Designing for a Blind audience

One of the questions that I’m asked a lot by designers is how do you develop a game for blind players.

I hate this question.

I feel like the question is a trap and leads to thoughts like..

  • What is the maximum board size a blind person can ‘deal with’?
  • What is the biggest hand size a blind person can ‘deal with’?
  • How much text is too much for a blind person?

And so forth. This comes at it with a few assumptions about blind players.

First; That blind players should be catered to in this manner. I disagree with that.

Second; That there is a right answer to any of these questions. The fact is that just like with sighted people, there is a wide range of blind people. There are some sighted people who can track where and how many of every card in their 70 card deck builder is at all times. There are some sighted people who can’t deal with the hand size in Sushi Go. Any answer you give there are people who are going to be able to do it and there are people who aren’t able to do it.

Are there benefits to designing a game with few cards? ABSOLUTELY! Constraints can lead to great innovation in games. It might make it so your game is easier to pick up by players, reduce play time and make it easier to manufacture. But these things should be done because they benefit the game, not because it is going to help this one group.

There are lots of constraints that you can put on your games to make them easier for blind people but it is much better to put those constraints on a game because it makes it a better game.

When I try to make an accessibility kit I try to get as close to the way the game was designed as possible with the least amount of interference. I think it’s unacceptable to rewrite rules or make concessions with other people’s games because I’ve really failed at making the kit at all at that point.

Do I ask myself if this will be playable? Yes and no. I think I could do a kit for Kingdom Builder for instance that would make the game playable for some blind people. I personally don’t believe that a kit for this game though would be fun. I pull out this game as an example because one of the main mechanics is you have to place adjacent to a landscape type if it is possible. This means every single play you do you have to review the entire board state and if you miss one, it’s cheating. This isn’t hard visually but I think it would be a nightmare non-visually. You can do it, sure, but if you spend all that time doing it the game has slowed to a crawl and isn’t fun.

Of course then there’s the flip side of it where some people’s fun is different than other people’s fun. For me for instance I’d rather endure a fair amount of physical pain than play Command and Colors again but that’s me. So I may well do a kit for a game like Kingdom Builder(In that magical fictional future where I have time to do everything) someday even though I am not convinced the end result would be fun because I could be wrong.

Good design for blind players should allow them to get the information in the closest way to the way the sighted players do as possible. Secret information should be secret, players should be able to get information about the board state at any time and they should know everything a sighted player knows. Does this lead to problems with some games? Yes.

Galaxy Trucker is an excellent example of this. Part of the game players scramble to assemble their space ship as soon as possible while watching others do the same. Even with a tactile board there is just absolutely no way that this could be fair because they are playing with 2 sets of rules… the rules for the sighted and the rules for the blind.

When I come across a game like that is where we find the closest thing I do to designing for the blind. That’s designing with blind as a mechanic. You can’t level the playing field by making the blind person see in a game like that but you certainly can level the playing field by making a sighted person blind. Now we have players playing with 1 set of rules. That’s what we did with Yoink and that’s what we’re doing with another prototype I’m working on(and super excited about). What I really like about this is that it’s a relatively unexplored mechanic in a pretty crowded game space. I don’t really want to live in this design space full time as is evidenced by the prototypes I have produced but I can see myself going there periodically whenever I encounter games that it’s just impossible to level the playing field without changing the game because heck, that changed game might be fun.

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