Colour Blindness in Games

From completing puzzles to distinguishing enemies from allies, colour is implemented for a vast range of purposes in games. So what happens when 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women are affected by colour blindness? A large number of games have options in their settings that cater for their colour blind players. 

Filters 

‘Perhaps the most common way of implementing colour blind accessibility in is including modes for the different types of colour blindness via a whole-screen filter. This is meant to target the problem colours for colour blind people; however, these filters tend to oversaturate the entire colour palette, resulting in some undesirable colours’. ⁽¹⁾ Here are some examples:  

Call of Duty 

Originally COD’s colour blind settings would only effect its HUD and map but it’s 2014 release, Advanced Warfare, introduced filters for gameplay too. 

‘Overall, the colour palette seems unchanged; there is some slight subtle discolouration with certain aspects of the map. The most noticeable difference, is the colour of the stairs through the scope of the gun, which appears more purple [than red] with colour blind mode enabled’. ⁽¹⁾ The difference is also apparent in the sky as it has a much more green tone in the colour blind mode. 

colour blind left / default right 

The colour blind mode in Ghosts is much more noticeable. As shown in the image below, the red tones are purplish when colour blind mode is enabled. For the majority of cases, red and green colours are too similar so ‘colour blind mode adds a tinge of reddish bright pink to help the players differentiate between the two [but] this comes off as unnatural, even to those with colour blindness’. ⁽¹⁾ 

colour blind left / default right 

Conclusion 

‘Whole screen filters are, typically, not the best approach to colour blind accessibility. 
– Compressing the entire colour palette pushes hues away from the problematic areas and bunches them closely up against other hues, swapping colour clashes for other colour clashes. 
– Changing all of the colours that are distinguishable to those with colour blindness makes the game look bizarre and unnatural. 
– Do not alter that which does not need to be altered. 
– Help the player distinguish between vital information necessary to play the game. 
– A player should not experience colours in games differently than they perceive them naturally in the world’
. ⁽¹⁾ 

I am inclined to agree with the above conclusion. The unrealistic colours can be distracting and disorienting for players, especially if they already struggle with colour differentiation. The drastic changes to environment colour palettes is unnecessary and hinders gameplay more than it helps. 

DOOM 

DOOM uses the same idea of a filters that cover the HUD, map and gameplay. ‘DOOM inherently uses a lot of reds; notice how turning on deuteranopia mode drowns all of these out, which essentially makes all the colours bland and muted’. ⁽¹⁾ 

colour blind bottom / default top 

Customisable Colours 

‘Another way to implement colour blind accessibility in video games is to include preset or customisable colour combinations, based on types of colour blindness, for representing different types of vital information in the game. This method tends to receive more favourable feedback from those with colour blindness since it only induces changes in colours that are problematic without altering the rest of the game’s colour palette’. ⁽¹⁾ 

Battlefield 4 

‘Battlefield 4 changes the colours of specific essential visual indicators, such as the colour of UI elements related to the player’s squad, team and enemy. Additionally, as many people do not know their classification of colour blindness, the game instructs players: “If colour blind, choose the team colours that differentiate the most among each other”‘. ⁽¹⁾ 

Destiny 

‘Similar to Battlefield 4, Destiny offers preset colour palettes for these three types of colour blindness’. ⁽¹⁾ 

Conclusion 

‘Ideally, provide the option to let players select and customise colours for vital information. 
– These can be applied to outlines, health bars, icons, names, object indicators, etc…
– One size does not fit all. 
– There are varying degrees of colour blindness, so customisation can offer a personal and, ultimately, more optimal experience’
. ⁽¹⁾ 

I fully agree with this statement. Less is not more when it comes to accessibility and offering players the ability to customise their experience to their specific needs or preferences is a huge plus for a game. 

Iconography 

‘Perhaps the best approach to colour blind accessibility is including iconography as a form of supplementary conveyance. While it is always best practice to convey information via multiple methods (eg: audio, visual and textual conveyance), is is not always plausible. It is imperative that vital game information not be conveyed solely by colour, as it colour negatively impact the experience of a player who struggles to see a specific colour’. ⁽¹⁾ 

Grand Theft Auto V 

‘GTA V, as well as many of the games in the GTA series, include icons as a form of conveyance. Although there is a colour assigned to specific icons, colour alone is not relied upon to understand what they mean’. ⁽¹⁾ 

Hearthstone 

‘In a 2016, changes were made to the card collection UI on Hearthstone. ‘While it may be possible that these changes are purely aesthetic and were not implemented with usability in mind, there are now colours associated with specific heroes for each of your deck. In addition to these colours, Blizzard also incorporated each hero’s symbol used on the tabs of the card collection UI. Again, including this iconography not only allows the player to make an association between the hero/colour/icon, but not rely solely on colour as the only source of information’

Conclusion 

‘Avoid relying on colour alone (by adding symbols, text, varying enemy design, etc.) 
– If not possible, include a simple colour palette that can be used as a single-colour choice that is not problematic for those with colour blindness (eg, dark orange/light blue). 
– If neither of these are possible, a brief review of the game aspects that absolutely need to be differentiated in order to successfully play the game (eg, teammates vs enemies) can be done to decide if specific UI/gameplay elements can be modified’
. ⁽¹⁾ 

I like the idea of symbols to indicate points of interest or icons but they can be difficult to read in certain situations, such as fast paced multiplayer shooters. Icons can be great but, for me personally, they would have to fit the genre and pacing of the game to be effective. 

References 

(1) Bill Hardin. (2016). Colorblind Accessibility in Video Games – is the industry heading in the right direction?. 
Available: https://www.gamersexperience.com/colorblind-accessibility-in-video-games-is-the-industry-heading-in-the-right-direction/
Last accessed 14th Nov 2020.

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