Why You Shouldn’t Play With Subtitles

Nobody cares about the nanites, Josh.

I know there are plenty of people out there that choose to play with subtitles on; my wife is among those people (because I am awesome). However, just because a lot of people do something, doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily the best thing to do (you’re gonna get butt punched later for saying this). I used to be one that turned on the subtitles in video games as a way to make sure that I didn’t miss out on important dialogue, but sometime in the last year or so, I stopped.

You may be wondering why, so I’ll elaborate for you.

Subtitles Ruin Screenshots

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End™_20160519232040
This important scene’s image would’ve been ruined

Sure, this is something that’s really only an issue for the few of us that take screenshots of games on a regular basis. However, ever since this latest generations of consoles were introduced, I’ve been abusing my network’s bandwidth by downloading and uploading my PS4 and Xbox One screenshots. Want evidence? Just take a look at my Mass Effect 3 super gallery. There are over 100 screenshots from that game alone, and one thing is conspicuously missing… subtitles. There are no words clogging up the bottom of each shot, ruining the perfect photography. Only beautiful images that are worthy of being desktop wallpapers. You heard it, but not from me. The internet spoke and declared that they were…

Certainly wallpaper worthy! -iplayedthegame


Great shots! So many memorable moments captured, and I agree with iplayedthegame: these are definitely wallpaper-worthy! -Athena


Both comments above say these are wallpaper worthy, but hey! Here’s a 3rd comment saying the same because I also agree. -One Depressed Gamer

Very intelligent people, this lot. Good people. They really know great work when they see it. Want to know what the images had in common?

There were no subtitles.

They Distract You From The Game

What was Marcus saying non-verbally? You don’t know because you were reading the subtitles

With the subtitles on, you spend the majority of your time concentrating on reading the words. You miss out on the little nuances of the characters, or in the case of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, the comically exaggerated gestures. What’s going on in the cutscene, or around you in the game world?  Your perspective is narrowed, your immersion is stunted, and you’re stuck in the narrative. You might as well just be reading a book.

Playing Halo 5 with the subtitles on? Well while you were reading what your squad was saying to you, the Covenant was flanking you. Now you’re dead. Yeah you got to see every word they were speaking, but you’re going to hear it again anyway because you have to relive that moment.

You Read Things You Shouldn’t Understand

Deus Ex Mankind Divided Douchebag Cop.png
You don’t speak Czech, so how can you understand what this smug douchebag is saying to you?

It may seem nitpicky, but it isn’t. Why is it that most games translate foreign languages in the subtitles? Chances are they aren’t saying anything important anyway. Most of the time it’s just little flavor stuff, filling you in on the details of the random NPC’s dating life, his inability to properly maintain his hygeine, or his exploits at the local bar.

The truth is, you really don’t need to know what they’re saying, which is why the developer put it in a foreign language. Otherwise, they would’ve made it forced subtitles, like in The Hunt For Red October, where all the Russians sound like they’re from the UK. I was far more concerned as to why James Bond and Dr. Grant were stealing a submarine, and why Darth Vader worked for the CIA. Furthermore, why didn’t Vader just force-choke everyone to death to get his way.

Am I Right? Or Am I Wrong?

Well, of course I’m right. My wife may disagree, but I’m waiting on her rebuttal. She certainly doesn’t like my views on subtitles despite their empirically proven consequences.

How do you feel about subtitles though? Do you play with them on, or off? Why? Tell me in the comments!


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27 thoughts on “Why You Shouldn’t Play With Subtitles

  1. I keep them on for dialogue in gameplay moments. When the background noise is loud, I sometimes can’t hear what’s being said so I have them on to glance down and pick up key words (driving in open world games, shooting in FPS games) to avoid missing something important. You point about body language in cutscenes is interesting though.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I play with them on, and if there’s an option to enlarge them, I do that too. Subtitles help me because I usually need more than just audio cues to understand what people are saying, especially if they’re using in-game lingo or have an accent. Sometimes, I play with the sound off too, out of necessity, so they work great when they’re options. I don’t think you’re wrong in not using subtitles while you play, but others should play games how they want and with what works for them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh definitely. I think everyone should do what they prefer for their gameplay. My approach works for me because I’m big on immersion. I’ve really enjoyed being forced to actually listen to the characters, but that’s person preference. Thank you for your input 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I tend to play with subtitles too – all other things being equal. A lot of that’s because I’ve become weirdly addicted to subtitles in general – all TV programmes here have Portuguese subtitles on them – and whilst I’ll happily ignore them 90% of the time, it’s great if you do miss something, because you can quickly glance down and get a second chance.

    In games, it’s a trade off I think. Sometimes you’ll maybe miss a visual clue, or badly done subtitles might spoil something if they’re running a bit ahead – but they’re a massive bonus if the game’s loud, or if you’ve not fiddled with sound settings properly. There was one bit in the last CoD, for example, where I couldn’t hear what I was being told to do, and I’d pressed every combination of buttons in hopes of stumbling across it accidentally. After dying a bajillion times, I just turned on the subtitles and got it done first time.

    What does really wind me up though, is when the subtitles aren’t exactly the same as the dialogue, but that’s probably a different discussion…… 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I did run in with a situation like that when I was playing Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, where the soundtrack was blaringly loud during a moment of conversation, so I missed that section of dialogue.

      Totally agree on the subtitles not matching though. That’s a huge annoyance. Almost on par with movie dubs for TV that try to hide language.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree, subtitles are very distracting from the main game. I’m playing the Witcher 3, and I hate that subtitles are on by default, because my eyes naturally drift down to the text for voices that are clearly audible. A game like Witcher 3 is beautifully animated so not seeing the characters facial expressions really takes away a huge element of what the game does really good. These aren’t just 3D models, they are actors in a way, and they deserve your full attention.

    Now there are times when you need subtitles, playing late at night as to not wake anyone, you’ll need to read what you can’t hear, so it has it’s place.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It can be especially distracting for me if the subtitles are small, like they are with most games these days. Squinting to see the words can be a huge PITA.

      I generally don’t need subtitles for the purpose of not disturbing someone because I use headphones. I do get in trouble sometimes when I don’t hear my wife though…


  5. I’m actually on the fence about subtitles on the whole (sorry!). I can’t really read them on my CRT-TV, but sometimes I won’t hear all the in-game dialogue when I’m playing with the volume low (or if the game sounds are loud) so they’re sort of a heads-up that someone is talking. If there was a setting to have them “on” for gameplay and “off” for cutscenes, though, I’d be so elated, because I don’t want to read along during cutscenes. And, you know, screenshots are amazing (haha).

    Also, I’m flattered you lumped me into the “intelligent” and “good” people categories! haha

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think some games offer that option, but it isn’t really a standard. Most of the time, subtitles are “on” or “off”, and sometimes trying to access a game menu in a cutscene can close the conversation (which is extremely annoying).

      Oh, and those intelligent people? Yeah, they’re pretty great.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I generally agree with this. They are extremely distracting. Right now I’m about 70% done with a playthrough of Final Fantasy X, with the subs on. For whatever reason (maybe it’s my inability to focus on anything), I can’t seem to comprehend dialogue speaking unless I see it written out. For me it just sinks in better.

    However, FFX (HD) is a beautiful game, and I do find myself staring at some boring white text instead of the incredible cutscenes sometimes.

    In other words, I see pros and cons to each, which means I’m in a perpetual stalemate with myself!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Very good points there, sir. I feel like I’m a weird mix here… Most of the times I play with subtitles on (if the game has settings for Dialogue, General, etc, I turned them all on). But sometimes I feel like turning them off for immersion purposes too.

    On the screenshots part: yes, no subtitles make the best screenshots! No argument there. But on the subtitles themselves overall…well, I don’t read all of them. They’re just there as a backup in case I don’t understand a word or can’t hear very well because of game sounds (like many have stated here already). So I guess subtitles can be both good and bad: helpful and distracting. I think that each of us should pick the option that’ll give us the most comfortable gaming experience overall – and if that’s Subtitles On, let it be.

    As usual, good read here, Falcon (may I just call you Falcon, or is the 509 required as well?)

    (By the way, much like Athena said, I’m very much surprised and flattered to be included in a group of intelligent good people ^^ )

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You can feel free to call me Falcon, Falcon509, or Shelby. I’m cool with whatever you feel comfortable with calling me.

      More or less what everyone else has said, it’s a preference thing. Subtitles can be useful, but I’ve found that I like them to be off the majority of the time.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I was ready to disagree from the moment I read the title…but you make some amazing points.

    I tend to keep subtitles on in case I miss something said while playing the game, though more and more games are stopping mid-action to tell you something…of which I’m not a big fan.

    I agree that your attention is shifted, but when it comes to body language from the characters, it really depends on the game. On a mo-cap game like Uncharted or even the latest Tomb Raiders, you’re spot on, but when it comes to Deus Ex: Mankind Divided (and even Human Revolution) and say, The Witcher 3, as you play you realise all reactions come from a library of stock poses (in Witcher 1 all characters seemed to share most poses and reactions), ever the same no matter the circumstance.

    I do wholeheartedly agree with the foreign language part, especially with Deus Ex: Mankind Divided where simple grunts of “get away” from the Police stay in their original language but when they interact with you in a cutscene, they switch to English, like that cop that looks at your papers and says “Are you some kind of badass?” which always made me giggle.

    I can forgo subtitles in some games, but when it comes to adventures, point & click in particular, I always have subs on. You never know what spoken or written clue you’re going to miss without them.

    As for screenshots, for my reviews I take screens with subs on, so I end up with lots with words and others without (because they weren’t speaking), but I don’t mind, as I’m showing the game in action. Funnily though, when I take screenshots of WoW, I hide the UI, and those are just for me. Go figure.

    Awesome article 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I play with them on. My good excuse is that I have moderate hearing loss in one ear so I tend to miss way too much story if I turn them off. I agree with your reasons for turning them off though. I’m a slow reader so bad things sometimes kill me while I’m interpreting the wordy things 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Aw, don’t feel bad! This post is awesome and very entertaining. 🙂 You’re the first blogger I’ve seen cover the subtitle topic too.

        I just thought I’d add my personal two cents, haha. For me, my moderate hearing loss is in the lower frequencies. Basically, it means that I have trouble picking out sounds, such as speaking, when there is a lot of other noises at the same time, like shooting things. Without subtitles in games I’d miss a lot of the conversations because of this. Unless I cranked my TV volume to “annoy my neighbours” level of course, lol.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Well, I was being a little facetious honestly. I don’t seriously feel bad; it’s just one of those things I didn’t think about.

          Like others said though, I know that everyone has their reasons for doing things. I know for me, I really like the immersion and requirement to pay attention, like in a real conversation. That’s just me however 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

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