The Fishtank: Colour-Blind Gaming is Not All Black and White

(I’m told there is an “18” in the image above, if I haven’t cut it off. But I can’t see it at all, because…)

Hi, I’m MoshFish. And I’m colour-blind.

No, that doesn’t mean I see everything in black and white, nor does it mean I “can’t see” certain colours. It just means that I have difficulty distinguishing between certain colours. For example: blue, purple and pink all look to be roughly the same colour to me, as do red, green and orange. I have what is called Deuteranopia, or “Red-Green Colour Blindness”. From what I understand, this means that anything red goes into (orange, purple) or makes up green (blue, yellow), as well as red and green themselves, are problems for me. For those of you playing at home, that’s pretty much every colour there is.

For the most part, this doesn’t really affect gaming: if enemies are shooting at you, shoot them first. If you’re racing other cars, teammates or otherwise, just aim to be first. But there are times where game are difficult, and sometimes impossible, because colours play such an important part.

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Players 2 and 3 default to red and green in Age of Mythology, which my brother always used to his advantage. I can barely see either colour in the minimap, and I put the units there!

One of the first times I remember this affecting me was playing Age of Mythology back in the day with my brother. Because I was player 1 (older sibling is player 1, obviously), I was blue, and player 2 defaulted to red. This meant I could easily tell his troops apart from mine, however I always seemed to have trouble finishing him off once I gained the upper hand. He finally confessed to me he was cutting down a line of trees and hiding some troops inside them, since his red colour on the minimap blended perfectly with the brown for the trees. Adding in another player didn’t help much, either, since player 3 was green, which was frustrating both similar to the red of player 2, the brown of the trees and the yellow of the gold mines.

Aside from just strategy games, I have often had trouble determining who are friend and foes in shooters, most recently in Ghost Recon: Wildlands (review incoming! The game is huge, so I’m taking a while to finish it). Enemy factions are orange (when docile) or red (once hostile), and allies are green, all of which are my worst possible colours. Another enemy faction was purple, which was fine when looking at the regular overworld, but attempting to use the thermal goggles made their targeting indicator near invisible on the ‘blue’/’cold’ areas. I can’t even count the number of times I got a perfect headshot, only to be derided by my squad for killing an ally. Far Cry: Primal had the same issue, with the same colours for enemies/allies, and was perhaps not coincidentally another Ubisoft game.

It is not just shooters with enemy/ally issues that plague me, though. Finding good loot in something like Diablo 3 or The Division often meant having to carefully read for the word “Legendary” or “High-End”, respectively, rather than base it off the colour, especially as the high end gear in the latter was orange, while the lowest-tier weapons were yellow. Racing games are also not exempt, as finding the glowing ‘checkpoints’ in many Need for Speed and Burnout was often incredibly difficult due to environmental lights, including things like neon lights, or even a rising sun. Things like The Riddler’s challenges in Batman: Arkham Knight were incredibly frustrating. I mean, even some shiny Pokemon didn’t look all that different to me.

I’ve even had to stop playing some games altogether, mostly mobile puzzle games, because there has been either no colour-blind options, or the colour-blind option was entirely ‘add an X to every puzzle piece’ as if I was not colour-blind, but instead just stupid. I was thoroughly enjoying a puzzle (and education!) game called Transmission on my mobile, but had to stop because I could not tell apart the colours, and I had lots of issues with the Flow games, though I powered through those with trial and error.

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Various colour-blind options from Overwatch (image from Blizzard’s Battle.net)

Thankfully, colour-blindness options are becoming more prominent. As mentioned, The Division has different options for each of the variations of colour-blindness (Deuteranopia, Protanopia and Tritanopia). Destiny patched in colour-blindness modes, and every Call of Duty game since Modern Warfare 3 has had different on/off switches, which while not ideal due to how it varies between people, is better than nothing. Overwatch had several colour-blind modes, and the ability to further alter the colours for the player, team mates, other allies and enemies. In the past, colour-blind options were limited to smaller, arcade style games such as Hexic or Peggle, which would add symbols to the puzzle pieces without changing the colours themselves.

I’ve never liked to call my colour-blindness a disability, because that makes it sound far worse than it is, and I hope this didn’t all come across as my bitching for bitching sake. But I admit, it is certainly frustrating when games like Runbow are released as free games on Xbox Games with Gold and they are essentially unplayable to me. There does seem to be a concerted effort in the games industry to increase inclusiveness, so hopefully colour-blind modes will become an expected option, rather than something which needs to be patched in.

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