F1 23 Has An Accessibility Feature For Tinnitus Sufferers, And It Changed My Relationship With The Game

F1 23 Has An Accessibility Feature For Tinnitus Sufferers, And It Changed My Relationship With The Game

F1 23 contains an accessibility feature for people who live with that Tinnitus, and it has changed my relationship with the game.

Nestled among the options on the game’s accessibility screen is a Tinnitus Relief Filter, a slider that allows you to adjust the game’s engine pitch up and down in frequency. This feature exists because people who live with Tinnitus — like me — can become disoriented by the scream of an F1 engine if it happens to scream at the same pitch as the whine in their ears.

For those unaware, Tinnitus is a condition connected to hearing loss. It can manifest in any number of ways, from a roaring sound in the ears to a high-pitched whine (which is what I live with). It can be brought on by any number of underlying conditions or (as in my case) repeated, extended, unprotected exposure to very loud noise (I attended too many metal shows as a younger man and was not at all responsible with my headphone volume. At 39, I now pay the price and will for the rest of my life).

Moving the slider up and down adjusts the frequency of the engine’s wail between 5kHz and 16kHz. This allows players who live with Tinnitus to tweak the game’s most overbearing sound until it’s comfortable in the ears. The slider creates a test tone that allows the player to find the frequency band in F1 23 that aggravates their Tinnitus and removes it from the audio mix altogether.

Screenshot: EA, Kotaku Australia

This year’s single-player mode, Breaking Point 2, weaves this new setting into its story. Series villain Devon Butler begins to behave strangely behind the wheel, seemingly ignoring clear radio comms from the pit wall and blaming it on his equipment. After a thorough investigation, the team finds that there are no problems with Butler’s radio, and his actions are chalked up to his characteristic arrogance.

Butler, in truth, is secretly battling encroaching hearing loss brought about by close proximity to the screaming F1 engine behind him. The truth is that Butler isn’t ignoring his race engineer’s calls — his Tinnitus is so overwhelming when the car is moving at speed that he genuinely can’t hear the radio. Behind closed doors, the knowledge that his condition will cost him his F1 seat is causing Butler to unravel, and so he guards his secret jealously.

Tinnitus is a common condition among people who’ve spent any length of time at a race track. Race cars are incredibly loud — there’s a reason your road car has a muffler — and with prolonged exposure, the quality of your hearing will take a serious hit. Including a Tinnitus mode in F1 23 speaks to how well Codemasters understands its audience.

What’s more, I liked that Codemasters went the extra step here. To include the Tinnitus functionality is one thing, but to weave it into the game’s campaign is quite another. It’s a great way to explain how and why the condition can be so debilitating under the right conditions, and it has made playing F1 23, the latest game in a series I love, much easier for me to engage with.

I’ve never known comfort like this. As I said, my tinnitus manifests as a high-pitched whine in both ears — the right louder than the left. Often, the whine in my ears is a match for the whistling turbo pealing out above the engine hum, and that can become quite disorienting. But I’ve also suffered hearing loss on top of the whine, meaning any especially loud bass obliterates all my other hearing. If I go to a loud pub with friends after work, I have to read their lips. I’m constantly asking people to repeat things they’ve said to me. I know people think I’m annoying or inattentive when I do this. I promise I’m not trying to be a nuisance. I just can’t hear you very well. This transfers to games as well. I find it hard to play military shooters for long periods because all the weapons are tuned for deep, bassy booms that mimic real gunfire.

I felt seen by F1 23 in a way I’ve rarely felt seen by a game before. When the game handed me control of the series’ long-running villain, I thought, “There is no way you’re going to get me to care about this prick.” Imagine my shock when he became the character in the story I identified with most closely. I understand what Butler is feeling. I understand his frustration at his otherwise healthy body failing him like this. I understand his fear that it will worsen, perhaps to the point where he can’t hear anything. But it also gave me the ability to play this game I love for longer stints. I can sit through whole Grand Prix weekends now and extend the race distance to introduce more meaningful strategies because I don’t need to stop and give my ears a rest.

A heartfelt, personal thanks to Codies for including the Tinnitus Relief Filter in F1 23. I’m grateful. I would love to see this kind of functionality popping up in more games. It would certainly be a massive win for me and others like me.

And, hey, a word of advice: protect your ears. Learn from my mistakes.

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