Colourblind Gaming

Around one in ten British males are red-green colour blind, and I'm one of them. We outnumber wheelchair users by around ten to one. Whilst I see everything from buses to buildings designed for ease of wheelchair use, it's extremely rare to see anything designed for ease of colour-blind use. Car park meters which say "Insert coins and press the green button" are probably my biggest annoyance (I get my change refunded and no ticket about 50% of the time- and that's a major pain when I've spent two minutes trying to remember, let alone type in, my wife's car's registration number), closely followed by my Top Up TV schedule planner which has different on-screen instructions for different coloured remote control buttons depending on which sub-page I'm on (I have to learn it off by heart - second button from the left to confirm deletion).

In games, for the big names, colour blind players can be treated pretty well; Team Fortress 2 has teams of Red and Blu, easy to distinguish. Sometimes the design is good but the instructions are bad; instructions for Far Cry 2's diamond-hunting GPS says to watch the green flashing light- I've no idea which one is the green light, and even though I can only see one flashing light, for all I know that might be a red flashing light and I worry that there's another, green, light I can't see. Thankfully there are usually other cues such as sound or symbols.

Then there's the nigh-on impossible games. Torchlight, step forward. Whilst I can play this and have fun, apparently to really advance I need to look for items of a specific colour. Well, I can't. I'm getting enough enjoyment out of Torchlight to justify it's recent £3.75 special offer on Steam, but if I'd have paid full price, even at only fifteen quid, I'd be demanding my money back.

Thank God for discounts and try-before-you-buy demos.

You'll have noticed I've only talked about action/shooter games. To be quite honest I've given up on RTSes. I last played one about seven years ago and it was the usual mess of gazillions of tiny little coloured men/symbols/flags, none of which I could distinguish with any accuracy. I recall one medieval RTS where I not only couldn't distinguish the two opposing sides, but I couldn't even tell the soldiers from the trees. I can't imagine that this has got any better now that every blade of grass is rendered too.

Half Life and Quake wall switches that flip between red and green can sod right off, too.

Now I could understand this failure to accommodate disability if we accounted for a teeny tiny percentage of the developer's customer base, like, say, registered blind or amputees. But one in ten blokes? Having two daughters, I'd love to believe that this is a sign that games companies are targeting the female demographic (girls generally can't be colour blind, the genetic defect is almost entirely male and almost entirely white). But really, it's just a sign that the companies don't care. I mean, how much money do they save by designing a texture that is red/green instead of red/blue? Are blue pixels expensive?

It's not just the PC. I've also got a Wii. I have no idea whether I'm playing Mario or Luigi. Rubik's World is a bit hit-and-miss too.

Hey corporates, it's this simple. I have a nice enough job that I have to pay 40% tax. Cater for me and you'll get my money. Don't and you won't. You want to discriminate against ten percent of white males? Probably best not tell your shareholders about that.

Public Domain - Andrew Oakley - 2010-01-01

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