King’s Quest Reminds Me That Video Games Screw Over the Colorblind

King’s Quest Reminds Me That Video Games Screw Over the Colorblind
Screepcap: King's Quest Episode 5
Screepcap: King's Quest Episode 5
The 2015 re-imagining of the legendary King’s Quest series was going to be my 2016 Game of the Year. That’s the sort of thing you can do when you build a major publication’s video game beat from the ground up. All I was waiting on in the final days of December was to finally beat the final chapter.

Which I couldn’t do. Because I, like 10 percent of all men, am colorblind.

The last chapter involves King Graham (Christopher Lloyd) as he nears the end of life telling stories of his adventures to his granddaughter Gwendolyn (Maggie Elizabeth Jones), but those stories becoming increasingly less coherent as he dies. Early on in the fifth and final chapter, he passes out and goes into a dream sequence, where the solution and objective involve him puzzling out a music box tune in order to progress.

The clues are simple. Each bit of the dream world has a number in a colored circle in it, and you simply put in those colors in the music box in the implied order. It’s so simple a child could do it, which is why I had a child (mine; I didn’t just grab one off the sidewalk) do it.

Here was the problem: I am so used to being screwed over by color puzzles I just immediately relied on a walk-through to get me to the answer, and had my daughter interpret the colors from the walk-through to me rather than attempting the puzzle. It turns out that according to the path you take in the game, the song you need to program in the box is different. The walk-through I found didn’t know that, and so the instructions from it that my daughter and I puzzled out didn’t actually work. I thought my game had a glitch, and so I started it over, just now completing it thanks to a helpful Reddit post that explained the existence of other songs.

“Man, this must be murder on the colorblind,” said one poster. Yep.

Look, I don’t expect health warnings similar to what games give for flashing lights possibly triggering seizures these days. My not being able to finish King’s Quest or participate in the hacking game of BioShock 2 is not in any way comparable to a seizure. I get that. Nor am I asking every game to look like Limbo or to offer a colorblind mode as Doctor Who Legacy does. I’m in a big minority, but a minority nonetheless.

That said, I wish more developers would take this into consideration when they design puzzles based on colors. I’m on a replay of Portal 2 now, and there isn’t much chance I’m going to mix up bright red, bright blue and bright white gels. More muted yellows, greens, oranges and yellows, though? That’s when things like the King’s Quest music box get kind of ridiculous for people like me.

It’s also a complete missed opportunity for a game like that, which is constantly breaking the fourth wall to comment on its series. Graham could have said something like “addendum 235847 stated that puzzles like these must have an alternate colorblind setting,” and it would have slayed.

I just wish that game developers would keep this disability in mind, and offer players some sort of alternate path that didn’t involve colors. Patterns work. It’s how I used to play Zuma. If not, well, it cost King’s Quest their only Game of the Year award.

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Jef Rouner is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner