When it comes to video game accessibility, one settings option which has pretty much become a standard in the industry is the presence of in game subtitles for narrative heavy games. Not all subtitles in games are created equal, some games offer you settings to change the size of subtitles or the text colour or choose to have subtitles display descriptions of sound effects, but at this point most games with spoken dialogue you’re intended to hear will feature an option for that dialogue to feature subtitles.
Now, the fact that Subtitles are steadily becoming a standard in video games is great. They’re a great way to help deaf or hard of hearing players engage with stories, as well as being helpful for players who might have to play with the sound down low not to disturb others late at night.
I myself default to playing most games with subtitles on as standard, because I live with Asperger’s Syndrome, an autism spectrum condition which makes sensory processing difficult. Sometimes I’ll struggle to process dialogue spoken in a game if there is other audio information happening at the same time, and subtitles are an invaluable part of making sure I can keep up with video game stories.
However, most Subtitles in most games default to whatever fonts the game was already using for UI Text. UI and Subtitle text fonts are usually chosen to look aesthetically pleasing to a wide array of players, and to fit with the look of the rest of the game. However, some players struggle with specific fonts, and that’s what we’re going to be talking about today.
For those unaware of Dyslexia, here’s a brief summary. Dyslexia is a learning condition, which impacts the ease with which a person can read, write, spell, and process written text. It can cause written or typed words to appear jumbled, or make words more difficult to keep track of in a sentence. Often, the same sentence will take longer to read for a player with Dyslexia than it might for other players.
Now, some of you watching this video or reading this article may not be aware, but there are certain fonts that people with Dyslexia typically find easier to read, and some fonts that are more difficult or time consuming to read with Dyslexia. Serif Fonts, such as Times New Roman, or Georgia, often show up on lists of fonts that Dyslexic users found difficult to parse, and fonts Such as Comic Sans tended to be easier in studies for Dyslexic users to read.
Now, I am sure you can guess why the video game industry hasn’t defaulted to using Comic Sans as a default text font in gaming. It’s often not taken seriously as a font, and likely would look a little out of place in a lot of gaming genres. But, the joy of video games is that they can be tailored to suit each individual user.
Sure, Video Games, keep your default fonts that are designed with aesthetics first and foremost in mind, but unlike books or movies you can give players options. Include some of the more popular Dyslexic Sans Serif Fonts, such as Comic Sans. Offer players the use of Open Dyspexic, an open source font that, while not embraced by the whole Dyslexic community, was designed with dyslexic users in mind, and has been helpful for some. Offer players with dyslexia the option to bold important words, rather than underlining or italicising them, which can make them more difficult for dyslexic readers to read. Offer a bunch of standardised font options, such as Times New Roman, which on paper should be difficult to read with Dyslexia, but is easier for some to read due to its familiarity. Pair these with settings that allow for Subtitle backdrop customisation and font size adjustment.
While Dyslexia inclusive font options are far from a standard, they are for example one of the few options The Last of Us 2’s extensive disability accessibility menu overlooked, there are some games out there right now which are providing these options to players.
Overland, a turn based survival game which recently featured in Itch.io’s huge Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality alongside a few thousand other titles, incorporated dyslexia friendly fonts after feedback received at a convention.
Overland only Supports Open Dyslexic, which as previously mentioned has mixed effectiveness in the Dyslexia community, but the fact it’s there as an option at all is a great step in the right direction.
The font is also used by Psychological Horror Point and Click adventure game The Last Door, which was released back in 2013. Again, it was the only font choice offered for Dyslexic players, but it’s a start.
The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, a 2016 single player fantasy RPG themed on a tabletop campaign, is a great example of how to implement dyslexia friendly fonts correctly. The game, which has s default font full of fancy flourishes and tails on letters, offers an alternative font that keeps the same basic style, while being far less full of unecessary complex details. Beyond that, the game makes offering players a dyslexia friendly font the very first thing it does, before the game has even begun, to ensure players don’t have to navigate menus they may struggle to read in order to find where a legible font available.
While in a perfect world games would offer a decent variety of font options, to help dyslexic players engage with their in game text, for now I’d be happy to see most games offer at least one dyslexia friendly alternative font options, so players have the ability to try something that might be easier for them to read.
Hopefully, a couple of years from now, we won’t just be pointing to a couple of indie examples of games that support the Dyslexic community. It’s a couple of extra font options. As far as Accessibility settings in games go, it’s far from the most demanding request we could be making.