Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A game of a different color: design for accessibility

In an earlier post, I deconstructed the design of Candy Crush and sang the praises of a lot of the smart decisions that the designers made that improved engagement, increased replayability and fine-tuned the concept of social. It was clear to anyone who read it that I love Candy Crush (I've now passed my sister and am holding steady at level 213). But this week, my husband deleted Candy Crush from his phone, frustrated because he could no longer engage with the game as I can.

John is severely color-blind. I learned early on in our relationship that I couldn't use color as a reference to things. Instead of color, I would have to rely on shape or size or location or any other identifying characteristic to describe something to him. It made me realize how much I rely on color as a differentiator, and challenged me to notice more details about things so that I could have more effective conversations with him.

For weeks, we've been playing Candy Crush together. We cycle through different games, but this one had stuck for awhile. I'm a lot more competitive than him, so John had lagged behind a bit in his quests. Over the weekend, he got to the level where Candy Crush introduces bombs. On previous levels, John was able to differentiate game pieces by their shape. He even gave them names: Werther's, Mike & Ike's, lollipops...John had figured out a work around to the color coding and so could play just like me. When he got to the bomb levels, however, there was no work around. John would have to ask me or the kids what color a bomb was, which frustrated and annoyed him. After getting past a few levels with our support, he finally gave up. Candy Crush had introduced a design element that prevented him from being able to play the game.

This isn't the first game he's had to give up on. Even board games that have color-coded die force John to rely on others to navigate the game play (I'm looking at you, Smart Ass). He gets frustrated that simple design elements could easily be included to overcome reliance on color, but that designers are only focused on color-abled players. Did you know that 1 in 6 men are colorblind? This is a huge, significant player population.

In our family of 8, we have 2 colorblind family members and 1 bionic boy that is 85% deaf.  For us, helping each other navigate the world without reliance on color and sound is a way of life, and a big part of our lives is playing games. While we understand that there are some limitations of design that just can't be overcome (it's never going to be easy for Vardan to play football because he can't hear his teammates on the field), what's particularly frustrating is when there are easy ways for games to be designed that provide access for the broadest possible player populations.

So, here is my request:
Dear game designers, please consider that a significant portion of your players have disabilities. Your design decisions have a serious impact on the playability of your game. Design standards exist to help you identify how to overcome many of the design traps that can alienate players with disabilities. Please use them. And if you decide to not use them, make it a conscious decision - you can't claim ignorance towards designing for accessibility anymore.

Oh, and while I'm at it?
Dear Santa Barbara, painting your curbs red or green to indicate where street parking is available is a complete accessibility fail. Seriously? Red and green? For the love of all of your colorblind residents, please reconsider your design choices there.

a person who believes accessibility is not a design constraint but an opportunity for BETTER design


  1. Well done! A casual games study a few years back surveyed over 13,000 players of video games. More than a fifth self-identified as having some form of disability, with almost half of those experiencing physical or vision disabilities. Designing for challenges results in more inclusive products.

    1. Thanks Kel - gotta keep fighting the good fight :)

  2. Gray piece. You mentioned web design standards, but although the underlying conditions are the same the actual implementation is a bit different for games. Here are some game specific guidelines -

    The study that Kel mentions was done by PopCap. There's a full summary and breakdown available online, it is definitely worth a look.. and their 20% stat doesn't even take into account the 8% of males (it's more like 1 in 12 than 1 in 6, but that's still a huge number) who are colourblind, or the 14% of adults who have the reading ability of a young child.

    1. You can thank my phone for the auto correct, that was meant to say GREAT piece, not gray!

    2. Thanks Ian - great info and resources. I will definitely check out the game specific guidelines!

  3. We're absolutely pleased I actually used your time to master with in the initial area.

    steam gift cards

  4. Well, well, You wrote on A game of a different color: design for accessibility, it's great help to improve our thinking..

    Android Developer

  5. These are great suggestions! I hope that the developers and designers take the needs of each person into account when they're working on games and such. My friend is a designer and I think I think it would be great for website designers here in Toronto to take these things into account as well when they're designing their webpages. I will have to show her this article.