Style Over Sight – Why is it a problem?

We know that technology has a habit of shrinking in size as the years pass and developments are made. Computers used to warrant an entire room as opposed to one’s pocket. I was one of the last generations to know the televisions of old before their newer, skinnier replacements. These, of course, are both examples of hardware. What some fail to realise is that this trend can be seen in software too, including video games.

It has become very apparent to me that since the rise of HD resolution screens, I am drawing closer and closer to my TV. In-game text is at its most miniature nowadays and it’s starting to reach a point where I feel that the process of reading, in certain titles, puts me off playing them. I feel that developers could do more to accommodate players with sight impairments, which are not uncommon (as stereotypical as this is) to the gamer community.

Below are some screenshots from Square-Enix’s ‘Final Fantasy’ series:

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One of my biggest grievances about this trend is the reason for it: style (for the most part). Look at the image from ‘Final Fantasy XV’, there’s quite a lot of free space on screen, even within the blue text box itself. Designers often like to keep these boxes small in order to keep as much of the action visible at all times. “Why is this necessary?”, I ask myself. In the context of ‘Final Fantasy XV’, the gameplay is always paused when an important script appears, so why should it matter if a few more inches are covered over?

In some cases, captions appear to overlay the action such as when displaying damage reports and the status of allies. I realise this information needs to be minimised because the player wants to concentrate on the action. However, people like me tend to skip over it as it’s not only tricky to perceive clearly but it also disappears in a few seconds. Time-limited text presents another point of contention for me. See the following:

‘The Wolf Among Us’

Telltale Games and the revamp of their basic gameplay formula has caused me major issues, to the point where, sadly, I’m not playing their games anymore . In the above image from Telltale’s ‘The Wolf Among Us’, the text boxes represent the character’s dialogue options and choices throughout the game (and in every Telltale title since ‘The Walking Dead’). These choices drastically affect progression within the story and its conclusion. Said story is why players invest in these games in the first place. However, there is a hidden fifth option during these dialogue choices: silence. Each set of responses is set to a timer, if the user fails to make a selection within that limit, the player character won’t respond at all and his/her peers react accordingly.

My problem is that I am not given sufficient reading time because the text is too small. The longer one needs to read, the less time one has to think. So many of my selections during my playthrough of ‘The Wolf Among Us’ were made completely blind or ended in unintentional silence that it left me feeling like I was not in full control. I really enjoy story-driven adventure games as they’ve always been a great option when I want something to sit down and relax with. But now, due to some simple formatting choices, I do not experience that same relaxation from Telltale releases anymore.

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The technical reasons for the rise of shrunken text is primarily due to screen resolution. Notice how the presentation of writing in games has changed within a single series of titles over many years. On standard definition televisions, displayed characters had to be a certain size and thickness to avoid appearing blurred to most viewers. Since the advent of high definition displays, finer details are now possible. Graphics designers have fully embraced these new freedoms, downsizing writing without considering the eyesight of certain individuals. Not all of us can appreciate all the added detail offered by an upgraded pixel count.

Some platforms, such as the PlayStation 4, have built-in accessibility features. On a PS4, the user can zoom in on any part of a screen as well as reverse the rendering of colours (black becomes white for example). Unfortunately, these are very intrusive. The magnifier locks out all other forms of control and must constantly be switched on and off so the player can still see the whole game screen. Reversing colours is especially unhelpful within video games because, while players can read in a more desirable colour scheme, every element on screen is put through a negative filter. An undesirable means of experiencing a primarily visual media.

More options need to be made available in games to improve our viewing experience. For instance, allowing players to customise the Heads-Up Display (HUD) to better meet their needs. This could enable larger text and potentially different fonts and colours. While it is true that these choices would take away from the designer’s intended aesthetic, a comfortable and easily playable experience should take precedent.

My hope is that more players will voice their dissatisfaction and that companies will respond in order to maintain their customer base. Not many are doing so at the moment but, as I have pointed out, there is plenty of empty space to fill.

One thought on “Style Over Sight – Why is it a problem?”

  1. Bobbie says:

    Well written

  2. Chris says:

    Great article

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