Forza Horizon 5 is adding American Sign Language and British Sign Language to around 150 cutscenes this week. Playground Games originally announced in November that the feature would be implemented, with creative director Mike Brown saying it was “a priority to incorporate accessibility features” into the game.
A free update arriving on March 1 will add both languages as a choice for Forza Horizon 5’s cinematics. While the game (like many) already has subtitles, plain text can make it difficult to convey tone, enthusiasm and emotions. Not only can on-screen signers help bring those things to life, but reading captions can often cause fatigue for those whose first language is ASL or BSL as they’re structured differently to English.
“We actually learned that although we think subtitles are great and help everyone, they actually aren’t that helpful for people that are deaf or hard of hearing who rely on signing,” Forza Horizon 5 producer Tarnya Smith said. “It was a big wake up call for us, and then we realised that this was something we’re really passionate about and we could really break that boundary and push forward.”
Cameron Akitt, one of the hard of hearing consultants present throughout Forza Horizon 5’s development, explained how “it’s a really tiring experience, not being able to access your first language.” Akitt said: “including sign language is about enabling more deaf and hard of hearing people to have ownership over their gaming experience.”
There are a few different options for choosing either ASL or BSL in the game’s settings. Once you’ve selected which language you want, you can choose to add a sign language background or leave things transparent. You can also choose where the sign language picture-in-picture will appear, such as the bottom corner or either side of the screen. I’m neither hard of hearing nor deaf so I can’t exactly make a clear judgement on the way sign language is being presented, but it seems as though Playground Games has made a decent effort to offer choice and inclusivity where possible.
Picture-in-picture sign language joins an already decent bundle of accessibility features in the game. It currently has options such as customisable subtitles, text-to-speech, colourblind filters and a slider to adjust the offline game speed. Accessibility in gaming is becoming an increasingly hot topic, with Ruth Cassidy writing last year how “accessibility isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, as not all disabled people have the same needs.”