Saturday, June 11, 2011

Question for the colorblind / an idea of accessibility and audience?

Was choosing "red" a bad idea / horribly insensitive to colorblind people? Like, will they be able to distinguish the non-portalable metal plating from the stone walls? I don't want a BioShock 2 debacle on my hands.

Or am I misunderstanding how colorblindness works?

I'm told a good guideline is to just desaturate a screengrab completely and make sure the brightness / contrast can speak for itself... I suppose I could darken the red texture a bit? Or is the light-dark contrast good enough?

Here are some breakdowns of other "player minorities":

Red-green colorblindness is 7-10% of the US male population. It's by far the most common.

In the US, something like 1% of the population has severe hearing impairment. (Half of those are over 65 years old though. Likely not much intersection with the gamer audience.)

I'm told Source-powered games are the most generous in this regard, with extensive captioning for gameplay-related audio events. Valve also did that interesting research back then, with Alyx possibly knowing sign language and using it with Dog or something.

And then there's that one blind person who played Oddworld with only audio cues.

About 2% of L4D2 players use the inverted mouse look, which is probably representative of all FPS games... I'm making a web browser FPS in Unity right now, and it's incredibly tempting to just ignore the 2% instead of coding a menu system and whatnot to enable inversion. (I'm not suggesting they're "disabled," but these people are definitely a minority.)

I'm really interested in all these different notions of accessibility because I recently picked up Ghost Recon in a Steam sale. The tutorial is so awfully designed by today's standards, and the controls totally abandon all arcade FPS conventions, e.g. I had no idea how to reload my gun. ("Press Z, naturally!")

There are like 20 different buttons I have to remember, just to do what I consider to be basic actions, and I'm not sure whether this is bad design OR if it's reinforcing the hardcore military simulation trope it's built on, i.e. "real-life combat is confusing and unintuitive, so is this virtual simulation!"

I don't think the simulationist argument holds much water though. If you're going to go ahead and make gun controls so intricate, then why stop there? I want a button for my left thigh, a button for my left calf, and a button to control my big toe -- a Rainbow Six: QWOP Edition? That's real war, son.

... And sometimes it's just a clear case of bad control mapping / design, as with the gymnastics required when using the sniper rifle in Killzone 2.

Do difficult games discriminate against those with mental disabilities or dyslexia? Are many video games designed to be complex with high volumes of feedback / input, confusing older people -- is that ageism? Or is it discriminatory to think that older people aren't as capable at games?

Those questions might be inflammatory / mischaracterizing / obvious, but the consequences are still fascinating. How do you design for "the other"? How would you make an FPS for older people with Alzheimer's? How do you make an RTS for middle-aged women?

And this isn't just in terms of functionality and design: apparently the narrative can be discriminatory and offensive to disabled people too.

Most of the cultural criticism of games today has focused on race, gender and sexuality as the main dialectics, but what about this comment at the Border House arguing that Portal 2 is incredibly ableist and discriminatory against those with disabilities?