An example of an Ishihara exam used for testing color blindness. It has green dots creating the number 74 with red dots all around them filling in the remaining area of the circle.

Accessibility in Gaming: Color Blindness

By Alec Gramm

I love board games. I also know many other people love board games and want to share them with others. I think that’s a pretty safe statement to say, especially since I am writing this on a blog for the ALA Game and Gaming Roundtable’s website, and I’m also confident that people who read about board games are those exact people I mentioned in the previous sentence. And since I’m on a roll of making safe statements, I’ll add one more: I think the greatest draw to a board game for people is that human component of sitting down with your (assumed) friends and spending time together enjoying what was made to create a fun time. And, if you found a game that you really enjoyed, you generally want to share that game with others so they can experience the same fun you had.

But, for those of you who like to read titles, I imagine you can see where this is going (no pun initially intended).

To say a potentially unsafe statement, I believe that all people have equal value, but we are not all “created equal”. Not everyone has a six-foot vertical, nor could ever achieve it through training. Not everyone can crush a Calculus exam with little-to-no studying. And not everyone sees colors the same as most others do. And it’s that last group that I’m going to focus on for this little written jaunt on the internet.

To be upfront and transparent, I do not have color blindness, nor do I have a degree or any background that would provide a more educated perspective apart from my own readings of various articles and listening to those who have color blindness talk about their experiences. However, I do think it’s a barrier that is easy to overlook, especially since it’s an “invisible” barrier for people (i.e. no telltale signs or dead giveaways that a person has it without being told or witnessing its effects directly), and it should be brought to as many people’s attention. It certainly has made me more aware of games I select to share with my friends and, if they do fall short of accessibility for color blindness, think of ways that can circumvent that barrier.

So let’s dive in first with a very brief section.

What is colorblindness, exactly?

According to the National Eye Institute, colorblindness “means you see colors differently than most people. Most of the time, color blindness makes it hard to tell the difference between certain colors.” It should be noted that “most people who are color blind are able to adjust and don’t have problems with everyday activities.”

If most people don’t have problems with everyday activities, why does this need to be brought up?

Well, my constructed opponent, first, “most” is not “all”. Second, playing a game is not an everyday activity – it’s (usually) meant to be a fun break from everyday activities. Third, some games depend on colors to convey information to the players, and if a player needs to formulate strategies internally using that information, having a player ask what colors the components are can partially or fully reveal a strategy and put that player at a disadvantage. Plus, I imagine it would get really old and tedious to have to continually ask the other players what colors were what, and subsequently, I would prefer to play other games that didn’t have that issue.

Simulations of different color blindness:
C: Correct; P: Protanopia; D: Deuteranopia; T: Tritanopia

Okay, so how can someone help out?

Being aware is a great start. By being conscience of the different kinds of color blindness, you can identify potential issues before they become issues. Obviously, being aware is not enough to create a solution that helps rectify the problem. One solution I’ve found that can help is by physically altering or manipulating the game components that reply upon the color to communicate information. For example, if a game used colored chips, you could distinguish each one by marking each color with a different symbol on the top and bottom. What if they need to be seen from a distance or light glare could be an issue? You could carve physical attributes into the pieces (e.g. one divot for red, two for green, etc.). To be clear, I’m not saying you have to do these things, but I wanted to convey some ways that could be solutions depending on the game.

Is this where you conclude your written piece?

Yes, as a matter of fact, it is.

I want to start this conclusion by stating that I am aware not every game is able to be accessible to everyone. The inherent challenge of creating a game is finding that balance of challenge and difficulty with accessibility. Challenge is, by nature, exclusive. The trick is making it fun to overcome that challenge and not a nuisance to do so. And, if you are a librarian reading this, which odds are high that you are, a more accessible game means more of the community you serve can access the games you provide. But what it ultimately comes down to is that by being aware of other hurdles that lie outside of the game’s intended challenges and making accommodations for those playing the game, you can make the game that you found really fun just as fun for someone else, and that’s really something special.

I want to take a brief moment to give a shout out to Meeple Like Us, who really made me aware of how different disabilities really can change a person’s interaction with a game. Like, I knew it did, but I never really considered the level and range of inaccessibility that it can manifest for someone. I’ve found Dr. Heron’s insight of not just the accessibility of a game but of a game itself quite interesting. And since it’s relevant to this post’s subject material, here’s their list of games they’ve reviewed that did well with color blindness.

Alec used to work as a Youth Librarian at a public library and currently works at a local university. He has been a member of GameRT since 2017 and is currently the chair for the Membership and Promotion committee. His special gaming talent is being really good at a new game then getting worse with each play of the game.

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