Starting today, Forza Horizon 5 will have Sign Language support for in-game cutscenes.
Fatigue over reading captions is a real thing and Forza Horizon 5’s developers, Playground Games, acknowledge that with a new update. In partnership with Xbox, the Forza studio got deaf and hard-of-hearing actors to sign for its in-game cinematics which is now included with the most recent update to Forza Horizon 5. he update features both American Sign Language and British Sign Language.
The events that led to the update were from a two-day workshop where the development team sat down with some disability community members to learn firsthand what their experiences are with games and what was preventing them from having the same experience as peers without disabilities.
A post on the official Microsoft site quotes Tarnya Smith, a producer at Playground Games. “We got to talk to [community members] and understand what it is that they struggled with in-game. For me, it was quite an eye-opener. We learned that although we think subtitles are great and help everyone, they actually aren’t that helpful for people who are deaf or hard of hearing who rely on signing. It was a big wake up call for us.”
In that very same workshop a London-based teacher for deaf and hard-of-hearing children, Cameron Akitt, was present and had suggested the addition of ASL and BSL as a supported language.
“Subtitles and captions are okay,” Akitt said in an interview with IGN’s Rebekah Valentine. “But if you are a sign language-first language user, if you are deaf and culturally deaf and your family’s deaf and you only sign, then English is your second or even your third language, and reading in your second or third language is an exhausting experience at the best of times, and if that’s the only way you can enjoy a game, then it’s not peak enjoyment.”
Akitt understood that this would be sort of like a pie-in-the-sky type of suggestion. But two years later, he got an email from Playground stating they’d be implementing the feature into Forza Horizon 5. He would then return as a consultant to make it happen.
Setting up sign language as a language feature wasn’t easy though, as there weren’t any agencies that did sign language for games. Playground Games and Xbox had to set this up and make contact with people capable of doing this and effectively set up a foundation of sorts for future games. It is now possible for other games to feature ASL/BSL and Playground is willing to share contacts for other developers who would like to make similar accessibility considerations to their games.
Forza Horizon creative director Mike Brown, has also expressed that over the course of the development, he found that his own perspective of Forza Horizon 5’s sign language interpretation has shifted. Before, he treated it as a language option like any other, but now he sees it also as an inclusivity feature.
“It allows people who use sign as their first language to feel like they’re represented in the game in the same way that people of different ethnicities are represented in the game, [or] people with prosthetic limbs can represent themselves in the game,” he says. “People who speak sign as a first language are feeling as though the game is for them. They are included in this game, and they’re represented within the game. And that’s the thing that I’ve actually found to be very powerful.”
Forza Horizon 5 was released for PC and Xbox consoles on November 5, 2021 and premiered on Xbox Game Pass as a Day One addition to the service.