Developing a chronic illness in 2018 fundamentally changed how I play games, which also changed which games I can play. This past spring I've started to take what I learned as a player to modify my design approach so I am creating games people like me can actually play.
This is not, to be clear, "how to design games while coping with a chronic illness," but more about how I have changed my own views on "good" game design as a result.
Conversation about accessible rulebooks often raises the question: why aren't more tabletop roleplaying games in epub and mobi format?
Diversifying the formats offered would allow more control over layout for those who need it. MOBI allows you to tap into all of the Kindle app's features like color of text and background, column size, text size, font, etc. EPUB allows control over font size, and also offers an easy to use text-to-speech feature.
I'm pretty sure that Jason Pitre was the one I first heard suggest a workflow involving markdown to allow easy adaption of your game text into ebook formats. Based on this idea, I decided to try and create a workflow that would allow me to publish games in 3 formats with the least amount of extra work: interactive PDF, EPUB, and MOBI.
So how did it go?
This post is the third in a series about increasing accessibility for those with dyslexia. Today, I want to cover how people with dyslexia process information differently. I'll introduce the tasks that can be harder for people with dyslexia, then apply it to game design in a practical way.
Since information processing affects many parts of gaming, this post covers the widest range of examples and topics. Think of it as an introduction to thinking with a dyslexic brain, with just a few illustrations of how that affects gaming.
Procedural Learning: Not so natural
There is evidence that those with dyslexia have a harder time with "procedural learning", i.e. learning by doing or observing. This is also called implicit learning.
A classic experiment illustrates the process of implicit learning. Scientists let a mouse wander around a maze several times with no rewards or incentive. Then they put the mouse in the same maze with food at the exit. The mouse that had explored previously found the exit much faster than a mouse that had never been in the maze before. Even though the mouse hadn't been taught to find the exit previously, it had "implicitly learned" the layout of the maze during its previous wanderings.
As humans, we rely heavily on procedural learning. We teach through observation followed by practice. This is summed up in the medical strategy: See one, do one, teach one.
Many people with dyslexia demonstrate a limited ability to learn through practice. Watching and even practicing an activity leads to limited improvement. Instead, many people with dyslexia require explicit learning, i.e. being told, "First do this, then do this, then do this, etc." People with dyslexia often need to build up a mental map of explicit rules and processes to understand how to complete a task.
For myself, I can only survive the extensive writing in my job because I created templates for documentation that explicitly state: write this here, then this here, then this here. Any novel writing tasks outside of this explicit structure tend to overwhelm my brain and take much longer. Similarly, I have never been able to learn a foreign language through immersion. Instead, the classical method of learning languages with charts and grammar rules is much easier for me.
How does this relate to game design?
Part 1: Layout Style
Part 3: Information Processing
This post is the second in a series about increasing accessibility with game design for those with dyslexia. Today, I want to focus on how writing style can make it easier (or harder) for someone with dyslexia to process information. I'll introduce some ways dyslexia affects how people read, then connect it back to games.
Understanding Dyslexia: How Are Our Brains Different?
People often view dyslexia through the lens of the symptoms: difficulty reading and speaking.
To write in a dyslexia-friendly fashion, however, I think it's important to understand the root cause of these symptoms. That knowledge gives us more flexibility to adapt our writing styles around the core difficulty, rather than try and memorize a list of tips. Luckily, advances in brain imaging and neuroscience can help us understand the root causes better than ever before.
Part 2: Writing Style
Part 3: Information Processing
There are several barriers to accessibility in tabletop roleplaying games, from financial, to international shipping, to variable willingness to offer digital PDFs, to reading disabilities. I want to start by focusing on the last one: trying to learn and play TTRPGs with a reading disability.
As someone with dyslexia—who is also frequently the GM and enjoys trying a wide variety of new games—in general, TTRPGs do very little to help those with a reading disability. (I'll be upfront and admit that some of my games have reflected many of the same problems as other games that I'm going to criticize.)
There are several ways to address reading disabilities: how text is laid out, how text is actually written, and how information is presented. In this three-post series, I review each. Starting with layout.
I'm known for going on tangents. The only consistent thing in my life is that I spend most of it creating things: novels, games, graphics. I love taking apart how art and games work, then reconstructing my own version from the pieces. I'm also enough of a layout perfectionist to adore eraser shields.