My hearing is fairly robust for a man of my age. I also pride myself on my ability to concentrate. Yet despite the benefits of both those attributes, I still often find myself struggling to keep up with the dialogue and plot of many a game, TV show or movie. It’s something that is not unique to me and seems to be part of a growing phenomenon. Take last year’s science fiction blockbuster Interstellar. Amongst the critical praise there was a lot of grumbling over the mixing of ambient sound effects and the movies score drowning out dialogue. Similar complaints have been levelled at a lot of contemporary TV shows.
This problem frequently manifests itself in video games, although it is more often than not due to overlapping dialogue. All too often I’ve been playing a game in which an essential piece of narrative from a key NPC is competing against the ambient dialogue from background characters. As someone who enjoys a good story and likes to absorb as much details as possible, this problem can be quite frustrating. Hence I’ve recently started enabling all subtitle options on games, TV shows and movies by default. It was a little disconcerting initially but it’s something I have adapted to quite quickly.
Subtitles apart from reflecting the main dialogue, often have the benefit of providing a lot more detail. Audio descriptions of sound effects, as well as secondary dialogue and other background noise can prove to be most illuminating. When watching the movie Right at Your Door, the subtitles displayed all the details of the radio and TV broadcasts that were playing in the background. This greatly enhanced the plot and provided some invaluable narrative detail. Subtitles are also a great way of obtaining an accurate quote and resolving the esoteric spelling of certain words and character names.
I find subtitles in gaming to be increasingly useful. Unlike a movie you cannot easily rewind a cutscene or the bestowal dialogue for a quest. If like me you find the story one of the main selling points of a game then you don’t really like to miss any of the plot. Also games don’t always have the best voice acting and subtitles allow you a means of penetrating poor accents and poorly expressed dialogue. Therefore having an additional tier of information is useful. It can also provide some amusement when the text is misspelt or has not been updated and is merely place-holder content.
However subtitles are not for everyone. Some people find onscreen text very distracting and a major impediment to their enjoyment of the game or movie. Plot and dialogue are also not important to all gamers, many of whom simply want to get to the action, rather than waste time upon a story that is superfluous to them. Therefore it very much is a question of taste and mercifully subtitles are more often than not optional. For me I consider them to be a great asset and an enhancement to my entertainment. They also play a great part in making many leisure activities far more accessible and inclusional. As a result I find their absence from certain mediums an inconvenience.