Accessibility, Awareness and Streaming: An Interview with DeafGamersTV Founder Chris Robinson

Chris (Phoenix) Robinson, known to many under his Twitch.TV alias, DeafGamersTV, is a deaf gamer from Chicago and a passionate advocate for greater accessibility in games. Currently, he is spending his time streaming games on Twitch, tweeting about deaf awareness, and promoting accessibility within game development and the greater gaming community. Today he joins us for an interview about his growing channel, his fervor for fighting games, and how he wants to see the gaming industry adapt to include more of its vast and diverse audience. Quotes edited for clarity.

New Normative : So, Chris, how did you get started with gaming? Did you grow up
around games?

Chris Robinson : I grew up with video games all my life. The first game I played was Super Mario Bros on the Nintendo. I always enjoyed doing something interactive and video games were perfect for me. Video games were also my most successful tools at learning things. I was even able to read better because of RPG games including Pokemon back in the Game Boy days. Since then I’ve been playing video games.

What are your favorite games to play?

I really love playing fighting games! It’s a perfect way for me to enjoy while challenging myself to get better in a game. When I like to wind down, I like to play Pokémon on my 3DS, Kingdom Hearts series, Yakuza series and Metal Gear Solid Series. Those would be the top favorite games I like to play.

How did you get started becoming a twitch streamer,
and then a twitch affiliate?

It first started out when I was still in college back in 2008 or something like that and I discovered & video game streaming. Later when I finally got the minimum equipment that I need to start out streaming I gave it a try but then I was caught up with school work. After changed the brand to, I had better stuff so I bought me a capture card for a laptop I was using to stream my PS3. Then it became a hobby after a while then I stopped because I felt like I didn’t really have a purpose or a goal. Few years later I started DeafGamersTV and started streaming with that name then back in April when Twitch announced the affiliate program, I was invited to be an affiliate a few weeks later. I was hoping for a Twitch partnership but affiliate will do for now.

I understand you are interested in competing in FGB
Esports. When did that interest begin? Where are you now in realizing that dream?

I also grew up with fighting games like Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, and The King of Fighters. I never really pay attention to the competition scene until I got into high school. Call me crazy but I think I just enjoy feeling the adrenaline of trying to compete against someone else who may be equal or better than me. Then when I discovered TeamSp00ky on Twitch who broadcast weekly tournaments in NYC, I’ve been watching it and then I realized I want to do something like this. Recently after watching so many tournaments on stream, I felt like something was missing: accessibility. To be able to understand what’s going on via commentators giving play by play on stream & I never really see many deaf competitors in tournaments either. So my dream right now is to find a way to set up a deaf league team for fighting games. I want to show that people with disability can complete in a tournament too. Right now it’s really tough for me to find more deaf fighting gamers but I know they’re out there somewhere which is why I need to continue to find a way to stand out more so that they can find me easily and help me grow the deaf team I want the world to see. I want us (deaf and hard of hearing players) to enjoy as much as everyone else is. The finishing line is just over the hill, I know I can’t cross it alone so I hope with the team I’ll build, we can cross it together.

Have you run into games that were not properly accessible,
making them hard to enjoy?

As of right now there’s a lot of games that aren’t accessible at all. For me, I need a decent size font for subtitles, maybe labeled to let me know who is talking, and definitely some type of indicators where if something is happening in my surrounding, I’ll know. This is why I want to be an gaming accessibility advocate. I want developers to KNOW that there are ways to better implement subtitles.

Advocacy & Awareness

Do you find that there is an active deaf gaming community?
If you have found that, how have you involved yourself with in it?

I’ve found a couple of active deaf gaming communities but haven’t found one for Twitch yet. So I decided to make one since that’s where I spend most of my time nowadays. I want to find a way to break the language barrier between deaf and hearing gamers and show there are ways to enjoy gaming together even without a use for a mic for immediate communication and to also have one another to help each other to feel more fit in with other people community who may not be deaf.

How did DeafGamersTV come about? What has the progression
been with that channel?

About 3 years ago I was dealing with some serious depression and I was on a verge of harming myself so I thought to myself to return to streaming on Twitch as a distraction until I can figure something out. While I wanted to get out of depression and do something about it, I asked an old college friend of mine if he wanted to come aboard on the project and then I came up with Deaf Gamers TV with a goal to grow a deaf community on Twitch, breaking language barriers, teaching our deaf culture through sign language, and prevent audism (oppression of deaf people). Today I am still shocked how far Deaf Gamers TV have come. The channel is now run by me but I have a Twitch team called Deaf Hard of Hearing Gamers and we have some deaf/hoh gamers that stream video games or creative content. I’ve done a panel twice at TwitchCon about Streaming with Disabilities with great friends met on Twitch. Been in a couple of interviews that can been seen on my Twitch Channel under the link session. As of last year, I’ve been more active on Twitter about gaming accessibility because I felt like gaming doesn’t feel as fun as it used to be. Subtitles seems to be lazy work or developers really had no idea how to make proper subtitles in video games. I want to drive to improve gaming accessibility so I’ve been able to meet people with similar interests in inclusive design in gaming. No one should never be left out on the fun when developers can really make gaming better with just a bit (or a lot) of feedback from the community themselves, especially for gamers with needs. I really hope I can continue growing as Deaf Gamers TV and keep growing a deaf community on Twitch and hope to help developers to make gaming enjoyable for everyone.

Have you ever run into problems running the twitch
channel? Have you run into any discrimination due to the channels brand?

The internet is a dangerous place where almost anything can happen. I’ve had trolls coming into my channel and just being an asshole for my deafness. For example, people would come in and make fun of me and other deaf gamers on their channel as well. It doesn’t bother me as much as it used to when I first started out. I learned how to just block out all the negativity and just focus on having fun and keeping my community positive. When I was featured on Twitch Front Page, I would sometime get viewbotted where a bunch of bots following my channel or try to post harmful links into my chat. It’s a shame people would spend their time trying to give other people a hard time for their hard work.

I understand that DeafGamersTV seems to be a team
project as well, with other streams aside from yourself running the show. How did that come about? Do you view the team effort as better than running it by yourself?

When DeafGamersTV first started out, it was just me and my buddy from college running the channel. However, we ran into some commitment difficulty and he had to step down from being a DeafGamersTV broadcaster. However he is still streaming as well under DHHG team when he can under a different Twitch account. I also felt like it was a good move on his part as well that way he can also participate in spreading deaf awareness his own way. This gives us more diversity ways of showing and teach deaf awareness to our community. The more, the merrier. Team effort may seems to be a lot of work more than solo I think. Because if one person if falling apart, the whole thing can fall with it. While not being in the same team but being in the same group would help lifting the hard work. Motivation is what keeps us going.

A Channel, A Community

As a gaming accessibility advocate, what advice would
you give to game developers for making better, more accessible games?

My advice as a gaming accessibility advocate to game developers is PLEASE be aware to your community especially when it could come to improving your game. Listen to what gamers with disabilities has to say. When you connect with your consumers more, you’ll be able to reach out to wider audience and even sell more games because you are showing that you care about both your game and your players. That’s how you can build trust with gamers. My biggest issues lately are the lack of proper subtitles. I want to see developers to try to add more subtitle options such as allowing us to adjust the size to our liking. We don’t always sit at our desk playing on our 24″ monitor. We also may have a couch that we like to play the game from. If anything is spoken in the game, PLEASE caption them. It’s not fair to let gamers who can hear them talking and we’re left out because we can’t hear them talking or even read what they are saying. Developers really need to start recruiting various of testers for their games especially for accessibility purposes. One more BIG thing, please caption your game trailers. Seriously. Don’t leave anyone out of this. Make 2 videos if you must. One with and one without subtitles. It won’t hurt anybody to spend an extra hour or 2 to tell what’s going on in a game trailer for people who can’t hear.

Are there ways in which you want to further develop
what you do with DeafGamersTV? How would you like to add to/develop the channel in the future?

Well, to be honest, if I can create more of a network for DeafGamersTV, I hope I’ll be able to connect with game developers, gaming accessibility speakers, and many others. I want to get involved with as many inclusive gaming communities as much as I can. I want to share these with my deaf community who wish to be a part of this. We want to play their games but they’re not letting us. So we have to step up and let them know, together. I want DeafGamersTV to be a start of something big for everyone with mutual goals.

Looking forward, aside from DeafGamersTV, do you have any new projects
on the horizon? Anything you’re working on?

As of right now, all things are being focused on growing DeafGamersTV, then maybe someday if I have enough resources, I’d love to do something for a Diabetes Awareness event, since I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes immediately after TwitchCon 2016 ended. It was crazy trying to adjust my life all of the sudden. So I hope I’ll be able to find people on Twitch that has diabetes and maybe do something like that. It would be cool to do something good for someone still learning about diabetes and be able help them get the information they need.

You can follow Chris at his twitter, @DeafGamersTV, or at his twitch channel under the same name, DeafGamersTV.

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Celia Lewis

Staff Writer at New Normative
Celia is a games and entertainment writer with a love of media that gives a voice to unheard perspectives. She has a strong belief that fictional worlds should reflect the diversity of reality. Besides that, she just really likes dragons and swords and aliens and stuff.


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