I Can’t See the Berries – Gaming with Color Blindness

Last year, I wrote about my experiences with epilepsy and gaming. The response from the gaming community was great, and it’s had an impact. Since I started Indie Gamer Chick, many Xbox Live Indie Games and assorted PC titles have started to include “effects switches” in games. And recently, Towerfall on PlayStation 4 became the first PlayStation Network title with “the switch.” I’ve had a lot of fun and done a lot of cool things through Indie Gamer Chick. Spreading awareness of gaming and epilepsy? That has probably been the most rewarding bonus. Something I never expected to influence.

Here’s the thing though: epilepsy is relatively rare. In developed nations, there’s between 4 to 10 cases for every 1,000 people. That’s not all that much. And of those people with epilepsy, only between 1 to 3 for every 100 have what’s called photosensitive epilepsy, also known as the kind that sucks if you’re a gamer. It’s also more commonly seen in girls than in guys. But it’s the thing I live with, so it’s kind of my pet cause.

But, most of my readers are guys. When I started to talk more often about the epilepsy thing, I had a lot of male readers say they know what having a health-imposed limitation is like. They have color blindness. Now granted, their condition is not actively trying to kill them (at least when they’re not at a four-way stop), but I was shocked by how common I heard it. I would venture a guess that, oh, 1 in 12 of my male readers have it. That’s probably because 1 in 12 men have some form of color blindness. I had no idea it was that common. That’s 8% of the male population. That’s a hell of a lot of people who struggle with this condition. And by the way, it’s a myth that girls can’t be colorblind. Around 1 in 200 are. Thankfully it seems to be the one medical problem I currently am not dealing with.

1 in 12.

Wow.

I can’t even imagine what it’s like. Thankfully, I don’t have to. I found someone to describe it to me. His name is Gordon Little, a network administrator from Newfoundland and a father of three. This is his story.

Oh, and please forgive his use of the Queen’s English. In America, we dropped the “u” from “color” thus making us 16% more efficient.

I Can’t See the Berries

by Gordon Little

During my childhood my mother would take myself and my twin brother out berry picking. Raspberries to be specific. Big red juicy things hanging out among the green leaves and stems. We each had a bucket and after an hour Mom would check our progress. Her bucket was full. My brother’s bucket was halfway full and his face told the story of berries that never made it into the bucket. My bucket though… my bucket was lucky to have 2 or 3 berries in it. “I can’t see the berries,” I would tell her. She’d point at a berry on the bush and like magic it would POOF into existence. She thought I was just lazy. I was a kid and I didn’t know what to think, except I hated berry picking.

For people like Gordon, you can forget about using radar in Crysis 2.

For people like Gordon, you can forget about using radar in Crysis 2.

Years later, myself and my brother had to get eyeglasses. One year the optometrist said “Have you ever been checked for colour blindness?” Nope. So he opens a flip book of strange coloured dots. “What do you see here?” Nothing. “And here?” A squiggly line. “Here?” Nothing again. “Are you sure you don’t see the number 13?” Nope. Nada. Zilch. The 13 was a berry and I couldn’t see it. It was unobtainable. “You have red-green colour deficiency.” My brother, you might ask, he did not. His colour vision was fine.

Red-green colour deficiency never really impacted my childhood. I had a NES, then a SNES, then a PC and video game life was good. When video game resolution and the ability to display colour increased, then the problems began. I could tell the difference between bright reds and greens, but it was more subtle shades and hues that caused problems.

The first time I played a game that I actually couldn’t play was a gem matching title like Bejeweled. All the gems were the same shape, just different colours. Ok. I can do this. Why won’t they join? Oh, two are green, one is yellow.

Real Time Strategy games can be great. Except when the units look 90% identical on both sides expect one has green shoulder pads and the other red. And the mini map doesn’t help either. It’s just a giant orgy of coloured dots and I can’t tell which are mine.

Turn Based Strategy and RPG games can be great. Except when the tiles change colour to indicate different things. Green means you can move here. Red means you’ll get attacked. Yellow means you MIGHT get attacked. All of that info is useless when you can’t tell which tile is which colour.

Like most of us, Gordon can't tell what's going on in Grotesque Tactics. Unlike the rest of us, he has an actual medical excuse.

Like most of us, Gordon can’t tell what’s going on in Grotesque Tactics. Unlike the rest of us, he has an actual medical excuse.

First Person Shooters are usually okay.  Except when part of the screen flashes red to indicate you were hit… somewhere… from behind?  The side?  Sometimes I don’t even notice it’s happening.

So what are some suggestions to developers to assist colour blind gamers? The number one suggestion is never (EVER) make colour the sole source of information for the player. There are lots of gem matching games out there, and most of them now have different shapes and symbols inside them to indicate which ones are which. You could take the colour out and still be able to play. For turn based / tactical / RPG don’t colour code the tiles on the ground, or if you do, put hit percentage numbers in the tiles for the player to see.

Every time a game uses colour as the sole provider of information you risk it being the berry in the bush. And I can’t see the berries.

Visit Gordon’s site.

There are several great developer tools available to simulate color blindness. Unreal Engine 4 has an excellent built-in color blindness simulator, under general/appearance/color. Photoshop has a more limited color blindness simulator, only covering the most common type, under view/proofing modes. Last is Color Oracle, a free piece of software for Mac / PC/ Linux that runs a single frame simulation on whatever is currently on your screen. Available from colororacle.org. For more information on how to design in a colorblind-friendly way, visit Game Accessibility Guidelines’ color-blindness page.

Indie Gamer Chick supports Game Accessibility Guidelines, a not-for-profit that provides free information for game developers on how to make their games more accessible to people with epilepsy, color blindness, and various other conditions. Support it. Use it. Live it.

UPDATE: Within two minutes of this being published, gamers and developers living with color blindness started to sound off. Here is ArcadeCraft’s developer:

Colorblind 3

 

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About Indie Gamer Chick
The most read Xbox Live Indie Game critic in the world.

One Response to I Can’t See the Berries – Gaming with Color Blindness

  1. Pingback: SteamWorld Heist | Indie Gamer Chick

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