Welcome back to Good Trouble’s Accessibility Spotlight series, where we take a look at the passionate efforts being made by development studios to make gaming more viable for the millions of players with disabilities across the globe. Each article will focus on a different piece of hardware, software, or design-discipline that has made an impact in accessible game development.
I'm going to give you a bit of a peek behind the curtain for this particular accessibility spotlight article. Usually I try to write these articles from an informational perspective - disconnect from any first-person point of view and fall back on my years of college essay experience to give you an informative unbiased look at a given accessibility topic. I can’t do that for this one. This one has to come from me, Harris Foster, Director of Communications here at Good Trouble. It is because dear reader…
I am color blind.
…I really hope I nailed the drama of that reveal. I’m crossing my fingers that the Young Frankenstein stinger played in your head as I shared this information with you. It probably didn’t, since color blindness is incredibly common and you almost certainly have no stake in how my eyes work ...but hey! I am one of the one-in-twelve males globally affected by color blindness. A lack of function in the cones of my eyes cause certain colors to appear dull or muddy, particularly reds and greens, making it difficult for me to identify and separate certain colors. Color blindness affects every part of my life, adding a layer of difficulty to everything from choosing my outfit to knowing the doneness of my burger. There is no cure for color blindness, so I can always count on having a number of things made more difficult by my condition.
Media is no different. Over the course of my life there have been several movies where I’ve missed key information due to the symbolic significance of the color of something like a prop or costume. But thank goodness for video games. While not perfect, video games are the one art form that I’ve found is consistently getting better and better at creating experiences able to adapt to those of us with color blindness. More often than not I’m able to boot up a game, dive into the settings and find a color blindness accessibility option that greatly improves my experience. There are far too many games to shout them out one by one in this article, so instead I’ll share my top three tips on how you can improve color blind accessibility in your game project. Of course, this comes with the understanding that not every game has the time or budget to implement these features, but if you can pull any of these off you’re one step closer to making a certified color blind friendly project. Here we go!
Tip #1: Be sure to change assets.
The two most common types of color blind accessibility techniques are filtering and asset swaps. Filtering simply adds a color-tint to the screen, which washes out certain colors while leaving others unaffected in an attempt to influence color contrast or “pop”. Theoretically this technique tries to recreate the same trick used by color blind glasses such as EnChroma, but this is a band-aid fix. Rather than identifying which elements of a game’s on-screen presentation are difficult for color blind users, this technique tries to paint over the screen which only serves to change the entire look of the game- usually for the worse.
Instead, collaborate with color blind players to determine which elements of the game rely on color-based information and create alternate color blind friendly assets that keep players in the know. A terrific example of this is Fortnite, where changing the color blind settings affect vital elements of the UI but does not affect the way the in-world camera presents color. Depending on the type of color blindness a player sets in the options, Fortnite adjusts the color of weapon rarity, lowering ambiguity for color blind players while still retaining their core rarity-associated color. For me, the green color associated with an “uncommon” weapon can easily be misconstrued for the yellow/gold color of a “legendary” weapon, however turning on deuteranopia color blind settings subtly substitutes the typically used colors for slightly different shades. This change allows me to communicate effectively with my squadmates while still using the same color-based terminology that they’re using.
Tip #2: For every time color is used to convey information, make sure there is another visually distinct way to convey the same information. This one is kind of a no-brainer but in my experience you’d be surprised how often it is forgotten. Color is one of the most natural ways to convey information. Consider the real-life example of a stoplight- if stoplights were simply one light that changed between red, yellow, and green the vast majority of drivers would effectively have the same experience. However, color blind accessibility ensures that each light is distinct and in the same order at every single intersection. Red on the left or top, yellow in the middle, and green on the right or bottom. Two ways to convey the same information, one color-based, one not.
Same goes for games. Let’s say you’re making a Match-3 puzzle game with different colored gems. You can’t rely on the color alone to convey information. It’s essential to give them gems another unique, non-color-based quality in order to ensure that color blind players are able to pick up on the differences between these pieces.
Tip #3: Do not use generic terms.
You might have noticed in Tip #1 I called out my type of color blindness: Deuteranopia. While I may not be able to pronounce this word, I am able to pick it out of a lineup when setting my color blind settings in a game. Being able to select my unique form of color blindness rather than a generic term like “Red/Green” or “Color Blind Setting #3” gives me confidence that the experience I will be given has been thought-out, tested, and is most suited to my specific needs.
These are just a few of the color blind considerations I look for in games I play and create- I could probably fill another three blog posts with even more. All that said, the best way to keep color blindness in mind is to grab a friend and ask them about their experience. I can only speak for myself, but being able to lend a hand and give color blindness tips to game developers is an incredibly rewarding feeling. Knowing that games are that much more accessible puts a smile on my face. Please let me know if my clothes are ever clashing.