How can graphic design improve the accessibility of board games, creating a more user-friendly experience for players with disabilities?
Aim and Objective
Research shows that a higher percentage of disabled people feel lonely compared with non-disabled people, and a shocking 75% of young adults with a disability report that they are lonely.
One of the main barriers to tackling loneliness is accessibility. How can someone with a disability increase their social interactions if they are physically unable to take part in the day-to-day activities that many of us take for granted?
One social activity that has soared in popularity in recent years is playing board games – and no, I’m not talking about Monopoly. Modern board games such as Ticket to Ride, Pandemic, and many more provide a platform for players to connect and form friendships.
Ensuring hobbies such as board games are more accessible for everybody is one way we can tackle loneliness among people with disabilities. A physical gathering around a board game table is a special, social event that no digital or video game can replicate.
The mental health benefits of playing board games are well documented, from the cognitive benefits of keeping your brain active to the social benefits of playing games with friends. Tabletop games have been proven to combat isolation and as a result reduce feelings of anxiety and depression in adults. We should, therefore, ensure that this hobby is accessible to as many people as possible, and certainly to those who are more vulnerable to poor mental health and feelings of loneliness, such as those with a disability.
Unfortunately, many board games are not published with accessibility in mind, and I therefore chose to address this for my Final MA Project. Rather than design a new game, I wanted to address the lack of accessibility in existing games, so that everyone could feel welcome at the table, no matter the game being played.
For my final outcome I designed the Board Game Accessibility Kit, an idea born from research conducted among the tabletop gaming community and conversations with industry experts. From my own love of playing board games, I was familiar with frequently used game mechanics and components, and realised that the key to removing accessibility barriers across multiple games was to focus on the universal components that all gamers are familiar with.
Most games are made up of base components that change very little in terms of functionality – a board (or sometimes many tiles that make up a board), and 1cm cubes, often in multiple colours, that represent an in-game resource, monster, or similar.
These simple sounding components present quite the accessibility challenge for anybody who struggles with more dexterity-based games – precise movements are often required to place a cube on a specific area of the board. As a game progresses, the board can quickly become covered in these cubes. It only takes one accidental nudge of the board to disrupt the placement of these cubes and cause confusion for everyone playing. This can turn fun to frustration in a matter of seconds for anybody who struggles with grip, precision, or a tremor.
The kit that I designed comes with magnetic versions of these game components, and tools to help you adapt a range of games to suit your own accessibility needs. A magnetic playmat instantly turns your whole game board magnetic, while smaller adhesive magnets can be fixed to individual tiles or pieces. Barrier tape brings the whole thing together, both protecting the original game components from the harsher adhesive of the magnets, and helping to seamlessly blend the kit in with original game artwork.
At the time of submitting this project, the Board Game Accessibility Kit was poised ready to launch on Kickstarter, a prospect I am hugely excited by.
How has your practice developed while studying the MA in Graphic Design with a global cohort?
Working with so many talented designers from all across the world has absolutely helped me develop my skills and confidence. I have been exposed to many new ways of thinking and creating, and our shared online studio spaces have helped us feel far more connected than I expected from an online course.