Colorblind Gaming 101: The Basics

Alongside reviews, profiles, and colorblind-friendly game mods, I hope these essays will help increase understanding of color vision deficiency and how it relates to gaming.

Color Vision Deficiency

Up to 90 percent of tabletop gaming is visual, and much of that information is color-specific. From player tokens to cards to the board itself, color is an integral part of the gaming experience. Unfortunately, for colorblind gamers, this information has little or no meaning or causes confusion, making play difficult or impossible.

An estimated 4-5 percent of the population have some sort of color vision deficiency, and others suffer from low vision. The effects of colorblindness are not well-documented, and in many cases game designers, developers, and publishers inadvertently alienate this part of the community.

The Science of Color Vision

Seeing behind your eyeballs with rods and cones. Two photoreceptors on the retina take information from the environment, through our eyes, and to the brain. The rods handle light-related information, and the cones handle color. The three cones take certain areas of the spectrum to the brain—red (R), green (G), or blue (B)—like an old “RGB” computer monitor. The combination of these three cones produces color vision.

If any of the cones has a problem, the color absorbed by that cone changes, which then changes the RGB combination received by the brain. Because any one of the cones can malfunction (or be missing altogether), the type and severity of colorblindness are nuanced. No colorblind person sees the world in exactly the same way as another, which is one reason addressing this issue is complicated. It’s also why running a game design through an online colorblind filter not enough.

The most common type of color vision deficiency is Deuteranomaly, a malfunctioning of the green cone. A red cone malfunction, called Protanomaly, is also possible. Rarely, one of these cones may be missing altogether; this is called Deutronopia (green) or Protanopia (red). Rarer still are malfunctioning or missing blue cones: Tritanomoly and Tritanopia.

One version of colorblind simulation (Source: Colour Blind Awareness)

The cone problems that cause color vision deficiency impact are much more than a single color. Any faulty or missing cone (red, green, or blue) impacts color identification along the entire spectrum. Our overall color perception tends to be lower, increasing color confusion and the ability to identify colors by name. 

Impacts of Colorblindness on Game Night

Get ready for a little math.

If six players sit down to the table, there is an estimated 4.25% chance any one of them is colorblind. Thus, by the power of compound probability of independent events (thanks, Kahn Academy), we know there is a 23% chance that at least one person at that table is colorblind.

If you were to run a larger game night with 40 gamers participating, there is an 82% chance at least one player at your event will be colorblind, which will impact multiple games and multiple tables during the event. A small convention of 100 is almost guaranteed to have at least colorblind attendee, and on average will have four. 1

“We’ve given up with board games.”

Recently on Twitter, in a thread related to color vision accessibility, I read this tweet from a mother of two colorblind children:

This response hit me hard. Anyone giving up on tabletop gaming is heartbreaking, and more work encouraging accessibility can help make it easier for more people to play more games.

Where do we go from here?

I’ll keep playing games and sharing my perspective, and finding others who are helping make more games accessible to more people. And I’m open to your ideas, too!

1 Calculation for at least one colorblind gamer at any gathering, assuming a 50/50 split of male and female players: 1- [(1-0.0425)^(number of players)]

Image Credits: Colour Blind Awareness; Stan Wiechers