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Are Color Blind Gamers Left Out? [Science]

Color blindness affects a significant portion of the population (5% of men and %.5 of women); game developers are finally noticing and tweaking games so success doesn’t hinge on whether or not you can tell red from green.

The BBC shares and interesting article on the impact of color blindness and the enjoyment of video games. Roughly 1 in 20 men and 1 in 200 women are afflicted with some type of color blindness. Video games often rely very strongly on color schemes to distinguish between critical things in the game (friend from foe, good power up from bad, and so on) but these visual cues are muted or totally inaccessible to the color blind.

In the screenshot here, for example, we see a scene from Call of Duty: Black Ops with the colors adjusted to show how a person afflicted with red/green color blindness would see it. One of the characters on screen is an enemy and one is a friend, someone without color blindness would see a bright red name tag and a bright green name tag–without those cues you can’t tell them apart and will often shoot your teammates. Unlike most games, however, you can pause Call of Duty: Black Ops and in the player menu, switch to a more color blind-friendly scheme (bright blue and bright orange, which provide a much better contrast than red/green).

What’s interesting is that the concessions needed to accommodate color blind players are very minor, yet remain largely unadopted. As BBC technology writer David Lee notes in this video treatment of the topic, all it takes to make the koopa shells in Mario Kart color blind friendly isn’t a special color scheme but simply making the pattern on the shells different. Ticket to Ride, a popular railway building board game, uses the color/pattern combo–each unique color railway on the board also has a unique symbol on it so the board, even when viewed in completely black and white, is easily navigable.

Hit up the link below to read the full article and watch the video about color blindness and gaming. Have personal experience with color blindness and gaming (or computer/technology use in general)? Let’s hear about it in the comments.

Are Color Blind Gamers Left Out? [BBC]

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 04/20/11

Comments (14)

  1. Jack

    Black ops is a bad example, in the settings it has an alternate colour scheme for the writing above the characters for this reason.

  2. Reese

    I just want to say my teacher in 6 grade (I am 30 now) she told me that women can not be color blind. Now I can tell her she is WRONG!

  3. Deed

    As a color-blind gamer myself (Red-weak), I can confirm this is a problem. I’m surprised they highlight Black Ops though, MW2 was worse (COD4 always had very distinct team uniforms, and W@W had the alternate scheme already). Infinity Ward neglected to port it to MW2 from W@W. Its no big hindrance, since it’s only a problem when you turn a corner and an enemy name tag shows up immediately (in which case I don’t shoot and so die, LOL).

    Puzzle games are the real problem. Using symbols as well as color on ‘bubble pop’ and similar solves all the issues with little effort.

    With team colors, having blue as default friendlies and red as enemies would solve all issues (well, very few people can’t distinguish blue from red). Red/Green radar schemes are absolutely useless to me personally (glad COD usually uses arrows for friendly players, unlike many games).

  4. SeaJohn

    Great. How long will it be before Congress passes a law requiring all video games, apps, etc. make provision for color blind persons?

  5. purplegreendave

    A much worse example is puzzle games – I can never distinguish between green/yellow, blue/purple in any bubble games :(

  6. Lady Fitzgerald

    @ Deed. Actually, blue/green color blindness is common in women. I’ve fought color blindness descrimination all my life. When I worked for a public utility, I couldn’t get into the apprenticeship program for lineman or machine shop (either machinist or metal fabricator) because the apprenticeship rules banned color blind people, even if the specific trade did not require the ability to recognize all colors. By the time they did change it, I was too old to qualify (age 35 was the upper limit; the ageism wasn’t eliminated until I really was too old).

    Everytime some moron wanted to color code office records, etc., I would speak up. They were surprised to find out how many employees were color blind to some degree or another. While I do see color, it’s not the same as other people. I have both red/green (most common in males) and blue/green (most common in women) although, according to the tests that use a zillion little dots in a circle that form a number if you have a certain kind of color blindeness, I can see only in black and white (hah!). The color that has given me the most trouble is red. When red LED displays were still common, I had one heckuva time reading the darned things, especially in bright light. In daylight, I had trouble telling if a red traffic light was on; I got by by assuming that if the yellow or green light (which looks white to me) wasn’t on, then the red was. The newer LED traffic lights are brighter so it’s not a problem anymore.

  7. Mike_NJ

    I am colorblind.

    My color differentiation problems range between green-blue, blue-purple, green-brown, brown-red, red-green, depending on context.
    While I can easily see the colors of the rainbow in the first example as given on the Colorblindness page on Wikipedia, for example, I have difficulty discerning any of the numerals depicted in the various graphics.

    I have found a large number of games that I’m unable to play due to my problem.
    Some that come to mind are the Metroid Prime series, CoD, MW2, as mentioned…

    This is saddening because these are games I want to play.

    Further, there are some games whose content I cannot enjoy due to my problem.
    Everquest’s Crystal Caverns, Feerott, Droga, and Nurga zones all come to mind.
    Everquest 2′s Feerott, Everfrost Peaks, and others
    World of Warcraft’s Swamp of Sorrows, Molten Core, and Onyxia’s Lair…

    Yes, I know WoW recently implemented a Color Blind toggle, but all that does is alter certain characteristics of the game UI – it doesn’t change the *environment.*

    Now, I realize sweeping changes or other options to fix the environment is not likely at all, but simple changes to make the UI much easier to use for folks with my “affliction” should be as simple as a toggle.

  8. Lady Fitzgerald

    @ SeaJohn. I’m surprised Congress doesn’t pass laws (and I wish they would) regarding provisions for colorblindness. It’s the most common handicap yet no provisions are made for it.

    @ purplegreen dave. Neither can I. If the sky turned purple tomorrow, I would never know it unless someone told me. I used to drive green forklifts. I knew they were green because that’s what people told me. They sure as heck looked yellow to me. Certain shades of green and brown look identical to me. I have a hard time seeing red, especially if the lighting is less than stellar. I had to as a waitress to read parts of the menu at a restaurant because the text was in red and the light was dim. The rest was easy to read (actually, all I needed to do was dig the flashlight out of my purse but I wanted to make a point about their thoughtless use of red).

  9. Deed

    @Lady Fitzgerald – When it comes to color blindness, some types are (obviously) more common than others. I’m sure you’ll be aware of the reasons the condition is more common in males than females, but of course that doesn’t mean it doesn’t occur in women (although relatively 0.05% is orders of magnitude smaller than 5%). Point is, and perhaps I’ve worded my previous response incorrectly, that Blue/Red seems to be the system which overall would produce the greatest percentage usability. For HUDs in games it’s tricky to produce a ‘one scheme for all’ solution, ‘alternate schemes’ are most likely the way forward.

    As for the law – not a US citizen here so what congress does pretty much means jack to me. Haven’t really found discrimination to be a problem (yet).

    Relevant video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NRtqjoetzps

  10. Josh B.

    This article is misleading; colorblind people can see SOME red and green. the image isn’t quite right.

  11. Tony
  12. blindman457

    I suffer from congenital varicella syndrome, my macular’s are completely destroyed and i have seveere scaring across the back of my eyes as well as damage to my retinas, I am colourblind as well as only being able to see at a 3/60 ratio in one eye and 1/100 in the other, that means when you are looking at an object 60 or one hundred meters away, I have to be 3 or 1 meter away from it to be visible, that also means how hard it is to see at 60/100 is even harder for me to see then you. (don’t get me started on how blury it is)
    I am legally blind in Australia, no driver or gun license :( I can get a dog when I’m old enough! :)

    BUT, I am an addicted gamer, I’ve played every single COD (1, united offensive, 2, big ed one, cod4, mw2, bo, waw, you get the picture) as well as played halo from CE to Reach (Reach wasn’t as good as i’d hoped) i have played some battlefield games but the vision and haze was murdering my eyes, to the point where I’d sit with a sniper and try and get a guy across the room and miss!

    I didn’t know there was a more colour blind friendly option in black ops and I’ve just entered my 5th prestige so I’ll have to give that a go. I’ve been playing fps since I was about 8, I”m 15 now and I don’t need visual cues, I have a turtle beach playing an xbox 360 and I use footsteps, gunfire and look for friendly skulls on the map so I know theres someone around there.

  13. Terry

    The background has a lot to do with it.
    I cant pick out the brown snooker ball from the reds on a green background. On a white background I can see a difference in shade.

  14. Rodger

    It’s about time.

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