Color Blind Gamers

And now, a Public Service Announcement:

About 8% of males in the US are color blind, the most common type being red-green color blind, followed by the rarer blue-yellow color blind. If you are color blind, it literally means that the colors look the same to you — you see one color instead of two. If you mixed in some red marbles with green marbles, a red-green color blind person could not tell which were which.

Some people are color blind to some degree and don't even know it (how can you be aware of a difference you can't see?) and lots of people who do know are still shy about telling anyone. It's pretty normal to want to hide a disability, even one as mild as color blindness.

What does all this have to do with gaming? It means there is about a 50% chance there is someone with color blindness in your gaming group whether you know it or not.

When you set up the battlemap, and place all those nice markers and say something like “the green ones are the elves, the red ones are the orcs,” someone at the table may just be nodding and maybe squinting a little and trying to figure out which are which. That player who is really bad at those swirling battlemap combats might not be such an awful tactician, he might just have a lot less information to work with than you think.

Take a look at the pieces for many war/board games — it's clear that the industry does not recognize this problem. Lots of games use colored pieces for different players with shades that can be hard to tell apart even if you're not color blind (were my units tan, sandy or brown?)

What can you do to avoid it being a problem at your table?

Classic games like chess and checkers use colors with strong contrast (black and white, red and black) making it easy to tell them apart. A color blind person can still see differences in brightness, even when they can't distinguish colors, so a pale red looks different than a dark green. A tip for industry game designers: take a black and white picture of your pieces and see if you can tell them apart.

You can also use symbols or shapes in place of colors. Use d6 for the orcs and pennies for the elves. Playing cards use symbols that make the colors redundant once you know which are which (spades are always black, hearts are always red). If you are drawing on the battlemap or whiteboard, use different types of lines to represent different features (squiggly lines for water, dashed lines for a spell radius) instead of just relying on color.

Last but not least, you can always just ask people. Not everyone will appreciate being put on the spot, so remember to wear your tact hat.

    Ben Robbins | March 18th, 2007 | | hide comments
  1. #6 Jessica says:

    Not an online gamer – just a mom searching around for a color blind friendly checkers set for my five year old son – just want to point out that he has partial red/green color deficiency (the most common kind) and red and black are NOT high contrast – in fact they look the same to him most of the time. Outside in bright light he can see the difference but not inside and not on a computer screen. Playing cards all look the same to him but he can use the shape of the suits to tell the difference. Red is a good color to use for high contrast if you think of it as the same as black. I use red vs. yellow to show high contrast.

  2. #5 deadlytoque says:

    I had -exactly- that problem with Alpha Centauri. I am mildly nonspecific-colourblind due to MS, and so certain dark colours (reds, greens, purples, and browns, mostly) blend together into a muddy grey-brown.

    That said, it hasn’t impacted me much at the gaming table, since I can differentiate bright colours.

    That said, there are still major problems in colour-usage in games. In my copy of Axis & Allies, for example, it’s almost impossible to tell which units are British and which are Japanese except by shape, since one is a yellowish-brown and the other a brownish-yellow.

  3. #4 J says:

    In response to p, the only time that I have ever seen explicit colorblind support was in Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri, there was a patch released to make the life giving, fertile green terrain easier to differentiate from the deadly, alien fungus infested red terrain. Classy move, and I really respect the move to correct a game breaking problem for a lot of players.

  4. #3 p says:

    Being moderately red/green colorblind myself I can only say “YAY!” that someone is mentioning this. All the people I game with regularly know that both me and my brother have this condition so they compensate and help point things out. It has caused an issue a time or two “No, you can’t attack with them, those are MY units.” but usually ok.

    I wish people who made computer games thought of this as well, since it is much tougher to compensate. Some otherwise very entertaining games are unplayable for me as I literally cannot tell the difference between certain colors.

  5. #2 G says:

    Just wanted to say that.. yeah. My DM is (partially) colorblind and there are times, especially when we play some board games, when his inability to differentiate between certain colors is a massive hindrance.

    He either memorizes two sets of the pieces (i.e. the ones he can’t tell apart) or he has to continually ask people which pieces are which (and gives away what his plan is).

  6. #1 scholz says:

    I ran an online game of Diplomacy back in the 90s using beautiful color maps that I updated after every turn. Some of the players were known to me, others were from different parts of the world. One of my allies, Italy(I was Turkey), was prone to making all sort of mistakes, miswriting his orders etc..For a while I thought it was some sort of ploy (like a poker player pretending to have a ‘show’ only to fool others) to explain his playing on two sides. But, these errors never really seemed to help him, so if it wasa ploy, it was a pretty weak one. I was almost ready to just back stab him and control those territories myself when he sent me an email (after I complained again). He explained that he was totally blind, and that a friend described the board to him, and he read the various orders that I sent by email using a braile reader.
    I was damn impressed. He stayed my ally and we faught to the inevitable stand still.

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