Font sizes in video games: I want to gamble, where is my loupe?

Miniature symbols and subtitles that are hard to read from the couch: Many console games have too small auxiliary elements. Often fans have to mosern first, so that changes.

In "The Witcher III" did you browse through the background stories of the characters? Or read in the "Bestiarium" of "God of War", what about certain creatures on it?

Not me. Not because I did not care to learn more about the game worlds. I just did not feel like reading the text so presented from the couch:

CD project


Both examples - the first from 2015, the second from 2018 - stand for something that has been annoying me for a long time with games: texts are sometimes displayed very small on the screen. Rarely, there are ways to change that.

Although I wear glasses, some console games have difficulty deciphering information on the TV from my couch - unlike PC games, where I sit closer to the screen than two and a half meters away.

Last time I had the problem with "Red Dead Redemption II". In the first few hours, the game bombards you with flashes that explain commands or give hints about the game. They usually appear at the top left or bottom right in the game, sometimes at the same time:

Rockstar Games

Scene from "Red Dead Redemption II"

You should read the whole thing not only in a quiet situation like this. Occasionally appearing while riding on a horse or being attacked by a pack of wolves. To the depending on the situation differently many marginal ads come with me often subtitles, which are placed in the bottom of the picture.

Rockstar Games

Example subtitles in "Red Dead Redemption II"

How am I supposed to hear these hints in the top left - in this mini font? I asked myself this more often during the first hours of play. Again and again I had the desire to sit closer to my at least 42 inch Full HD television because of these text overlays.

Smaller it is hardly

I also find the white-gray displays for the "vitality attributes" that appear in the game depending on the context on the lower left corner of the map in the game. They inform about health and endurance of the figure. Both the circles around the symbols are important, as well as colorations within the symbols themselves. A complicated but interesting system, but I ask myself: Why does it have to be so small?

Rockstar Games

Health related ads (leftmost icon) in "Red Dead Redemption II"

It would only have been worse for the subtitle designers of "Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus". Or can you easily read the sentence below the picture from a distance?


"Wolfenstein II" subtitle: "They are really tough, Grundig!"

Or the?


"Your father will not come home today."

By comparison, subtitles are so big on Netflix.


"House of Cards"

A common problem

Even a short web search shows that I am not alone with my problem with small symbols and texts. Also the games journalist Heinrich Lenhardt scolded on the occasion of "God of War" about "this eye-Zusammenkneiferei". The font sizes would for him "really cloud the overall impression of an aesthetically valuable game", he said in a podcast.

Complaints about font and symbol sizes are also found in many game web forums, and by no means only people who are near-sighted complain. "It's a beautiful, wonderful game," somebody writes about "Red Dead Redemption II": "But being able to read almost nothing on the screen makes me feel like an 88-year-old grandmother."

Elsewhere, a user complains that his wife and he interpreted a control display of the game as "i" rather than "left stick up." The same thing happened with this overlay for two or three seconds:

Rockstar Games

Control order in "Red Dead Redemption II" (here below for a change in the middle)

Meckling helps

Occasionally, the fan-protest provides for a rethink of the game developers. For "The Witcher III" as well as "God of War" there are now updates that at least feel that the fonts grow from very small to acceptable or only small, as this photo spread shows:

Fonts before and after a patch

The very popular role-playing game "The Witcher III" had remarkably small impressions in its release version of 2015, as this picture shows. Only after fan complaints the manufacturer improved by update.

Perhaps you were surprised at the game manufacturer CD project of the complaints, because in the menu of the original game, there was already an option to set the "size of the game display". Only: Even if you chose the "Large" option, some elements on the screen were still quite small, as this picture shows.

The patch made some supposedly "big" elements bigger and better visible. This can be understood, for example, by the word "Speech" in the center of the picture or the text "Nearby" in the upper right corner.

Also with the "small" game announcement something was changed: For her since the patch, for example, the control commands shown on the bottom right are not quite as tiny as before. However, most fonts are still much smaller than if the "large" setting was selected in the menu.

Similar to "The Witcher III" it was Sony's "God of War". For the appearance of the action game in the spring of 2018, especially the menus with strikingly small font. Here, too, followed by fan protests an update. Since then, you can select a "zoom in" function in the game's settings.

If the magnification is set to maximum, some parts of the menu are a tad larger than before, for example, the description of the shoulder protection in the center of the image and the bar with the control commands at the bottom. Other elements of the menu are still difficult to read.

While tips and control hints are still pretty small in-game, the update has made at least the subtitles of "God of War" bigger and more legible. Only on a white background is it sometimes difficult to perceive the text.

Why game developers often use small symbol and font sizes, I understand: They have created visually fantastic game worlds. But when the view into them is full of big impressions, it hurts the immersion, the feeling of being part of these worlds.

On the other hand, the Immersion is flute for me even if I can only half read a flash and now think about what the game wanted to tell me. Especially in "Red Dead Redemption II", it can have annoying consequences, for example, to execute a control command incorrectly: A wrong key press and I shoot my horse, instead of ascending to it.

Font size in video games

That's what experts say about it

The interplay of video games and eyes also occupies doctors and science. Here are four questions and answers on the topic.

Are the symbols in the games intentionally so small?

Senior physician Focke Ziemssen from the University Hospital Tübingen is convinced that the makers of games like "Red Dead Redemption II" know exactly what they are doing. "The details of the rendered objects and illustrations are so high that one can not assume that here only a lack of care has led to a poor design of the objects," he says, "especially texts and symbols for the menu, control and a successful completion of the tasks are of great importance. "

For him, the assumption suggests that the designers want to reinforce the immersion by the withdrawal in writing and explanation. In this context, small icons or fades not only make sense, because the player sees more of the world: "A more intensive analysis of the displays and parameters is thus presupposed and trained," says Ziemssen. "Interestingly, that in turn contributes more to flow and immersion than when a game has no special requirements."

Ludger Wollring from the Professional Association of Ophthalmologists in Germany (BVA) also believes that the size of the symbols is also related to the medium of video games. In a game, it's not primarily about "optimal recognition," he says. Rather, the game must be "interesting".

Harm small symbols and texts the eyes?

From a medical point of view, a "smaller picture itself" does not hurt the eyes, says Focke Ziemssen. "The physiological process of seeing (the arrival of light inside the eye, the transformation of energy into an electrical impulse) does not require more or less energy." The eyes would not wear out "like a car tire", if one was required by small details and text elements. "However, a greater effort not only leads to faster fatigue in people with functional oneness," says Ziemssen.

Would more configuration options make sense in the font size?

In terms of accessibility alone, it would be pleasing if developers give players more options to customize things like pop-ups and menus. Focke Ziemssen says about sample screenshots that we showed him that the creators of the games probably did not take into account "that there are potential customers who even with training and habituation can never recognize the small fonts": "Thus become definitive Excluded people who can not use the games shown due to a visual impairment. "

Ziemssen finds it difficult to predict how often font and symbol sizes will be used in games where they did not exist before. Users are characterized by previous experience, he says: "However, if most players are not accustomed to customizing the interface, they will not spend time in menus and system settings looking for it." Ziemssen also refers to the size setting option in web browsers (Windows: Ctrl key in combination with the plus sign): These are relatively well known and are therefore used by many users.

What else should I know as a video player?

Expert Ziemssen notes that it is problematic for the eyes, in principle, when hours are often played inside a room. "Especially in autumn and winter, this reduces the time that children and young people are exposed to daylight," he says. "Today, interventional studies have shown that this directly promotes the increase in myopia, which is why the rate of gamers who need eyeglass correction or who suffer from myopic complications increases indirectly."

In his opinion, it makes sense not to sit in front of the TV screen while playing. There are arguments for sitting at least 1.5 meters away, says Ziemssen.

At eye level when playing Ludger Wollring recommends that the eyes should be slightly above the center of the picture. Likewise, the ophthalmologist from Essen encourages them to take a short break from exercise on a regular basis, preferably after 50 minutes at the latest: "Generally, we know that in concentrated activities, such as video games, the increased sympathetic tone reduces the frequency of the eyelid," explains Wollring. "This may result in a short-term elevation of the tear film, which is perceived as pain and / or dryness."

Let the players decide for themselves

Basically, there's only one solution to the whole problem, especially in times when the average age of gamers is increasing: developers should give players the option to tailor the size of important elements and fonts to their needs and desires. As long as that is just an option, only those players who really disturb the default will do so. The vast majority will experience the game and its world exactly as planned.


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The size of the subtitles can already be determined in three steps, for example, in "Detroit: Become Human". This is what the "small" font looks like:


Subtitles in "Detroit: Become Human"

And so big is the "big" font:


Enlarged subtitles in "Detroit: Become Human"

In "Red Dead Redemption II", there would have been an even more elegant way to make some of the fade in bigger, especially the lower left ad. There is a companion app to the game, which gives you a lot of information displayed on a smartphone screen in parallel with the game. For example, the map of the game world can be viewed up close.

The app does not really solve the problem, it rather duplicates it: Also in it, the font and all the ads are very small. Missed the chance.

Rockstar Games

Map and Ads in the Companion App for "Red Dead Redemption II"

In an emergency, the magnifying glass helps

In the end, gamers, who sometimes find it difficult to recognize things that do not want to sit too close to the TV, only have one solution: the screen magnifier. On both the Playstation 4 and the Xbox One, you can enable the option to zoom in on part of the screen.


Zoom function of the Playstation 4

One can be glad that at least the console manufacturers have thought of such a function. However, the use of the zoom does not make you happy in the long run either: The idea of ​​being able to play some games with only such a digital magnifying glass is not exactly a pleasure to continue playing.


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