As part of an ongoing series with AnyKey, I had the opportunity to chat with Chris “Phoenix” Robinson, the mastermind behind DeafGamersTV. Chris is an advocate for gaming accessibility, as well as an affiliate of AnyKey. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What was one of your first experiences with video games?
I was 2 or 3 years old when I first start playing video games. My first game was Super Mario Bros on NES, and I’ve been enjoying video games ever since. Growing up deaf in the family is kind of hard, so gaming helped keep me busy and active. Gaming helped me feel content, and could drown out anything that would bother me. It still does today.
Have you found that games are more accessible now for the deaf/hard-of-hearing community than they were when you were young?
Yes and no. Back then there wasn’t much voice acting in games, so subtitles wouldn’t be necessary. Nowadays, almost everything is audio-based for dialogues, sound effects, etc., and some developers must not think it is necessary to have subtitles for those. It’s very frustrating to see how games today are lacking accessibility. It was easier to play games in the past than right now.
Did your early experience with video games impact your decision to create DeafGamersTV?
There was a game I was playing back in 2014, and for some reason, I got very frustrated. It got to the point where I felt like I needed to do something about games lacking accessibility. I was an on-and-off streamer that streamed for fun, but now with a name, brand, and purpose I was able to create DeafGamersTV.
What was your primary reason for founding DeafGamersTV?
I started DGTV as self-therapy because I was in bad shape with my depression. Since I love gaming and love improving gaming experiences, I founded DGTV, and I’m really happy with where it got me today.
Since its inception, what kind of feedback have you received from your followers? Are there any stories that stick out in your mind?
There were a lot of times where I almost gave up everything I worked hard for because I was starting to lose motivation, and I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere. After a while, things have been slowly looking up. DGTV was more known in the Twitch community because my friend and I attended TwitchCon and did a panel on Streaming with Disabilities. We were interviewed for a video that was shown at TwitchCon 2016. We were also able to work together with SubPac to show how vibration can assist with gaming, and were affiliated with Anykey and Twitch in spring of 2017.
I don’t think I would have been able to work this hard without the help of my community. The community keeps me going and reminds me why I’m doing this, and why it’s important to do this. There’s not enough advocates in the world, especially those who are deaf gamers.
What are some of your channel’s goals for 2018?
My goal for 2018 is to use my DeafGamersTV channel to continue to advocate for better gaming accessibility for both deaf and hard-of-hearing gamers. I also want to find deaf and hard-of-hearing gamers and streamers interested in advocating for gaming accessibility, and to help grow a deaf and hard of hearing community on Twitch and in the gaming world. Our job to break the language barrier won’t be over until we can get rid of audism.
Speaking of goals, I read your interview with BusinessInsider about subtitles in games. What’s the next most important thing you would really like to see game developers implement to make games more accessible for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community?
I would love to see developers try to give us more control of subtitles. Let us decide how we want to read it, the size of it, and what color it should be. We are always stuck with bright fonts on bright backgrounds, or subtitles being too small to read from afar (not everyone games from their monitor on their desk). We are always stuck with a character in a game speaking without subtitles. It’s very frustrating that game developers still haven’t fixed that issue.
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There are games that rely on audible cues to indicate events – Dota 2’s “crit” sound comes to mind – or games that rely on the perception of a sound being far away or close to the player. How can those audible cues be turned into something visual for deaf/hard-of-hearing players?
I think the best way to handle this would be some type of on screen indicator to show something is happening around you. The farther the sound is, the more faded the indicator is.
For example, if you compare PUBG and Fortnite, when you’re being shot in PUBG you don’t know where it’s coming from, but in Fortnite you have this directional indicator. Many people would think it’s cheating but for us, but it allows us to really partake in the game.
I often think “we don’t have sounds, why are you even complaining?” Some people just don’t realize the point, and necessity, of games being accessible in order to be played. Some people just don’t get it, and that’s why we have to advocate about gaming accessibility.
Which esports do you think are the most accessible right now, if any?
Honestly, no esport is accessible at all. Sure, we can see game play, but we can’t hear the commentators giving play-by-play unless the event provides captioning.
Do you think it puts teams at a disadvantage to use only in-game chat as opposed to voice communication, or it is something that’s easily handled by the text chat?
I wouldn’t say it’s a complete disadvantage, but it still helps us because if it’s a team you normally play with then they would’ve already come up with “key words.”
Let’s look at Destiny 2 on console and PC: Console doesn’t have in-game chat, but you have emotes where your character gestures, and you can see and read that on your screen, but on PC you do have in-game chat.
As long as there’s a way to visually communicate in the game you discuss with your team what each functions would represent. Sometimes we have to use something else that’s not in a game to chat with the team, like Discord.
Where did you first learn about AnyKey?
I saw them on Twitter back in 2016, and then I was finally able to meet up with Morgan Romine at TwitchCon to talk about working together towards a diverse, positive, and inclusive community.
Walk me through your experience becoming an affiliate. What was the process like?
After meeting Morgan at TwitchCon in 2016 and keeping in touch via social media and email, I told her what I’ve been doing with my channel, advocating for gaming accessibility for deaf and hard-of-hearing gamers. In April 2017 I was invited to be part of AnyKey’s affiliate program, and I was very happy to see how my efforts were being recognized by a bigger community. It’s really amazing to meet so many people and making new friends.
Where do you see Anykey going in the future?
I definitely see Anykey continuing to get bigger, and being a spokesperson for inclusivity in even the competitive esports scene. They fight against toxicity against female gamers, fight for respect that everyone deserves, and help people connect with each other. They just started the affiliate program last year, and they have a partnership with Twitch where they encourage gamers to sign up for their GLHF pledge.
Have you personally experienced harassment in games for not using voice communications?
I have personally experienced harassment for not having a mic. Even if I sent teammates a message to quickly let them know I don’t have a mic because I’m deaf, I would get booted instantly. This is also why DeafGamersTV was created: developers need to know this type of activity is going on in their games.
What part of gaming culture would you like to see change in the future?
I would love to see games being accessible to EVERYONE whether you’re deaf, blind, have limited mobility, etc. I want to see people be able to say “I can finally enjoy gaming.” I also wish for the sexism, ableism, and toxicity to die out already. Why can’t we just get along and enjoy gaming together?
^ you and me both, pal!