What! No Text?

By Rosemary Young (July, 1996)
Surprise, surprise, I've managed to find something else to complain about with regard to the current crop of computer games. I know I should try to think of something positive to say for this section of our magazine but I always seem to fall back on the tried and true moaning and groaning. Maybe next time; but for the moment I'll get on with it. And rest assured, I do actually enjoy playing computer games!

So what has happened to text in computer games, those little words that used to run along the bottom of our screen, or wherever, and tell us in plain language what the characters were talking about, or what pearl of wisdom the narrator was wishing to impart. They're now on the endangered species list it would seem, and all in the name of progress. After all, today's bright shiny CDs can store audio files, so text is redundant, and computer games will look even more like movies if we do away with all that silly script!

But is it a good idea, really? It certainly isn't for players with hearing difficulties and I'm not convinced its a good idea for anyone, or anything!

Now I don't need to say much about the omission of text excluding players with hearing difficulties. It's obvious, and it's a bit unfair just dispensing with these players when they have always been invited to join in the fun. Also, as most games are designed for English speaking players the dialogue is mostly spoken in English, this in turn presents problems for another group of players, those who have English as a second language. They too are being largely excluded because they may rely on text translations of dialogue to assist with comprehension.

And what about the rest of us? Some of us are having problems as well. Unfortunately we don't all have audio equipment that behaves perfectly all the time, and even when we do there are accents to contend with, as well as mumbled speech and, sometimes, quite intrusive background music or sound effects. And, sadly, we don't all have the luxury of playing our games in a completely silent environment. That heavy truck passing by the window, the baby crying, or the TV in the next room, all make life difficult.

This brings me back to the present trend of the seeming necessity for computer games to emulate movies. Why is this so necessary? Most players I know are quite happy to pay a few dollars and borrow a video if they want to watch a movie, a computer game is, or should I say was, something quite different.

Think about it. When we watch a movie rarely do we hear every single word. At the movie theatre that moron just behind always wants give a running commentary of what's happening, or the kids nearby open their sweets whilst someone launches into a coughing fit. At home we make cups of coffee, yell at the kids (or each other), chat and laugh. Many a scene goes by without our undivided attention. It simply doesn't matter. We can still easily follow the story even with a few bits missing, after all the actors and directors know exactly what they're doing, they know what to do next. All we do is sit and wait. But not so with computer games. They require much more attention since we are directing the action so to speak. Hence that word we miss just might be crucial -- what then do we do next? I suppose we can always restore, but the option of on-screen text certainly makes life a lot easier.

Copyright © Rosemary Young 1996. All rights reserved.