3 main types of colourblindness

That time I met some colour blind gamers…

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Build: a game of sustainable development.

We use colour to communicate a lot in Build.

We took our game, Build, to a local(ish) board game club for a playtest recently. Nothing unusual there. We’ve spent quite a lot of time on tour of late. What caught our interest, though, was that a surprisingly large proportion of the group were colourblind gamers. Build uses colours quite a lot to code the players, the settlement cards and the resources so colour choice had been in the back of our mind for a long time. I had been aware that colourblind compliance was something we’d need to address. On the one hand they were genial and helpful (and wonderfully complementary about Build), on the other hand they opened my eyes (sorry!) to a number of questions.

Are many gamers colourblind?

How does it affect their experience?

What do I, a game designer, need to do?

Are many gamers colourblind?

According to the good people of Colour Blind Awareness, about 4.5% of the population experience a form of colourblindness. The 3 people in the games club on Thursday represented 15% of the club. So no wonder it felt like a high proportion. It is nearly twice as common in males as in females. A recent survey by Stonemaier games found that only 8% of their respondents were female. If our hobby is so male and these males are more likely to have colourblindness then Yes, we ought to be paying attention to colour issues. Mental note – consider the demographic issues in a future blog post.

How does it affect their experience?

3 main types of colourblindness

photo credit: Johannes Ahlmann

One of the playtesters in the group we visited repeatedly leaned over to his daughter, with his resource cubes in his hand for clarification about which was which. The only difference between the cubes was colour. Clearly, in the absence of a friendly face to help, this would totally spoil the game experience. You would not be able to judge your relative wealth. You would not be able to plan your next purchases. And, possibly worst of all, you’d put the cubes back in the wrong boxes.

Returning to the Colour Blind Awareness website, I find that they have a great set of tools for helping me to solve this problem.

Firstly, they show a slideshow which simulates the effect of the three main types of colourblindness.  This clearly shows the complexity of the issue. In some versions, the yellow has faded, in others it is clearly visible. In fact all the colours are problematic for some people. Hmmm. I can’t just choose, for instance, yellow, green and red to use in Build because some people won’t be able to tell some of the colours apart.

Of course the colour of our game artwork is not merely practical, it also has aesthetic purposes. Many of us relish the immersive beauty of game art. But how would a person with colourblindness view it?

The excellent blog Colblinder offers a useful tool. You can upload your own files and filter them according to colour blindness. This gives us a really powerful opportunity to see what our game looks like through colourblind eyes.

I uploaded a picture of Build. I filtered it by Red, green and blue blindness. Take a look at them. You can see that identifying the coloured cubes is really hard, almost impossible and that the settlements are also almost indistinguishable. Of course, all the shapes and the textures are there but the cues we gain from bright, distinct colours are taken away.

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What do I, a game designer, need to do?

A reference chart to compare colour perception.

Cog5games prepared this chart just ofr game designers.

Top of the list of answers: I need to consider it carefully, especially for a game like Build which relies on colour as a code for its resource cubes. I need four colours which are distinct from each other by all gamers, no matter how they perceive colour. Well, hello! Here, to the rescue comes cog5games, who shared this wonderful chart on Twitter. And look! It uses cubes! It couldn’t be a better fit for my needs.

If I examine this carefully, I can see that white always looks white and black always looks black. So that’s 2 colours chosen. From the remaining palette, there is always going to be an element of compromise but I can choose as wisely as I can. Yellow almost always looks yellow – although under Tritanopia it can appear violet or grey and blue always looks blue either purple-y or blue. Either way, they appear to be distinguishable from each other.

Next on the list was a suggestion made by one of the playtesters from our Thursday visit: Don’t use colours to distinguish, use shapes instead. You can imagine the accompanying forehead slap and “D’oh!” noise that I made. Of course! if we use shapes and icons to represent the resources, then the colour perception issue is moot.

I chose these icons to represent the four resources used in the game. Much clearer, I think you’ll agree. These were sourced from the excellent Noun Project which curates a collection of clear icons for almost everything.

Food:             Manufactured goods:        Knowledge:        Wealth:    

What next?

In the light of these findings, I have some further tweaks to be made to Build. The colour of the cubes will, I think, be chosen using the decisions I made above. The players are identified by coloured boards and by the stands used to hold their cards. These, too, will have to adhere to the black, white, yellow, blue choices I made. The settlement cards now bear the icons above to show their value and trade income. I will need to adjust the colour of the green food icon to white in order to match my new discoveries. Then, Further playtesting to check I’ve got it right!

I’m very grateful to the playtesters who brought these issues to my attention. I must also admit to a bit of melancholy that so many of our game playing colleagues are denied the full joy of so much great artwork to be found in games.

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