This case study aims to examine the current Minecraft interface and identify potential accessible solutions. Based on user feedback, personas are drafted, solutions are ideated, and prototypes are suggested. Mojang Studios was not a collaborator for this project.
- State Background
- Define the Problem
- Show Methodology
- Test Usability
- Create a Persona
- Ideate a Solution
- Provide Recommendations & Justification
- Create Basic Prototypes
- Conclude Thoughts
I would like to start by saying Minecraft is exceptional with its accessibility features. However, I challenged myself to examine the features through a usability lens in this case study. It’s good practice and I enjoyed this project.
Minecraft is a sandbox, action-exploration video game that was released in 2009. For over a decade, developers have fine-tuned the game to optimize user experience. In 2015, the creators of Minecraft tested and eventually added subtitles in the Accessibility Settings to assist d/Deaf and hard of hearing gamers.
Define the Problem
Minecraft is considered a foundational game for the sandbox genre. Oftentimes, the game is referenced as an ideal model for game design and user interface. The design is universal; it is simple, clear, and to-the-point.
As a fan of dungeon-crawling, adventure games, I thoroughly enjoy Minecraft. More so, I am impressed by the Accessibility Settings. Browsing through the settings and playing extensively, however, some frustrations occurred to me as a deaf individual. Therefore, I decided to perform a usability test to see what others thought.
When subtitles are turned on, text appears on the bottom righthand corner of the screen that provides visual descriptions of user’s Minecraft world. The distance of the sounds are indicated by the opacity (i.e. faded text means further away). If the sound is not immediately on the user’s screen, then an arrow “>” or “<” will point in the direction. Subtitles are categorized into: Blocks, Mobs, Objects, Items, Enchantments, Environment, and Events. Hundreds of subtitles are programmed into the game.
With the use of qualitative methods and snowball sampling, I selected 5 d/Deaf/HoH users and performed a usability test. The one-on-one observational technique evaluated the usability of the current subtitles. I noted what each user did/said and performance data was recorded.
As subtitles tend to appear during combat and exploration, the d/Deaf/HoH users were asked to complete the following tasks. Once with subtitles off, and once with subtitles on:
- Seek and explore a dungeon
- Defeat at 25 enemies
- Take out 2 spawners
While performing the tasks, I requested for users to think aloud their impression of the subtitles.
Right off the bat, users are able to easily identify how to turn on the subtitles in the Accessibility Settings. Users were very impressed with subtitles and felt that subtitles provided a “rich amount of information that I would never previously had.” Users noted that when playing the game without subtitles, dungeon crawling became “really frustrating” and users felt that they had “no control of [the] surroundings.”
Within the study, (X/5) users identified the following reoccurring problems:
Point 1: Though users found that subtitles drastically improved gameplay, users note that the directionality of the subtitles feel “ambiguous” at times. More so, 4/5 of the uses believe that the subtitles do not provide enough information and clarity of enemy locations. Several users died while trying to locate spawners and one user accidentally mined into lava due to misinterpreting the subtitles.
Users feel that though the directionality was helpful, it was too 2-Dimensional, as it “only provides left and right directions…how am I supposed to know up and down?”
Point 2: Users found that the HUD would sometimes “flood with too much stuff.” At times, there would be up to 10 subtitles at a given time. Users found it was difficult to prioritize the text and found it “overwhelming.” As a result, users were placed into a multi-tasking dilemma, as they were unable to read all the text and actively play the game at the same time.
One user states that they wish they could turn off certain subtitle categories, such as the blocks category. Doing so would alleviate the amount of subtitles. The user notes that if they need to change it later to adjust to different tasks, “I’ll just go in and turn it back on…easy.”
Point 3: Users found that the lack of subtitle customization hindered their gameplay. For example, one user has a mild learning disability in reading and requires solid background behind text. The opacity of the text and background made it difficult for the user to follow along the subtitles. The user checked their settings to see if they could adjust the subtitles, and were disappointed to find a lack of customization.
Point 4: Similar to point 2, users found that the subtitles were overall distracting. Minecraft designs itself to have a very minimalistic HUD. However, 2/5 of the users found that the subtitles complicated the HUD and made it more distracting. Users felt torn between turning the subtitles on or off.
Create a Persona
This case study includes different personas to assist in understanding the user audience. Having the personas for references allows to create an experience that would fit the needs of d/Deaf and hard of hearing individuals.
Provide Recommendations & Justification
|Use a 3-Dimensional visualization to clarify directionality of sound||Users were not able to immediately pin point the location of sound, as the arrows are 2-Dimensional.||High|
|Allow users to only turn on certain categories of subtitles.||Users were overwhelmed by the subtitles and found certain ones were not impactful or distracting to gameplay.||Medium|
|Add customization options for size, color, and location.||Results show that users have different needs. Customization will allow users to adapt the subtitles to optimize their individual experiences.||Low|
Create Basic Prototypes
When Minecraft first integrated subtitles, it was a revolutionary moment for all d/Deaf/HoH gamers alike. However, as accessibility progresses, our expectations rise. I think that one of the main reasons there was a minor amount of pushback was because since the release of Minecraft’s subtitles, we have games integrating 3-Dimensional visualizations such as Fortnite and developers adding customization options such as The Last of Us Part II. The accessibility bar has risen.
Therefore, though subtitles vastly improve gameplay for d/Deaf/HoH individuals, some users ran into issues during their gameplay. By following the aforementioned suggestions, Minecraft can highly improve d/Deaf/HoH user experience. Luckily, Microsoft is an inclusive and innovative company that is always willing to go above and beyond for their players. I am optimistic that over time, Microsoft with master video game accessibility.
Things I learned: Usability tests assist in validating and improving current interfaces.
Future improvements: I wish my sample’s average age was younger, as Minecraft is targeted to children, teenagers, and young adults. However, given limitations (i.e. including minors), I am satisfied with the results.