I’ve had the great honor of connecting with colorblind players, designers, developers, artists, and content creators in the board game community. Arwen Kathke is the host of the Cardboard Time Podcast, which features game reviews and regular updates on her progress tackling her Shelf of Shame. She was kind enough to answer several questions related to her experiences as a colorblind gamer.
How did you get into tabletop games?
I’ve always played games from the time I was a kid (Monopoly, Life, Don’t Break the Ice, etc.), but didn’t get into the hobby until around 2010 or so. I was on a work trip during the 4th of July to see my friends Justin and Tweed, and it was about 110 degrees F outside, so we decided to hang out in the air conditioning. Tweed introduced me to DungeonQuest (I know, not the standard Catan or Carcassonne pathway, for sure) and I was instantly hooked. I started picking up hobby games like Talisman, Formula D, and Illuminati, and I haven’t looked back.
When and how did you learn about your own color vision deficiency?
I actually learned about it when I visited the eye doctor for the first time. We had vision checks that I somehow passed with flying colors in grade school, but my mother noticed that I was squinting a lot. The doctor said that I was both very nearsighted and that I had some colorblindness issues (he ran the standard Ishihara tests).
It didn’t mean a whole lot to me at the time, other than being subject to the common “what color do you think this is?” that we endure when people learn that about you. It became MUCH more important as I became more serious about the gaming hobby.
What “kind” of color vision deficiency do you have?
I have Deuteranopia for sure, although I don’t think that I’m limited to just that. I tend to have a tough time between reds and greens, some blues and purples, yellow and green can look similar, and green and brown gives me trouble. The red and green player pieces are a particular problem since they’re such common colors in board gaming.
What do you wish people would know about your vision deficiency?
It does get to be kind of embarrassing when people in public spaces hold up 20 different objects and ask “What color is this?” “What color is that?” when they find out I have a color vision deficiency. I tend not to talk about it until it’s absolutely necessary, and then I dread the inevitable follow-up questions. I think responding with “How can we help you enjoy this more?” or “Is there a color set that you would like to use to make things easier?” (which my friends do a lot) makes me feel a lot better about the situation.
What color vision issues have you experienced in other parts of life?
While I was still in the factory, we would color code parts as a tertiary backup system for identification in case the two primary mechanisms failed. I was basically excused from doing any sort of work relating to those parts once I informed them that I would not be able to distinguish between those parts if I had to use that system.
Do you experience any advantages because of your vision impairments?
Other than looking insanely cute in glasses, I don’t believe so.
Are there any color-based games you assumed you couldn’t play, but surprised you?
At Origins in 2019, I saw a demo of Calico and thought I was not going to be able to play due to the color issues. I still picked it up (I knew my girlfriend would enjoy it, and I really thought the theme was pretty cute) and I was very pleasantly surprised at the use of double coding to distinguish between colors. Let’s just say I’ve had QUITE a few plays of that one since I picked it up.
What are your favorite games?
I’m glad that you said favorite games with a plural. I have such a tough time deciding. Gloomhaven has been a big favorite of mine. I just really love the exploration and story behind it. I’ve probably played more Space Base than any other game I own. Everdell is an amazingly themed game, and I’ve been able to pull more non-gamers into a heavier experience. Calico, as I’ve mentioned above. The Networks still holds up to this day as an incredibly hysterical yet sound game. The Quacks of Quedlinburg is an outstanding press-your-luck experience. And finally, Alchemists is probably the game that I WISH I could play more, but just don’t have the time or people to play with. I could possibly do a top 10, 50, or 100, but any of those would take me a year to figure out and decide on the order… if I could.
Any closing thoughts on accessibility in gaming?
I’m really glad to see that designers are starting to take color vision and other accessibility issues more seriously. There are definitely ways to address these issues (designers are already doing so in many cases), and the more people we can get to the table enjoying and playing games on an even level, the better.
More from Arwen
To learn more about the podcast, check out the Cardboard Time Podcast wherever you listen. I recommend two episodes in particular:
A Discussion on Accessibility and Colorblindness in Gaming. Alongside several game reviews, Arwen and I discuss colorblindness and other accessibility issues in board games.
The Journey to Find My True Self. Arwen bravely shares her transition experience: “I’ve been part of and have witnessed multiple instances of trans people finally getting to step out in public in gaming related spaces for the first time. I’ve been told that being out and open gave some trans people confidence in their own journey. This is the least I can do to try to be open and visible to those who are just starting on their own journey.”
“Trans people are just that…people. People trying to be their true selves. Life doesn’t have to end at being trans. It can truly begin.”