Today I’m excited to share a guest article from Sarah Reed. Sarah and her husband Will have designed several published games, including Project Dreamscape and Oaxaca: Crafts of a Culture, and they are featured in the upcoming Dice & Ink roll-and-write anthology. You can follow Sarah on Twitter at @EuroGamerGirl.
Heya! Brian recently saw this tweet about modifying Qwirkle to make it colorblind friendly and invited me to write a guest piece on modifying games for vision challenges.
Not only do I have a coworker who is low vision and colorblind, but my husband is both legally blind and colorblind. In fact, most of my husband’s family has severe vision impairments, so I have a fair bit of experience playing games with people of varying vision.
For the most part, we choose games that are already accessible with help from a sighted person. This means we look for games with mostly-to-all open information, little-to-no spatial aspects, and nothing that is timed or requires hand-eye coordination. Even with these restrictions, we find a lot of great games that still need a little bit of modification. So far, I’ve found that the modifications have ended up helping everyone, including non-visually impaired folks.
As I said, one of my coworkers is colorblind and low vision. She enjoys Qwirkle quite a bit, but red and orange look the same to her, and blue looks similar to green and purple. Especially at the distance she sits from the tableau of tiles, it’s really hard for her to make the distinction, which then requires her to ask for assistance. Since she’s supposed to keep her tiles secret in Qwirkle, asking for help gives other players clues about to what is in her hand.
One thing I have learned from gaming with my husband is that decision making shouldn’t be made on color distinction alone. Symbols should be used, hopefully as the dominant way to discern one choice from another. Qwirkle already uses shapes in a different way, so that wasn’t an option. However, it didn’t mean I couldn’t add another symbol to make a further distinction.
I remembered back to my childhood and how my grandmother’s Rummikub set had a black dot on all of the orange tiles to differentiate them from the red tiles. So I simply added a black dot to the middle of the orange Qwirkle tiles. To make the distinction between blue and green or purple, I used a silver sharpie to add a plus sign on the blue tiles. I probably could have used a black dot on blue as well, since orange and blue aren’t confusing for my coworker, but I decided to go that extra step to make it completely different, just in case. Who knows if future coworkers will have a different type of colorblindness or vision impairment?
Finding a light-weight game that Will’s family would play was quite the challenge. It had to have mostly open information and be easy to understand. Incan Gold was a really good choice, except for one vision related issue: the two cards you use to indicate whether you are staying or going are horrible for anyone’s vision, and this graphic design choice makes the game unplayable for someone with visual limitations.
The big problems with the Incan Gold cards are that there is very little contrast between any of the colors in the art and everything is dark overall. High contrast is needed for those with vision impairments, or for anyone playing in poor lighting. I’d also contend that there should have been a straight-forward symbol rather than art. A big trap that a lot of publishers fall into is using art when they should use icons.
With the graphic design so terrible that even fully sighted people had trouble, I knew our family wouldn’t have a chance. We had to come up with another way to make this choice, and it had to rely on something other than visual cues.
We had recently picked up a large bag of smooth blue stones for another purpose. Since we had extras, we grabbed some of those and gave one to each player. When a choice needed to be made, everyone took their stone and put their hands below the table. Each player either put the stone in their hand or not, then everyone put their balled fist up above the table. Once everyone made their choice, we opened our hands. A stone in the hand meant they were leaving (and taking all their treasure with them); an empty hand meant they’re continuing to search for more.
We found this simple change was easy for everyone to understand, and it sped up the game for everyone. I can only hope that a future printing of the game will improve the two decision cards, or maybe, just maybe, use a tactile component in a fun way.
Hopefully these changes will spark ideas in your mind on ways to modify other games to make them more visually accessible. If they did, please leave a comment on what modifications you made to which games!