Next time you are playing a video game online and a member of your own team shoots you – spare a thought: they could be colour blind.
And here I thought it was just because they were fed up with me saying ‘Oh, hang on, what does this button do?’ before bringing every enemy for miles down on us with a misplaced distress flare…
The inability to easily distinguish between certain colours is a problem that affects about one in 20 men, and one in 200 women.
For video gamers, it can mean some parts of games become vastly more difficult – such as when opposing teams are distinguished by the colours red and green, or if other crucial on-screen indicators feature similar shades.
Yes, I can see that would indeed be a problem. But given the creativity in the industry, hopefully not an insurmountable one?
Despite the large numbers of gamers affected…
Errr, hold up! Those figures quoted are for the population as a whole, but gamers are only a tiny subset of this. So we are therefore talking about very, very few people indeed, surely?
…awareness among the development community is comparatively low.
Because it’s not going to be a huge number of people affected…
Graham Hodson, a gamer from Stockton-on-Tees, was so frustrated at the use of red and green in Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 that he and his wife started a campaign to get colour blind-friendly features added.
Which can be done quite easily, as we’ll see, by innovative game design and an awareness of the issues spreading through social media and audience feedback. But for some people, that’s never enough, and only legislation will fix the problem!
Kathryn Albany-Ward is the founder of Colour Blind Awareness, a UK group seeking charity status. She said that examples like this were common, not just in games, but in other walks of life.Her colour blind son had great difficulty carrying out some of the puzzles featured in Lego Indiana Jones.
She believes that games companies should be doing more to cater for the condition, and that in cases where a game has colour-dependent features, warnings should be placed clearly on the box.
So, for the tiny percentage of people this might adversely affect, we’ll just make a company make the necessary changes to 100% of the packaging?
“I think they have a duty to do it because of the numbers [of people] involved,” she said. ”It’s like a ‘contains traces of nuts‘ label, so at least you know you’re not wasting your money.”
Yes, indeed, and there’s a valid reason for that sort of legislation. If someone with a severe nut allergy eats a trace amount of peanut, the consequences are – potentially – death.
Real death; they don’t get a chance to respawn from the last save point…
A source at PEGI – the group which rates games for objectionable content – told the BBC that colour blindness, like other disabilities, would not come under their rating remit.
Hardly surprising, as that’s not their function, so one wonders why the Beeb reporter would even bother to ask them?
However, David Vonderhaar, lead programmer at Treyarch, had a different suggestion.
“Don’t do that!” he told the BBC.
“Have good design that lets the game have multiple visual clues and uses colour in a way that’s beneficial but doesn’t restrict colour blind gamers. It’s frankly not that hard.”
And so doesn’t require yet more blanket action. More legislation. More monitoring to ensure companies are complying with this legislation.
Treyarch, also part of Activision, is responsible for Black Ops, the most recent incarnation of the Call of Duty series and now the biggest-selling game of all time.
“I think it’s a big challenge for games designers. There are thoughts about using coloured lenses and contrast filters within spectacle lenses that try to push the red and green wavelengths further apart. Even just adjusting brightness or contrast on screens can just push any specific colour problem slightly apart and give you more contrast than you’d normally perceive. I would have thought the games designers could be given an ‘avoid these colours’ chart to help most colour blind problems.”
Even better than that, why not enlist colour-blind designers to…
Oh. You’re way ahead there:
Mr Vonderhaar’s team’s judgement on colour issues is helped by one highly innovative cog in the design process. ”Our lead tester is colour blind,” he said. ”Basically we wait for him to be miserable, and if he’s not, that’s how we know we’re getting somewhere. That’s almost how simple it is for us.”
See? But of course, that doesn’t provide a publicity/employment opportunity for our pal, Ms Albany Ward, does it?