Colourblind Gaming

Dan Griliopoulos, a lifelong gamer who suffers from deuteranopia, a form of red-green colourblindness, has written a very interesting essay about colour and game design. In this excerpt he’s playing Bioshock 2:

Bioshock 2 deuteranopia

I have a clever hacking dart gun, which requires my simply pressing a button when a needle on its meter passes through a certain colour. I shoot, I score … and get a mild electric shock. I repeat. Again and again. There’s an endless supply of darts so I keep shooting until I die of Electron Overdose and respawn, humiliated, at a Vitachamber. Yet again, someone on the art team has thoughtlessly swallowed the Manichean standard that red is bad and green is good, and decided he should use a primary palette to distinguish between these opposites — which means poor old colour-blind me gets killed.

In my case, both red and green appear as a murky yellow. Or so I’m told -– it’s not as though I’ve ever seen what green, red or yellow looks like to everyone else. Eventually, through trial and error, I worked out there are just-detectable contrast and location differences in the puzzle, and that if I focus really hard and fast, I can just work out which is which before the timer runs out. Bioshock 2 just got challenging.

… Here’s some tips for developers.

… How can a firm the size of Activision or EA consistently ignore what could be 8-12% of their paying customers? That could be a million of the people who bought Modern Warfare 2, for example.

~ Dan Griliopoulos @ Rock Paper Shotgun

The Photoshopped image below demonstrates roughly what the Bioshock 2 hacking dial looks like to someone with deuteranopia — you don’t see red, and you don’t see green, both look like dull gold:

Bioshock 2 Deuteranopia

Image borrowed from What BioShock 2’s Hacking Looks Like if You’re Colour Blind at Negative Gamer, which has more images simulating other types of color blindness.

The subject of color blindness and information systems is of interest to me professionally: I’ve recently done some research into web site accessibility, such as Section 508 requirements and the lawsuit.

If you are doing business with the federal government, this is a big legal deal.

And in any case, we should be designing information systems (and everything else) to work as well as possible for as many different people as possible.

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