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When Subtitles Fail, Gamers are Lost

There are many gamers out there who can’t stand subtitles. It’s a distraction to them, an irritant that keeps their eyes away from the awesomeness of whatever game they’re playing.

I call those people…enviable. How nice it must be to hear every single word and know for sure what the character said. How convenient not to have ringing in your ears literally every minute of literally every day. How nice that you can play a video game without blowing out your neighbors’ eardrums.

But for hard-of-hearing folks like myself and many others, subtitles are a godsend. It’s our only real way to understand story-based games, or you know, anything with audible dialogue. This goes double for any game with poor mixing (i.e. the music’s nice and loud, but the dialogue is a whisper).

Fortunately for us, video game developers know hard-of-hearing people exist, so subtitles are an option (or even requirement) for practically every video game in existence these days.

Unfortunately, many game developers aren’t bothering to check their subtitles.

This is one of the reasons I quit playing Bioshock (the other reason being I suck at FPS games). My little bathysphere sinks into the awesome world of Rapture. I come to a stop and someone’s talking outside. What’s he saying?

I have no idea. I read about three words before the subtitles jerked over to the next segment, which didn’t match up with the current words being spoken. Already I have some dissonance, but then it jerked again, so now I’m really confused.

But whatever, everybody makes mistakes, right? About five minutes later, I inject myself with some zappy-zappy-boom powers (I don’t care what it’s really called, I call it zappy-zappy boom power) and pass out. I wake up and some bad guys are hanging over me.

I assume they were supposed to be threatening, but I have no idea. Once again, I read about three words and then I’m warped to the next paragraph. Three words later, it jumps again, but I’m distracted by the guy who’s only just now saying those three words from the first line. The next thing I know, the characters are muttering something incoherent while the subtitles have run out entirely, leaving me with a blank screen.

Look, it’s really hard to enjoy a game if you can’t hear or read what’s going on.

So game developers, please make sure you keep an eye out for these three all-too-common subtitle problems.

  1. Broken timing (see above).
  2. Making subtitles too small for an electron microscope to read. Seriously, we don’t all have 110-inch televisions.
  3. Truncated subtitles that give us the general essence of what’s being said, but still rob us of the same experience others get.

The entire point of subtitles is to help people understand what’s happening, whether they’re hard of hearing or they just don’t want to wake their children. So if you’re going to have subtitles, make sure they work properly, that they don’t distract or take away from the experience.

If you don’t, you’ll lose gamers. Not because we’re throwing a temper tantrum, but because we have no physical capacity to play your games. Or at the very least, no real means to enjoy them.

About Michael Blaylock (34 Articles)
I'm a writer and a Christian who believes in art, freedom, and love. And I swear I'm not a hippie just because I wrote that.

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