Why Innovation Is Better Than Legislation…

Next time you are playing a video game online and a member of your own team shoots you – spare a thought: they could be colour blind.

And here I thought it was just because they were fed up with me saying ‘Oh, hang on, what does this button do?’ before bringing every enemy for miles down on us with a misplaced distress flare…

The inability to easily distinguish between certain colours is a problem that affects about one in 20 men, and one in 200 women.

For video gamers, it can mean some parts of games become vastly more difficult – such as when opposing teams are distinguished by the colours red and green, or if other crucial on-screen indicators feature similar shades.

Yes, I can see that would indeed be a problem. But given the creativity in the industry, hopefully not an insurmountable one?

Despite the large numbers of gamers affected

Errr, hold up!  Those figures quoted are for the population as a whole, but gamers are only a tiny subset of this. So we are therefore talking about very, very few people indeed, surely?

awareness among the development community is comparatively low.

Because it’s not going to be a huge number of people affected…

Graham Hodson, a gamer from Stockton-on-Tees, was so frustrated at the use of red and green in Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 that he and his wife started a campaign to get colour blind-friendly features added.

Which can be done quite easily, as we’ll see, by innovative game design and an awareness of the issues spreading through social media and audience feedback. But for some people, that’s never enough, and only legislation will fix the problem!

Kathryn Albany-Ward is the founder of Colour Blind Awareness, a UK group seeking charity status. She said that examples like this were common, not just in games, but in other walks of life.Her colour blind son had great difficulty carrying out some of the puzzles featured in Lego Indiana Jones.

She believes that games companies should be doing more to cater for the condition, and that in cases where a game has colour-dependent features, warnings should be placed clearly on the box.

So, for the tiny percentage of people this might adversely affect, we’ll just make a company make the necessary changes to 100% of the packaging?

“I think they have a duty to do it because of the numbers [of people] involved,” she said. “It’s like a ‘contains traces of nuts‘ label, so at least you know you’re not wasting your money.”

Yes, indeed, and there’s a valid reason for that sort of legislation. If someone with a severe nut allergy eats a trace amount of peanut, the consequences are – potentially – death.

Real death; they don’t get a chance to respawn from the last save point…

A source at PEGI – the group which rates games for objectionable content – told the BBC that colour blindness, like other disabilities, would not come under their rating remit.

Hardly surprising, as that’s not their function, so one wonders why the Beeb reporter would even bother to ask them?

However, David Vonderhaar, lead programmer at Treyarch, had a different suggestion.

Don’t do that!” he told the BBC.

“Have good design that lets the game have multiple visual clues and uses colour in a way that’s beneficial but doesn’t restrict colour blind gamers. It’s frankly not that hard.”

And so doesn’t require yet more blanket action. More legislation. More monitoring to ensure companies are complying with this legislation.

Treyarch, also part of Activision, is responsible for Black Ops, the most recent incarnation of the Call of Duty series and now the biggest-selling game of all time.

“I think it’s a big challenge for games designers. There are thoughts about using coloured lenses and contrast filters within spectacle lenses that try to push the red and green wavelengths further apart. Even just adjusting brightness or contrast on screens can just push any specific colour problem slightly apart and give you more contrast than you’d normally perceive. I would have thought the games designers could be given an ‘avoid these colours’ chart to help most colour blind problems.”

Even better than that, why not enlist colour-blind designers to…

Oh. You’re way ahead there:

Mr Vonderhaar’s team’s judgement on colour issues is helped by one highly innovative cog in the design process. “Our lead tester is colour blind,” he said. “Basically we wait for him to be miserable, and if he’s not, that’s how we know we’re getting somewhere. That’s almost how simple it is for us.”

See? But of course, that doesn’t provide a publicity/employment opportunity for our pal, Ms Albany Ward, does it?


12 comments for “Why Innovation Is Better Than Legislation…

  1. WitteringWitney
    April 25, 2011 at 6:29 pm

    Take your point, but fairs fair – it keeps the wannabe charities in business!

    As you point out, legislation is not the answer to everything, but will the polticos see that? Nope!

    • April 25, 2011 at 6:58 pm

      Sadly, the coalition is proving just as keen on costing up to charities as NuLabour. Probably because they offer so many opportunities once one has retired from politics!

  2. April 25, 2011 at 7:13 pm

    I have tried to play such games on Xbox, PS3 etc. many times. I am completely hopeless,so what about me?
    I think they should legislate that everyone goes back to the Atari 2600, I was good at that.
    Now I feel excluded. Set me up a charidee

    • April 25, 2011 at 7:45 pm

      I’m no great shakes at most modern fast-paced FPS games. I much prefer the sort of game that rewards patience, like ‘The Hunter’ online hunting game (http://www.thehunter.com/pub/).

      That’s the beauty of the free market, though – there’s something for everyone, not just for mass-produced populism.

  3. QM
    April 25, 2011 at 7:14 pm

    Legislation is power, it’s funding and it’s control. What’s not to like from a government/fake charity point of view.


  4. April 25, 2011 at 7:41 pm

    This constant legislation has makes me colour blind … l see red!

  5. April 25, 2011 at 7:44 pm

    I can’t hear in one ear, and this means that some games which have audio clues (footsteps indicating approaching enemies, for example) are horrendously biased against people like me. I demand that something be done!

    Do you reckon I could get government money to lobby for changes?

    • April 25, 2011 at 7:48 pm

      Maybe you could! But if enough people raise this topic with games designers, the peoblem will be resolved without the need for legislation – the designers will ensure that they incorporate an optional extra, perhaps in the form of visual clues.

      In the same way, most games include optional subtitles for spoken sections. Something needed even for those with perfect hearing, given the earsplitting soundtrack that often accompanies it!

      • April 25, 2011 at 8:08 pm

        I tend to leave the sound off anyway – that way I can listen to my own music and not worry about confusing sounds that I miss part of…

        I do dislike it when games don’t have subtitles, but I can live with it – and tend to buy games with subtitles more – so the market can and will correct these things if they’re enough of an issue.

      • April 25, 2011 at 8:15 pm

        oh noes, Julia that’s not the way.

        How will I get my 40K a ‘job’ as President of said Charidee, with all the stationary that shows I’m President and I will have the ear of MP’s and Breakfast TV to listen to my bleatings as it’s for Charidee

        No, your way won’t do at all

  6. April 25, 2011 at 8:03 pm

    And so doesn’t require yet more blanket action. More legislation. More monitoring to ensure companies are complying with this legislation.

    It’s truly a spiralling thing, the whole compliance area. As you intimate, common sense and giving feedback can solve the problem.

    • April 25, 2011 at 8:19 pm

      Indeed – it’s in the interests of the designers to do so, because they want sales, and the best of them are often keen gamers themselves. The ‘modding’ community is one that the best games companies cater to and listen to; they know they’ll get feedback that can help them improve. Everyone’s a winner!

      Well, maybe not the likes of Ms Albany Ward. That’s too bad… 😉

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