What It's Like To Play Games When You're Colourblind

What It's Like To Play Games When You're Colorblind

The first time I realised my colour blindness was affecting how I played games was back in 2004. EA was fresh off of MVP Baseball 2004 and was looking to improve on a game that I still hold as one of the best sports titles of all time. Their big addition for MVP Baseball 2005 was the Hitter's Eye, a mechanic designed to simulate how hitters pick up different pitches coming out of a pitcher's hand. The ball would stay white for a fastball, or flash red or green for a breaking ball or changeup respectively.

What It's Like To Play Games When You're Colorblind

The ball flashes red here right before the pitcher releases it to indicate curveball. I'm told it works great when you can actually see what red looks like.

The Hitter's Eye wrecked me for the first few games. I swung and missed at changeups that I thought were curveballs and sliders that I thought were changeups until I got fed up and turned off the feature entirely. Friends have told me that the Hitter's Eye was one of the best things about MVP Baseball 05, but that major selling point was lost on me.

Welcome to life as a colorblind gamer.

What It's Like To Play Games When You're Colorblind

It's hard to simulate, but similar hues like this Borderlands 2 text actually bleed together for people like me and make it hard to differentiate the letters.

Fast forward seven years and I'm roaming across Pandora with a pack of Vault Hunters in Borderlands 2 — friends that I've known since college in real life. We're basking in the spoils of our latest raid when a trade request for one of my new guns pops up from my buddy Mike.

"Do you swear these guns have the same rarity?" I asked

"Totally," he said. "I promise they're both purple."

I hit 'accept' and hear Mike snickering.

"Damn it, Mike!"

Who the hell decided that a rarity ranking system should include blue, purple AND magenta text all on a bluish-purple background anyway?

What It's Like To Play Games When You're Colorblind

These enemies in Guacamelee! are supposed to be distinctly red and green, but when they're next to each other I can't tell which is which.

There's rarely a game where my colour blindness doesn't rear its head in some way. My latest bane is Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition, a game that I had been tearing through like an unstoppable suplex machine until I met the enemies with four different coloured overshields that require specific attacks to break.

I can't tell which shield is which when they're next to each other so I'm using random special attacks and hoping for the best. Guacamelee! is technically an action platformer, but now it's effectively a Russian roulette simulator (coming soon to Kickstarter and Steam Greenlight).

What It's Like To Play Games When You're Colorblind

This test tells you how well you see colour. 0 is perfect, my wife got a 2, I got 183.

Two things happen when I tell someone I'm colorblind — they ask me what it's like to see in black and white, and they point to their shirt and ask me what colour I think it is. And that's when I have to explain that yes, there are some people who only see in monochrome (black and white), but that's an extremely rare condition that only affects 1 in 33,000 people and I'm not one of them.

What It's Like To Play Games When You're Colorblind

My results. Anything above 99 is considered 'low' colour acuity.

What I have is actually much more common. Your eyes have three groups of cells shaped like cones that are responsible for seeing colour. If you can see colours properly it means that all three cones are working the way they should, and you're called a trichromat. But people like me have at least one faulty cone, and which cone is faulty determines which colour you have trouble seeing. I have deuteranomaly — reduced sensitivity to green light, the most common form of colour blindness — so I have trouble distinguishing between reds, greens, browns, oranges, and some blue and purple hues.

TL;DR — I have trouble telling certain colours apart, to the point where similar hues bleed together when they are next to each other. I can tell that a green shirt is green and a brown shirt is brown, but show me a pattern with green and brown alternating squares and my eyes start to go haywire. Just like, for example, the red and green overshields of the Chupacabras tearing my Guacamelee! luchador apart.

What It's Like To Play Games When You're Colorblind

The worse you are at differentiating colours, the more difficult BioShock 2's hacking becomes. Since I'm red-green colorblind, the red and the green looks almost the same.

Calling my type of colour blindness a disability feels melodramatic, but admittedly it does affect the way I need to approach certain games. If I'm playing FIFA online I need to pay extra attention to the uniform my opponent picks in case it's a shade too similar to my own. Puzzlers that rely on colour matching like Zuma and Hexic are downright impossible, and even games with green text like Fallout 3 can be a challenge.

But what gets frustrating is when games have colour issues that could be addressed to include colorblind gamers but aren't. Guacamelee! could ease my frustration by putting a button prompt above its shielded enemies. Far Cry 3 could let me change the colour indicators on the minimap. And if BioShock 2 wants to include hacking games based on colour, it could at least make each colour wedge have a distinctive pattern. I've avoided BioShock 2 entirely because every locked room or hostile turret that I'd try to hack would be a 50-50 tossup for me. Green bars are successful hacks, red bars set off alarms, and I'd have no other way of knowing which is which.

What It's Like To Play Games When You're Colorblind

FTL's colorblind mode changes the colour scheme for more contrast and adds patterns.

The good news for people like me is that some developers are starting to realise that colour blindness affects almost 10% of their male users — it's much rarer in women, with less than 1% of the female population suffering any sort of colour blindness — and they're adjusting their games accordingly.

Every Call of Duty since Modern Warfare 3 has included a colorblind mode that lets you change teammate and enemy indicators from green and red to a much more deuteranomaly-friendly light blue and orange (I found that out after a few months of playing 'blind'), and Borderlands 2 released a patch that added text descriptors to their colour-coded rarity system. Industry giants World of Warcraft, DOTA 2, and Team Fortress 2 all have their own colorblind-assist options, and Sim City launched with multiple image filters catering to different types of colour blindness.

What's most encouraging to me are the developers like FTL's Subset Games who are reaching out to the colorblind community for input on what makes a game more playable for them. It's nice to feel included in the creative process, and it makes me hopeful that colorblind filters will one day become as standard an option as subtitles are now.

Ultimately we want games to be as inclusive as possible. I hate to think of someone missing out on what could have been their favourite game for something as simple as text colour.

Cameron Gidari is a travel writer by trade and a video game aficionado by choice. You can follow him on Twitter at @CGidari.


    I've got mild red green colour blindness. Let me tell you the mini map in BF3 sucked. I was always being killed by "squad" mates. The colour blind modes in BF4 worked a treat.

      Colour blind modes were in bf3 too, also not sure how your mild colour blindness caused your team mates to kill you though??

        Because he couldn't make out the difference in colors between his team mates and the enemy squads?

    Did the test, scored a 0 - 32yr old Male.

      I did the test and got a 0 as well, did it at the office and out of 23 people, I was the only one to get a zero, so don't know what that says about things...

        we....are.....AMAZING!! I feel like Richard Burgi from The Sentinel


        Last edited 18/07/14 9:18 am

          Woohoo I got a zero too!!!
          unfortunately the rest of my vision is a bit fuzzy

          Last edited 18/07/14 11:04 am

      I got 76...
      In my defence, I am colourblind, just not Red-Green colourblind, so I did better than I expected :D

    My boss used to team kill just as many people as he did the opposition when we would stay back playing Tribes after work.
    We kept yelling at him to stop shooting us.
    "How do I know which ones are us?"
    "We have the GREEN triangles above our heads you idiot"
    "What do you mean, everyone has BROWN triangles above their heads"

    That was the first time he realised he was colour blind. The game was completely unplayable for him.

    Some apps can give you insight into how games will look.

      With all due respect, how'd he make it that far in life without realising he was colourblind?

    I'm red-green colour blind and have a lot of trouble with puzzle games.

    I share your pain... I have all sorts of colour-blind; red-green, blue-purple, pink-grey and a big mix of others like sometimes brown can mix with red, green, orange and more. Red-green and blue-purple are the worst since they are probably the most used colours to represent things such as good or bad, the rest is just annoying.

    20 but i thought there was some squiffy ones... and I was supposed to be doing something else....

    I'm colourblind as hell (although not monochrome) and have all sorts of trouble with video games. The problem isn't just the difficulty in differentiating between colours though - when you spend your life colourblind you have a very different relationship with colours and you simply stop trying to utilise colour as an informational tool. And I'm with you Cameron - when it comes to games that absolutely rely on the differentiation of similar colours to be playable, they simply aren't for me.

    And as for that colourblind test, it's far too overwhelming for me to even attempt!

    OMG! Just realised- for colourblind people, there will be NO DIFFERENCE in the endings of Mass Effect 3. Just like for everyone else.

    Forgive my ignorance, but how does someone who's colourblind know what "green" is? In one example above, someone thought the triangles were brown. If they were colourblind and told all their life that trees are green, wouldn't they associate the brown shade that they can see as being "green"? If they have no way to distinguish between the colours and are given hundreds of examples of what "green" looks like. Its not like you can describe what colour "green" is without giving some kind of visual example.

      Rough guide to how human eyes see colour:
      For each "pixel" we see, there are three cones and one rod. There's one cone that covers low - mid frequencies (red, yellow, and greenish), one that covers medium frequencies (yellowish, green, blueish), and the third covers high frequencies (greenish, blue, purple). As you can see, there's some overlap between them, meaning that even if your medium-frequency cones don't work you can still sort of see green.

      Colorblindness isn't just a case of your cones working or not working, there can be degrees of it not working. So the parts of your eyes that see green might be able to see it, just not as well as the parts that see other colours.

      As the author said, he can sort of see green and tell that it's green, and can sort of see brown and tell that it's brown, but put them with each other (like with a tree :) ) and he has a lot of difficulty telling them apart.

      because that is green to them, they have known no different, and would assume that they are the same colour, if i asked you if this is green and showen you a blend of blue and green, how much blue do i have to add before its no longer green? that answer is different for everyone

      They may associate a slightly different colour with green.
      I was talking to someone colourblind a few weeks ago and the topic came up in reference to two red dice. Both dice were very clearly red, in the opinion of someone with normal vision, although with a noticable difference in shade. The guy I was talking to could see the difference much more starkly, because one of the dice was a slightly greenish red and the other a slightly bluish red, meaning his colour blindness only seriously impacted his ability to see the correct colour of one of them.

    Off Topic: I simply love the human brain. Those not colorblind at all looking at the Bioshock2 gif for hacking; The red and green change to the bronze color yet your eyes don't immediately allow the pallet swap. The two outer red lines on the large green center part look a different shade of bronze for a fraction of a second, because your mind knows that they are in fact red, ordinarily.

    i have blue/red colour blindness, mini-maps hate me

    Honestly, this is something devs should be aware of and design the colouring of their games accordingly. Thankfully, I'm not colourblind, but I still feel it is quite unfair that key game mechanics can be rendered inaccessible to a fair percentage of players.

    It's an exceedingly easy thing to plan for or fix as well!

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