Accessibility is an important issue in games, though an oftentimes neglected one. With the revival of board gaming, there are more exciting games to play than ever before. But we often forget that sometimes their design makes it difficult for everyone to enjoy them.
That’s where Meeple Like Us comes in. They’re a group of game developers, academics, and enthusiasts focusing on studying and improving the accessibility of board games. Improved accessibility in games benefits everyone, after all. The way things stand now, large swathes of people are excluded from gaming due to disabilities they were either born with, or developed later in life. Games are a valuable means of therapy, education, and escape. They’re a portal to entirely new worlds. It’s well within the realm of possibility to take these disabilities into consideration when designing how we experience games.
Meeple Like Us studies games you might already be familiar with to understand how we can design more accessible games. Games in these “teardowns” are reviewed for five different criteria:
- Visual – Includes blindness, visual impairment, and color blindness
- Cognitive – Concerned with memory, attention, emotiveness, and problem solving
- Communication – Looks at issues involving hearing, talking, reading, and expression
- Physical – Pertains to motor skills that require “large movements”
- Socioeconomic – Deals with issues of representation, gender, inclusivity, and pricing
Their evaluation process is pretty open-ended. If the team spots something that could potentially prevent someone from playing the game, they’ll discuss. They outline their entire process in great detail on their website, but in short they’re “not trying to persuade you to buy, or not buy, games based on [their] analyses.” Instead, they want to help people make an informed decision when purchasing a board game.
We took a look at teardowns for a few popular games to see how well they held up. You might be surprised by the results!
It turns out that Carcassonne might be pretty difficult to play if you are colorblind or visually impaired. It can be difficult to differentiate between the different colored meeples (check out the image above). It’s even harder to locate your meeple on the board, as they tend to blend into scenery if you are color blind. It’s also set back by it’s tile laying nature, which requires fine motor skills.
The good news is, Carcassonne performs relatively well on all other fronts. Thanks to the game’s flexibility, competition can be refined to accommodate fluid intelligence. Carcassonne requires little communication, so it’s also a good choice if that’s an area of concern.
On the flip side, Pandemic didn’t fare quite as well. The game is difficult to parse visually, with its tiny text and even tinier maps and points of reference. People who are color blind will have a very difficult time following cubes as they move across the board over the course of the game. The cubes’ small size compounds this problem, and also makes it difficult for people with physical impairments. Players need to be able to move cubes and pawns around the board, or else recruit a friend to assist.
Pandemic did get a B grade for socioeconomic accessibility, though. The game features a good gender balance that’s free of stereotypes–there are female scientists and researchers, although it lacks for racial diversity. Pandemic got a B in communication, too. The game, by nature, is about communication, although the game’s fast pace could make things difficult for some players.
Dixit is one of Meeple Like Us’ highest rated games so far. It’s only downfall is its color blind accessibility. The meeples are not on a color spectrum accommodating people who are colorblind, and the tokens used for keeping score are nearly impossible to differentiate. The game is image heavy, and it can be difficult to interpret some of the images on the cards. In the example above, the bottom middle card shows poppy flowers. But when you’re color blind, you might be seeing something else entirely–autumn leaves perhaps?
Visual accessibility aside, Dixit scored well in every other category. It’s great for cognitive accessibility, as the game in its purest sense is about looking at an image and deciding what it means to you. There are no right or wrong answers. The game is also not competitive, so it also gets a great score for emotiveness, too.
The reviews at Meeple Like Us are pretty eye-opening, and it’s easy to see how simple design choices could totally determine whether or not you can play a game. Board games are meant to be shared, and working to ensure that many more people can join in on the fun is certainly worth the effort.
Featured Image Credit: Game Inquire
Carcassonne and Dixit Image Credit: Meeple Like Us
Pandemic Image Credit: Hajime Nagahata | Flickr