Game changer: Designer takes on accessibility in a fantasy realm

·3 min read
Dragons & Travellers’ Tales allows two players to create a fantasy world through a guided experience that lets them decide their characters and goals.  (Submitted by Kyle Thompson - image credit)
Dragons & Travellers’ Tales allows two players to create a fantasy world through a guided experience that lets them decide their characters and goals. (Submitted by Kyle Thompson - image credit)

Kyle Thompson has been playing board games for years, but he found that games weren't always created for people like him in mind.

The former Kamloops, B.C., resident, who lives with ADHD and dyslexia, says making sense of board game rules wasn't always a smooth process.

"Learning the game, reading the rules, that's all really confusing and tiring sometimes," he told Daybreak Kamloops host Shelley Joyce.

For the last five years, he's been working on his own time to create a two-person tabletop fantasy role-playing game he's tried to make as accessible as possible. It's part of a growing trend in some parts of the board game industry, with companies like Access+ creating games geared toward inclusive gameplay.

Submitted by Kyle Thompson
Submitted by Kyle Thompson

Dragon & Travellers' Tales allows two people to create a complex fantasy world of their own invention. Players write character descriptions, settings and goals for their characters.

Over the course of six to 10 hour-long sessions, the players are guided through a story they help to create using written prompts and dice.

Thompson says It lets people explore not only their characters and the fantasy world but also helps players develop their relationships with each other as they co-create the story.

Thompson said he was focused on making sure that the instructions were really clear and accessible with descriptive text.

"I got dyslexic-friendly font for the text, and the whole text is laid out in something that's easy for dyslexic people to read, which is something I didn't see a lot out there," he said.

Games like this are something that Adrian Bolesnikov welcomes. He's doing his masters in human-computer interaction at Carleton University and has researched accessibility in board games. 

"It's incredibly important … there is a large gap in accessible gaming," he said.

Bolesnikov says game design often inadvertently leaves out people from differently-abled communities because aspects of accessibility just haven't been considered.

Submitted by Kyle Thompson
Submitted by Kyle Thompson

He says different user groups tend to develop workarounds to make games more accessible. Bolesnikov says in his research, he's seen people with vision impairment add DYI braille to playing cards or different textured stickers that allow cards or game spaces to be more easily differentiated.

He also says larger gaming companies are making add-ons. For instance, the popular game Ticket to Ride now has an Alexa guide that will help players navigate the game by providing verbal instructions and keeping track of things like scores and routes. While this helps all players, it can be especially useful for people who struggle with comprehension or visual aspects of the game.

While these features are not going to make the games accessible to every player, Bolesnikov said they do work towards making the games playable by more people.

"It's really important that we highlight the people making strides who have lived experiences because a lot of the time, the best ideas are coming from them," he said.

Dragon & Travellers' Tales will be released online in mid-September.