Color Blind Gaming

Armos Knights from A Link to the PastThe first game I got with my Super Nintendo when I was a kid was The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and to this day I still haven’t completed it. Partly because back then the bosses scared the utter crap out of me. Those Armos Knights are one of the easiest bosses in the whole series, but they absolutely freaked me out as a kid. They’re huge, in comparison to Link, and they jump up and down in a way that seems to defy the dimensional space of the game. It was the first time I found myself actively stressed out playing a game and it was not enjoyable. But as terrible as the bosses were, it was the puzzles that actually were my roadblock. No, they aren’t hard. Honestly, the most you can say about a Zelda puzzle in terms of difficulty is that it might be confusing. It’s that a lot of the puzzles involve hitting various colored switches. Similarly, years later Paper Mario reduced me to tears with the “yellow, green, red, and then blue” blocks in the Toy Box.

Honestly, you’d be surprised how many games utilize color perception as a mechanic in some way. It might seem like a great way to create simple puzzles, but the reality is that it’s a very limiting and archaic way to do so since there really isn’t any cognitive reasoning behind such tasks. I’ve talked before about how colors are such a natural thing to us because we learn them at such a young age. Perhaps that’s why as a child it would frustrate me so much that something as simple as differentiating the color green was stopping me from progressing further in a game that I was tremendously enjoying. Call it stubborn determination, but I would try again and again to plow my way through these puzzles, spending hours stuck in the same place and/or resetting my game countless times. Sure, I could have just asked my parents to help me out, but I was too embarrassed to bring attention to the matter. Nowadays I can scour the Internet for a walkthrough to find a potential pattern for these puzzles or turn to my Twitter followers to aid with color choice options.

So, it was incredibly refreshing to hear a developer requesting color blind testers. After a bit of back-and-forth to confirm my complete lack of color perception wasn’t beyond their scope, I got a build of their game that crashed my computer. No, seriously, it was a pretty epic crash. I was quite impressed. By the time they got back in touch with me, the team had a new build to try out and this one did not eat my computer alive.

Contrasting colored tiles with distinct symbols from the game 404SightI had utterly no idea about the game before starting it up because I was too lazy to bother researching wanted to see how well I could use the game. This meant that I literally didn’t know what the heck to do and basically just wandered around the starting area. However, despite my inept playing, I did notice the different tiles on the ground. The team had done a wonderful job at making them distinct through the use of contrasting colors and identifying symbols. The tiles give the main character various abilities, though, all I could get her1 to do was randomly zoom into walls or fling about the screen like a ragdoll.

Anyway, what really stood out to me was that Retro Yeti Games had been thinking about player accessibility throughout their creation of 404Sight. That meant things like making sure it was color blind friendly were incorporated into the development of the game. And doing so, by their own assertion, “barely took any time.” I definitely join their bandwagon in wondering why more developers aren’t doing the same.

Last Dream tutorial showing the Dash commandYesterday I was reminded of all this when I finally followed the many recommendations I’ve received from people2 to play Last Dream. On the surface it sounds like exactly the kind of game I would instantly love. It’s basically an homage to all the retro JRPGs from my childhood. I can’t say whether or not I would enjoy it, though, since I got roadblocked by a color perception issue. My frustration and irritation at this was only compounded by the fact it happened in the tutorial! Yes, I could have utilized the aforementioned power of the Internet to get through this or reset the game and opted out of the tutorial. However, I could only assume, and the developer has since confirmed, that if color perception is being presented as a necessary mechanic in the tutorial it is present throughout the game itself.

The story could end there, but I sent an email to White Giant RPG, the independent studio that developed Last Dream and it’s forthcoming expansion and sequels, and they quickly responded with an apology and a refund. It was a grand gesture and I’m very appreciative. What truly made my day was their acknowledgement that they hadn’t thought about color perception when working on the game and were actively talking about how to improve the accessibility in the games they’re currently developing. Props to them; I’ll definitely be keeping tabs on their future work.

By the way, I know there’s been a lot of talk around here about video games lately and some of you must be wondering: “Why Bleu no blog about books or review movies?” I promise, I haven’t tossed all my energy into babbling about video games; it’s just that I haven’t run across anything that’s sparked enough commentary to write about in quite awhile. Yes, I could just post about whatever, but the idea is not to burn myself out because then you’ll just complain I’m not updating period.

  1. I didn’t know this then, but the main character is female.
  2. Not surprisingly, lately I’ve had a lot of contact from people suggesting various JRPGs to play. It’s awesome, even if most of them are games I’ve already played.

“Red” Flower

As iPhone photos go, I’m actually pretty happy with this one:

Red flower

The red isn’t quite right1, which is something of an issue with the iPhone camera in my experience. But oddly it is far closer to the actual color2 than I was able to achieve when taking the same photo with my Nikon. It’s the first time I’ve run into this issue since I made the leap to a DSLR. I intend to tinker some and see if I can’t pinpoint how to better capture these pretty flowers in front of my house.

  1. Yes, I can actually tell that despite my colorblindness.
  2. I’m told it’s more a burnt orange.

15 Years (and Then Some) of Learning

Ideally, this would have been posted last June to coincide with the fifteenth anniversary of partnering with my first guide dog. In fact, it was my intention to submit it for the twelfth ADBC. Months later, Brooke even tried to “help” me finally write this in the hopes that I’d participate in the thirteenth ADBC.

Collage of three black-and-white images of Yara, Dolly and Uschi in harness

Even though it seems to have gone by faster than it should have, fifteen years is a long time. Nearly half my life, in fact.

A lot has changed over that decade-and-a-half. I’ve changed a lot over that decade-and-a-half, which seems cliché but is nevertheless the truth. I’ve written about this previously, of course, and later expanded on the profound differences. But one thing I’ve not really stressed before is just how much I’ve learned as a guide dog handler.

The key things are probably the most obvious: I’ve learned about how to work with a guide dog, what a lifestyle change it involves, and the incredible life-changing effect it can provide. My knowledge of dog training has grown in leaps and bounds and evolved along with the differences that dog training has undergone since my time at Guiding Eyes. And with fifteen years experience as a handler, I have a better understanding of my specific needs and desires in a partner.

Over the years I’ve amassed a wealth of information about public access and discrimination due mostly to personal experience. Nothing on a grand scale by any means,1 but I have been more-or-less thrown out of a few stores, had a few issues with some restaurants, and met with a fair amount of discrimination when hunting for an apartment. My favorite incident is a rather hilarious story involving a liquor store that ended with me arguing with a policeman about NYS access laws.

I wasn’t even aware of how self-conscious I was about being blind before I started working with a guide dog. I coped by trying to hide my limitations, which is practically impossible to do when you are accompanied by the most visible sign of blindness. A fact that was actually the argument more than a few family and friends used as to why I shouldn’t get and didn’t need a guide dog, which is amusing to me since that was basically the whole point for me. At the time I wasn’t quite able to explain it or maybe I was just too much of a stubborn teenager and didn’t want to.

What really stands out to me, though, is what I’ve been taught by my girls specifically. I’ve gained firsthand experience in how profound a bond there is between guide dog and handler and along the way gained more than a few insights on life: Dolly with her joie de vivre reminded me to not forget to enjoy myself, even when it was a simple and small thing. Yara’s serious attitude always makes me think of how I can better do the task at hand. And, in her own unique way, Uschi has shown me that it’s important to embrace who you are, quirks and all.

Sometimes it’s hard to separate out the specific things I’ve gained by working with a guide dog, so perhaps that’s why I feel I should have far more to say on the subject. Which only proves the point that all three of my guides have made me acutely aware of how much I have yet to learn and so the lessons continue on.

  1. Arguably, there has been cause for a lawsuit here and there, but none that have been worth it in my personal opinion.

Colors and Blindness

It’s been brought up a few times in the past how my parents learned I was blind because it’s humorous. I know this because when I tell the story in person people always laugh. I guess imagining four-year-old me slamming her head repeatedly into a coffee table is just hilarious that way. For obvious reasons, physical comedy is one of those things I just don’t understand, but to be honest I find the story funny, too, because it’s just the type of ludicrous that convinces me I live in a sitcom. Also, I don’t remember the coffee table [insert head trauma joke here], which acts as a sort of buffer of detachment for me.

Stories like that, I have come to realize, are important not just because they make people laugh at my lack of grace or even because they might “loosen up” to the concept of disabilities, but because they make blindness relatable. Even the least clumsy of us can think of a time where they’ve inadvertently injured themselves on something unseen.

That’s the thing with being born blind that I find both fascinating and relentlessly difficult: relating to “normal” vision. I’ve always seen the way that I do — a world absent of color, depth-perception, and distance vision. One of my favorite things is listening to someone describe a sunset. My father has a particular talent with conveying the breathtaking beauty in astonishing detail. Except as interesting and vivid a picture he creates in his description there’s a point where he might as well be speaking to me in another language because I literally have no understanding of colors.

Growing up I loved to color. As a very little kid I remember having those big crayons that are easier for little hands to grasp and use. There were eight: red, yellow, blue, black, green, brown, orange, and purple. I remember them so well because they were among the first words I ever learned to read and this was so important because the black and brown both looked the same to me. Even the blue crayon itself appeared the same, but I knew when I used it that it didn’t look the same as the coloring I did with those other two crayons. I didn’t really understand why those two crayons had different names when they looked the same to me, but I did know that tree trunks were brown and not black so that seemed a good enough differentiation to my little kid mind.

For some reason enjoyment of coloring is interpreted by adults on almost a continuum of skill so after several years trying to keep my giant crayons working inside the lines I graduated up to the regular sized crayons and that inevitably led to the 64 crayon box. If everyone has their own version of an Unsolvable Puzzle in their life, the 64 crayon box is mine.1 Do you know that there are seven crayons in that box with red or some combination of red in their names? I do because to this day I still don’t understand why there is a red-orange crayon and an orange-red crayon. And what the heck is brick red anyway? I mean, bricks come in all different colors!2

Anyway, getting back to the point, suddenly coloring was so very different. Before the 64-box came into my life I only had two crayons that gave me a bit of confusion and required some extra attention to use. When I went through my new big box of crayons and grouped the ones that looked the same I suddenly had more than half the box in a pile of “black-ish.” And, as I already explained, the labels were far less helpful than my trusty 8-pack. I remember I reorganized the crayons from their original setup where they are grouped by color into something that made more sense to me. Essentially I put my eight trusty friends in the front and just dumped the rest back in the box. When I was feeling particularly adventurous I might sneak out a “new” color to draw with, but when the coloring books were spread before me I only ever picked up a different color if someone handed it to me as a suggestion.

So, you’re probably wondering why I didn’t just ask someone why there were a bunch of repeated, baffling crayons in my new box. Well, for one, I grew up in that strange time when children were taught some amount of manners so telling my parents their gift basically sucked wasn’t remotely a possibility. But more to the point, I didn’t realize I was confused by the crayons. I knew what colors were or at least I thought I did. I mean, we went over them in school and I knew the names of them and various facts like grass is green. Anyway, it became a moot point because it was around this time that I became interested in other art forms like origami and sculpting and making anatomically incorrect horses out of clay for 4-H didn’t require knowing what the heck magenta was.

However, I’m pretty sure if I had tried to explain all that back then it would have been met with bewildered confusion because it happens constantly now when I try to explain it! Here’s an example:

Person: You know you have two different colored socks on?

Me: No. Why, what colors are they?

Person: Well, one is blue and the other is green.

Me: Interesting. They look gray to me.

Person: Well, they aren’t. *indicating each sock* This one is blue and that one is green!

Me:*baffled* Okay then.3

What happens is basically a communication breakdown. The person here is trying to politely convey that my socks don’t match by pointing out their colors and I’m Just Not Getting It. Unfortunately for me that isn’t an excuse because even the most intellectually deficient person on the planet understands what blue and green are. We know that we all have to be taught our colors, but we learn about them at such a young age and after we’ve already had a lengthy visual understanding of them that they are such an ingrained part of our psyche we literally can’t comprehend how someone doesn’t understand them. So, no I didn’t just miss a few days of kindergarten and somehow my teachers managed to forget to check if I got that particular lesson. I’m color blind. I literally do not perceive colors; I physically can’t.

Complete colorblindness is an accurate description for me, but it’s difficult to explain in a way that’s understandable to others because the absence of color and the ability to perceive it are independent of one another. Semantics aside, it’s also a far more rare type of colorblindness than is generally bandied about. Red-green colorblindness is the most common and essentially is the inability to distinguish between the two, which is due, at least in part, because these colors are perceived in hues of yellow, orange, and beige. So, often when I say I’m colorblind it’s understood as I’m seeing some psychedelic version of whats actually there when in fact I’m just not seeing the actual color at all. Yes, I know I said my socks were gray above, but in all honesty I don’t really understand what gray is any more than blue or green!4

What’s really confusing to try and explain is that I don’t live in some drab world of blacks-and-grays. I know this because I can tell the difference between a black-and-white film where things tend to melt together in a sea of monotone blobs and reality where there is a vibrant array of contrast. It’s at this point that I lose any ability to really explain the differences because I don’t understand them any better than any other person. If I could transplant my vision into someone else head they would perceive the way I see completely differently than I do simply because they have an understanding of color perception and would be aware of the absence thereof. The same goes the other way, without an understanding of it, I can’t really paint a picture of the way I see.

What will really bake your noodle is that I have some affinity for the color red. Physically I can’t perceive it, but I can almost always pick out brighter reds — they look, well, warmer — and as yet I can provide absolutely no reason as to why that is. So, while I may never have another anecdotal story to help bridge the understanding of my particular form of colorblindness, I can at least say without guilt that red is my favorite color.

Incidentally, I’ve been told it’s my color. ;-)

  1. Yes, I know there are even bigger crayon boxes out there; that’s beside the point.
  2. It’s also a matter of contention for me, since I’m on the subject, that orange doesn’t smell anything like an orange.
  3. This used to happen so often that for the longest time I only wore white socks because even if they weren’t the same socks, they matched and people didn’t feel a need to point out my mismatched socks to me. And then eventually I found that boring and also keeping white socks white is virtually impossible so I started wearing socks with all kinds of funky designs on them and they almost never match.
  4. Gray to me is everything that isn’t white or black and that’s way too much variety to be what is actually gray.

CSUN13

Today is the start of the 28th Annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference, or CSUN13 for short, and how I desperately wish I could be a part of it as it is the largest assistive technology conference for the blind. But at $500 for registration plus travel, lodging and food for a week that’s more than a little outside of my budget.

Anyway, I’m thrilled that there will be a presentation regarding WordPress accessibility, specifically focusing on themes. Though, if I were going I would likely be the most interested in the session on accessible e-readers.