junkrat’s Rip-Tire or Torbjörn’s Molten Core, could have some text indicating the on-going threat. Alternatively, even a flashing border on the screen might work. Or the controllers having a particular vibration pattern. Perhaps it changes colours on if it’s a warning or the actual ability in effect, and lasts for the duration? If you can see when the opposing team Reaper using Shadow Step which is coloured differently to your team, then surely it’s possible to do any of the stuff I mentioned before.
While these are great ideas (I think) and there are probably countless possible solutions out there, Blizzard doesn’t seem to have responded. I feel this is a rather exclusionary practice, and maybe have ignored requests for attention into the matter. Does Blizzard even care about the millions of Deaf or HoH gamers?
I love Overwatch. I am Deaf, and even if I’m lucky enough to have a cochlear implant and to be able to hear audio cues. But as someone part of the Deaf community and where I know other Deaf and HoH gamers, this entire situation doesn’t sit well with me. To watch one of the top dominant force developers of the gaming industry but completely ignore the voices of so many gamers is disheartening.
Will Blizzard and other companies pay attention to gamer accessibility? Maybe if enough people bombard their forums with complaints, we’ll see as much attention as they’ve given requests for game mechanic changes. You would think if they could redesign an entire character, they could add something as simple as subtitles or visual warnings.
I love Overwatch but I want an even playing field.