Part 1: Layout Style
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. This topic has many layers, so I will break it into multiple posts.
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
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 so far, Karma in the Dark, falls into many of the same traps 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 having non-print alternatives to learning rules. I'm going to touch on all of those areas in my blog posts—and own process for improving Karma in the Dark's accessibility—but today I want to start with layout.
In the latest version of Karma in the Dark, I decided to add a "safety tool" to the core rulebook. After a little thought, I decided to put it first in the chapter called "core concepts." Part of me worried about leading with a mechanic that is controversial in some gaming circles, but upon reflection, this mechanic is probably the most foundational and important in the book. I want players to see it that way. If the idea of such a tool turns them off, I prefer that reaction to someone using my game in a way that traumatizes another person.
This topic has a lot of layers. In a series of three posts, I want to talk about the concept of safety tools, why one is required for Karma, and why I chose Brie Sheldon's "script change tool" out of all the possible options.
Part One: Why Safety Tools
Objection 1: Nothing during gaming is "unsafe", so why do you need a safety tool?
This is a common objection. I rarely like to pull my doctor card, but I've been working in trauma for more than a decade and specialize in treating trauma. So you can bet I have Thoughts on this subject.
Two recent events made me think about the ways we react to feedback and how I was trained some 15+ years ago.
My first experience with feedback on creative projects was in an online, international poetry workshop. The workshop required you to read some basic rules about effective writing, required you to maintain a critiques-given to critiques-received ratio, tempered that with explicit guidelines on how to give effective feedback, and had guidelines about how to receive and incorporate critiques effectively.
One of the main rules was encapsulated in a FAQ question:
Q: What if the critique doesn't appreciate the art of my work and it hurt my feelings?
A: Thank them. Always.
(I am paraphrasing).
I learned the art of giving and receiving critique in that environment, and it permanently shaped how I respond to feedback. I am extremely grateful for that fact. It gave me the tools to navigate accepting criticism in all parts of my life.
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.