Crowdfunding bonanza and space simulator Star Citizen has announced some new emotes aimed at Deaf and hard of hearing players. The American Sign Language (ASL) animations include all the typical fare you might come across in an online video game, like “hello,” “thank you,” and “bullshit.”
Animator Steve Bender describes the idea, and shows off a few of the emotes, in the video below:
It’s worth noting that there isn’t a universal sign language, and it even varies across countries that might share a verbal speech – say, America and Britain. I did learn from this video that the sign for “bullshit” is consistent between our two countries (yes, I was taught this in a professional class), but many others vary. Star Citizen apparently has plans to localise into French, German, and Spanish, but it might be the first game to need to localise its emotes, too.
They don’t yet include facial expressions, either, which are an integral part of sign languages (you can keep an eye on the mo-cap actor to get an impression), but they are apparently planned for the future.
Still, it’s an area of representation that’s incredibly scarce. Deaf and hard of hearing characters are few and far between, and recent examples such as The Quiet Man didn't handle the subject matter well. One of the only games I can think of that’s included any signing is PSVR game Moss, which sometimes had its silent mouse friend communicate with the player in ASL.
Things may be slightly different in America, but on this side of the pond many Deaf people consider BSL their mother tongue (as it were) and written English their second language. The two have different grammars, vocabularies, and even cultures attached to them. So, while Deaf players can already communicate in text, adding ways to converse in sign means actually getting to use their native vernacular.
“Our community members who are hearing impaired [will be able to] interact and roleplay in the world,” says Bender, “and to express themselves in the way that they see fit.”