Beyond Color-Coding: Visual Accessibility in Game Design

In the video above, Pandemic creator Matt Leacock discusses the value of double-coding your game's visual language. By "double-coding," he means using multiple unique methods of visually communicating a game's concepts. Usually this is done in the service of color-blind or otherwise visually impaired players, but when done well, it helps all players navigate your game more easily. Let's take some lessons from good examples out on the market.

Pandemic is a great example of double-coding. In this case, four types of disease are each color-coded, but also given unique, simple and big symbols. This helps the visually impaired, but also let's players collaborate across a game table. Because infection cards and player cards share these symbols, but do not get mixed together, each deck is distinguished with white or black borders and a vertical or horizontal layout.

The cards in Magic: The Gathering are also noteworthy for their use of doublecoding. Each type of spell requires a color of mana, noted along the top border of the card. Each color of mana also has its own unique symbol, easily distinguished from the rest. These symbols aren't big like in Pandemic, but generally you spend most of the game staring closely at your own hand anyway, so it's not such a detriment. Also, each type of spell has its own unique border pattern, making this an unusual example of triplecoding.

And lastly, the purest example of doublecoding I could find on my game shelf: Reiner Knizia's InGenious. Here, the entire game is built around grouping each symbol together. Again, each symbol is uniquely tied to one color, so players with varying levels of visual ability can play together.

So, that's a quick overview on coding your game's visual language beyond color. You can use symbols, patterns, borders, illustrations, and orientations to help reinforce and distinguish different parts of your game. This week, I'll discuss other aspects of visual coding in games and how I followed those lessons in Belle of the Ball.

Next, I'll give a couple examples of undercoding and overcoding.


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