Valve researching games for the deaf

Written by Joe Martin

August 17, 2009 // 10:43 a.m.

Tags: #asl #audio #bsl #deaf #episode-3 #half-life #hearing #sign-language #valve #valve-researching-games-for-the-deaf

Valve founder Gabe Newell has hinted that the developer is researching sign language implementation in games for the introduction of a new deaf character in Half-Life: Episode Three.

The news comes from a series of YouTube videos filmed at Valve headquarters which are part of a focus group Newell conducted with a hearing-impaired audience to gauge the reaction of the deaf community and to try and understand some of the issues surrounding how sign language might be introduced in games. The focus group is also attended by Valve animators who study the movements and facial expressions of participants.

While Newell admits that the interest in sign language is really just an "excuse to build the technology" and to see if characters who communicate solely through sign language is possible, it apparently may also tie in to the larger Half-Life universe.

There's talk of a new character being introduced, for example, whom Alyx knew long before the events of Half-Life 2 and whom she "had a crush on" long before Gordon showed up. The unnamed love interest communicates solely through sign language, driving Alyx to upgrade D0G to talk through sign language so that she can practice having signed conversations when he isn't around - answering the question of why the giant robot can't speak.

Valve seems especially interested in how it might incorporate signing technology into multiplayer games too, a situation where closed captioning and subtitles aren't always helpful. It'd be interesting to see that idea carried over into a stealth-military setting too of course.

Newell makes no explicit mention of incorporating signing technology into Episode Three, but has talked in the past about how Episode Three may be delayed because of exciting new technologies being incorporated into the next version of the Source Engine.

What are your thoughts on sign language being used in games? Let us know your thoughts in the forums.
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