Date of Award

2017

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Science

First Advisor

Professor Trish Williams

Second Advisor

Dr. Jo Jung

Field of Research Code

080399

Abstract

A widely accepted, and incorrect, assumption towards hearing accessibility in video games is that deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) users are those who encounter the least barriers and are generally well catered for. Rapid advancement in video game technology has seen video game sound evolve from simple blips generated by internal circuitry to fully realised digital audio used to convey critical information. To accommodate the DHH, this information needs to be conveyed in an alternative manner. However, evidence suggests existing accessible design solutions for the DHH lack specificity and are insufficient. Thus, the inability to hear, or hear well, has historically resulted in DHH users left with impeded experience and gameplay.

This thesis describes an investigation to address the primary research question: How might accessible video game design practices be facilitated to better accommodate the deaf and hard of hearing? To examine this question, an action research method as part of a transformative mixed methods methodology was used. Data collection procedures included critical analysis of literature, observations, and a cross-sectional self-administered survey for triangulation.

The critical analysis of literature exposed issues relating to accessible video game design, particularly in relation to the identification of solutions and technical implementation. Further, issues related to the classification of video game software were identified. This posed potential problems with identification of game design methods and led to the development of a new video game classification model. The new model informed an analysis on the methods used for the design of video games, and results were visually represented and mapped to the different approaches to accessible design. Subsequent analysis determined that a game assessment framework is a suitable approach to facilitating accessible design.

Further investigation identified visual feedback as the most suitable form of complementary feedback to game audio. This led to the development of a new model to classify visual feedback elements used in video games, and identification of audio feedback categories based on diegetic film theory. Through triangulation of results, a new game feedback model (GFM) was developed.

The GFM was used for observational experimentation to identify and classify individual visual feedback elements used in video games. Each element was analysed and mapped to categories of game sound. The resulting model, with populated data, was used to determine what visual feedback elements may be used to complement specific categories of critical game audio. A survey was subsequently used for triangulation, and resulted in amendments to the final model.

Through iterative development, and interpretation of findings, the research culminated in the development of a game assessment framework. The three-step framework aids in the classification of game sounds; assesses the impact of those game sounds; and provides recommendations for complementary visual feedback elements for sounds identified as having an adverse impact on user experience and gameplay if they were to be removed. The framework is innovative and has the potential to provide practical guidance for developers of video games. In addition, this research provides the foundation for future research, with the potential to influence accessible game design for the DHH.

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