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Today we’re going to discuss how to design your games to be more inclusive and accessible, because gaming is for everyone.
Board games are a format that can attract numerous different kinds of people and bring them together in a social context--this is part of the beauty of board games. It is therefore important to make sure that every person who sits down to play your game has the ability to participate, feel included, and not be put down or offended by your game. Many of the ways to do this are relatively simple, yet often overlooked, forgotten, or disregarded. It’s for these reasons, and others, that we decided to write a few general guidelines to ensure your game is more accessible and fun for everyone.
Colour Blind Accessibility
We’ve spoken briefly on this topic before, but it’s important to reiterate that a couple simple changes can make your game more accessible. When deciding your colour scheme, especially for player pieces and resources, avoid using similar tones along certain colour spectrums. You should also do your best to limit the number of similar tones you use in your game. Use symbols, patterns, shapes, or other non-colour identifiers wherever possible to differentiate various pieces (once again with a focus on player pieces and resources) as not to rely on the colour being the only differentiating factor (Circular Reasoning is a good example of this). Doing so will (hopefully) guarantee that there will be no confusion for colour blind players.
Your ability to lower the language dependency relies a lot on your game’s complexity. If your game allows it, creating a highly visible icon set will decrease your language dependency; using a well-constructed iconography set for your game can increase the age range of potential players, allow for those with lower reading comprehension skills and dyslexia to have an easier time playing/learning, and make it accessible to those with poor vision by removing small text. Furthermore, it can open up more opportunities for your game to be played by players who don’t speak your language without having to translate your rules. Of course, this isn’t a way you would advertise your game, but there are people who, despite language barriers, will want to play your game. If they really want to play it, then chances are they will buy it and try to figure out one way or another how to play. Having an easy to understand iconography set will help to assist in translating your game without actually having to translate your game.
Be careful though, bad iconography will decrease the accessibility of your game for everyone (not just the groups listed above). No published games in particular come to mind, but we’ve definitely seen some prototypes with confusing icons that made us feel like we were deciphering a forgotten ancient language.
Character Diversity and Portrayal
This topic is a sore spot for a lot of people and there are a wide range of topics, discussions, and schools of thought regarding these issues. We’re going to do our best to try and stick to the most basic steps you can take to make sure your game appears open and accepting to all people regardless of how you may group them.
Before we do though, if your game involves players being a type of animal/focuses around animals (like Zooloretto) or has a strict/rich historical content to it then these guidelines aren’t really going to help you. For the most part, people are highly uneducated on the variations in physical appearance of different species, or sexes, of a particular animal, and historical games cannot change the past...unless they decide to re-imagine/re-write history in some fashion in which case you should definitely try to follow the guidelines below while keeping true to historical contexts.
If your game has characters, playable or not, you should aim to include as much diversity of the human species as possible in a respectful manner. This includes sexes, ethnicities, religions, beliefs, lifestyles, occupations, mental health, disabilities, and anything else you can think of. Additionally, every character should visually have a similar presence about them and appear fit to take on the role/task as defined by your game. No character(s) should appear to be less valuable (either in general terms or in direct relation to their role in the game) than any others as defined by their looks, stylization, abilities, or powers. As an example, Allysha appreciated the job done by the artists behind Dead of Winter for their inclusion of a diverse group of characters and unbiased stylization. It’s definitely not perfect, but it does a pretty good job and is good example of what you should be aiming for.
These character guidelines are based around the idea that players want to believe that they could take on a role in your game. Sometimes that means they want to fantasize about who they could be and sometimes they want a character they see as representing the real them within the context of your game. We want you to do your best to avoid limiting the potential of a player identifying a character as themselves, and avoid them thinking that the character that best represents them is useless or portrayed in a bad light. By providing the diversity of characters we mentioned and making every character’s stylization, presence, and competence the same, or at least very similar, creates a smoother transition for a larger number of people of slipping into the game.
Tabletop gaming is meant to bring people together in a social context without anyone being ostracized. Anything that singles out a person or group of people in a negative connotation doesn’t belong in your game regardless of how it does that (unless following true historical contexts). Of course, there are games whose sole success is based around being “politically incorrect” and undermining people. Games like Cards Against Humanity have created a fad of discriminating, excluding, or finding ways to laugh off saying horrible things in gaming (although similar serious issues were present before Cards Against Humanity). Simply put, it should not be that way if creators wish to have an open and willing community. The above guidelines are little tools to remember when making games so your game can be more inclusive, inviting to all players, and create better gaming experiences. As we said at the beginning, gaming is for everyone and we should be constantly taking steps towards making it so.
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Board game designer and developer discussing the ins and outs of game design.