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Colorblind gaming or: Table Tennis is impossibly hard!


Around one in ten males and one in two hundred females are unable to discern the difference between some or all colors that other people can distinguish. Like most other people with the disability, I've been colorblind (or, to use the politically correct term, have had color sight deficiency) since birth. I find it hard, and sometimes impossible, to tell the difference between shades of red, green and brown, blue and purple and oranges and yellows. As my optician told me when I was young, this disability means that I can't work in a paint factory or be a pilot. What he didn't tell me was that I'd have trouble playing friggin' computer games!

As you probably know, the Xbox 360 features several colored buttons. Usually I can tell the difference between these buttons (the problem isn't so bad that I can't tell the difference between the equivalent of red and green at traffic lights). However, there's one game that has caused a problem: Rockstar's Table Tennis. A fundamental part of the gameplay is being able to respond to the opposing player's spin on the ball. This is represented by one of the colors which are also found on the gamepad. Blue for left spin, red for right spin, green for forward spin and yellow for back spin. Unfortunately, I can barely tell the difference between the red, green and yellow on a standard definition display. On a high definition screen the green and yellow are still nearly identical to my eyes.

This isn't usually much of a problem during normal play (besides, I can always just press the green button), but on the training levels where you are taught how to spin the ball, I found the task physically impossible. I literally had to guess which spin the computer was giving the ball! Table Tennis has the hardest training level of any game, at least for me. Since completing the training levels is an Xbox 360 achievement, it's also possibly the hardest achievement there is. It took me around 3-4 hours and dozens of reattempts to get the 5 points given to you after you complete training.

Color blindness certainly isn't the only or the most problematic disability preventing people from getting enjoyment out of games, although it is possibly the most widespread. Designers of print, web and image media already take color blindness into account, but I've never read or seen the issue being discussed in the context of games. Some questions for you:

  • Do you have a disability? How has your disability affected your ability to play games?
  • If you're a game developer, or involved in the development of games, have you ever considered disabilities like color sight deficiency when designing a game?
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