Deaf and hard-of-hearing gamers now get translation support in ASL and BSL.
In a blog post published this week, Microsoft’s Athima Chansanchai wrote about how a desire for better inclusivity and more accessible gaming for everyone inspired Playground Games, the developers of Forza Horizon 5, to create sign language scenes for the Xbox driving game. The post includes interviews with accessibility consultant Cameron Akitt, as well as engineers Michael Anthony and Tara Voelker. Microsoft’s Chief Accessibility Officer, Jenny Lay-Flurrie, producer Tarnya Smith, and Forza Horizon 5 creative director Mike Brown were also interviewed for the big announcement.
Available beginning today, March 1, a free software update adds support for in-game cinematic scenes translated in American Sign Language (ASL) and British Sign Language (BSL). “The update includes actors from the deaf and hard of hearing [communities] signing in parts of the story between driving, such as jumping into challenges, getting ready for a race, meeting other players, and racing across Mexico while planes fly overhead,” Chansanchai wrote.
The decision to prioritize accessibility in Forza Horizon 5 came after the production team met with members of the disability community and heard feedback on what needs to be done to make video games more accessible to them. The team hired a third-party company to assist with hiring deaf and hard-of-hearing actors for the signing scenes, as well as interpreters. Consultants like Akitt were heavily involved in the testing process and offering constructive criticism.
In recognition of Playground’s work in amplifying accessibility, Forza Horizon 5 won the Innovation in Accessibility award at The Game Awards 2021. It also won two Can I Play That? Accessibility awards.
“It [the update] really sets a precedent; it sets a bar. It’s very much like new territory because if a company like Playground can do this, why can’t other big studios go to the same lengths?” Akitt said. “It’ll be interesting to see what comes. Will there be a standardizing format, will other studios emulate? And what opportunities could there be for the deaf and hard of hearing community?”
Microsoft has posted a video to the Xbox YouTube channel touting the update to Forza Horizon 5. It features a trailer and color from Flurrie on the update’s significance.