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Accessibility and Graphic Design (Mork Borg) with Marc Muszynski

Accessibility and Graphic Design (Mork Borg) with Marc Muszynski


It’s a bonus between-seasons Dice Exploder! Wowie!

As promised back in my episode with Gem Room Games about Mork Borg, today I’m talking about accessibility in game design using Mork Borg’s graphic design as an example. My cohost is Marc Muszynski, a friend and screenwriter with low vision, and we talk in detail about his experience with Mork Borg. Is this game, with all its important and loud art, accessible to people who can’t see? Like with most accessibility questions, It’s Complicated™!

Further reading:

Mork Borg

Accessibility in Gaming Resource Guide by Jennifer Kretchmer

TTRPG Accessibility Drive 2023 game jam on itch

Contrast checking tool for visual design.

Color checking tool for colorblindness.

Sylexiad, my favorite Dyslexia-friendly font:

Fate Accessibility Toolkit by Evil Hat

Two articles about “sanity” mechanics in RPGs (don’t put “sanity” mechanics in your games)


Marc on imdb (lmao)

Sam on Bluesky, Twitter, dice.camp, and itch.

Our logo was designed by sporgory, and our theme song is Sunset Bridge by Purely Grey.

Join the Dice Exploder Discord to talk about the show!


Sam: Hello, and welcome to a special bonus episode of Dice Exploder. Each week, we pull apart a tabletop RPG mechanic like a hot grilled cheese sandwich before feasting on its gooey innards. My name is Sam Dunewold, and this is my previously promised episode all about Mork Borg and accessibility.

If you just need a reminder, a few months back I put out this episode with Gem Room Games all about Mork Borg and it's graphic design. We had a ton to say, but we skipped over what in retrospect I think is a really important and juicy topic: accessibility.

Mork Borg is this heavy metal, in your face visual extravaganza. It's almost more of an art book than it is a game. And given that, is it an accessible game for people with visual impairments? The answer to that question, as with the answer to basically anything when it comes to accessibility, is it's complicated. But I love it's complicated. That's what podcasts are for, is taking on it's complicated.

Now, I am disabled myself. I have Crohn's disease , got a permanent ostomy bag, I take some hefty immunosuppressants, and my diet makes it hard to like, get lunch with a friend. And I think about disability and accessibility a lot as a result, but um, you know, I'm not blind. So if I was going to talk about visual accessibility, I figured I should have on a co host with first hand experience.

And so I invited on my friend Marc Muszynski. I know Marc first as a screenwriter here in Hollywood, California. He wrote on Dexter, New Blood. But like many of us screenwriting nerds, he's also an RPG aficionado. And Marc was so thoughtful and generous in how he talks about accessibility in Mork Borg, but also firm about his expectations when it comes to accommodations. And I really couldn't have asked for a better cohost.

Now, this is not an episode with many tips on the how of making your games more accessible. If you want those, there's a ton of resources in the show notes, and I'll shout out a few more after the episode's over. Instead, this is a conversation about the mindset we strive for when approaching making our art accessible.

So with all that said, here is Marc with Mork Borg's Graphic Design.

Marc, thank you so much for being here. Pleasure to have you.

Marc: Thank you for having me.

Sam: Yeah. So, we are here today to talk again about Mork Borg's graphic design, and specifically in the context of accessibility. Like, if there's one question that we are here to answer, definitely definitively and with no grey areas involved, it is is Mork Borg accessible to blind people?

But, that question actually is bad, and I want to ask you, as a low vision person, about like, what is your experience with blindness, which you aren't, or are, like, I think most people just think there's people who can see and people who cannot, and that's not true. So, tell me about like, what's your background in disability?

Marc: Well, I mean, I would say, I feel like you indirectly perfectly encapsulated it in the sense that like so many other things that have grown in the public conversation over the past 30 years, it's a spectrum!

And everyone's eyes are affected differently. Even amongst people who have, I have stargardt's macular dystrophy, which is a hereditary autosomal retinal condition. And it basically means that the back of my eyes, like the retina, cones and rods, don't work and are just sort of dead and floating there. And the end result is like, what's, I guess, the retinal version of, like, scar tissue.

And for me, the way that expresses is that my central vision is like, you know, 90 percent blurry in this just kind of swirling unseeable void. And then everything around that in the periphery is just generally bad. And so, I can see a little bit, but not well enough to drive, for example.

And the other thing that makes it extra hard to explain, like if I'm walking down the street, and someone almost bumps into me, and I am trying to explain that I didn't see them, they're like, you know, you're walking down the street just fine. And so much of it is contextual. The lighting matters. The amount of movement that's happening matters because my brain is basically trying to make a meal out of crumbs in a sense, visually, and so there's plenty of times where, like, something that's in my blind spot, like, I'll notice it at a different time or it'll pass into my blind spot and I'll forget that it's there because my brain will just stop seeing it. Or things that appear one color briefly, like, if I looked at it longer, I'd be like, oh, no, that's red. That's definitely red. it, it's just sort of working with crumbs.

And, uh, I know even other people with Stargardt's, or very similar retinal conditions, like, have wildly different experiences than that. Some other members of my family have it, and some of them can drive do plenty of other things, because it's not, it just doesn't express quite the same

But the end result is that it makes something like looking at a book of game rules to be... an experience that's hard for me to know if I share with anybody

Sam: Yeah, yeah. So can you read text?

Marc: I can, but I have the font, the like large text accessibility font blown up to the max, and it kind of looks like I'm trying to smell my phone when I do it.

Sam: I have seen you do that.

Marc: Oh yeah, and it's so funny because there's so many people who will assume you're smelling your phone before they will think that possibly you don't have good vision. I would say it's like a nine to one ratio of like, what are you doing?

Sam: Yeah yeah, so tell me about your experience reading Mork Borg. Let's just start there.

Marc: Definitely. Well, I guess I should start by saying that I loved your previous episode about it and you had reached out about this specific topic. So I, I definitely was listening and reading with that in mind. And I do think I was extra fascinated because I love graphic design. And I think in part, because I can't... I have a lot of obstacles to me doing it

Sam: yeah,

Marc: personally, but I've done so many things... I mean, even you know, directing theater and film stuff and I've done like web development and all these things where graphic design and the way that it visually presents become a hugely important factor in somebody's appreciation of the final product.

And so, what I decided to do was consume Mork Borg the way I would if it just came to me out of the blue, which is I actually listened to the rules first on the, they have the bare bones rules available for suggested donation. and I, sucked them into a, the app Voice Dream, where I, it just sort of processes PDFs and then will read them back to you.

Sam: yeah, it's a screen reader, right?

Marc: Yeah, and it's great. There's plenty of other wonderful ones too, but that happens to be the one that for me has the best voices that make me the least crazy to listen to for a long period of time. And especially for stuff like TTRPG books, which you know you're getting into a thing that is heavily graphically designed.

You're not only listening, but you're like, oh shit, I think I'm in a table right now.

Sam: Yeah.

Marc: I'm definitely in a table. Okay.

Sam: So actually, I want to pause you there and ask were there major problems, or was it pretty good in the Mork Borg Barebones edition?

Marc: So, there were some challenges because of the way that tables especially were laid out, and also because it blows by so quickly when you're listening, I had to keep going back a bunch. That, and there's a bunch of, you know, the words in the mythology of the game, a lot of them are not words that a reading device would have known how to say previously. So, that's always a delightful part of any sort of fantasy or science fiction or any other content like that.

The thing that always happens, though, is like, tables get weird, some of the mythology gets weird, but when it gets into the meat of the rules... and maybe this is coming from someone who's read and played plenty of other games, but like, that part, you know what you're listening for a little bit.

Sam: Mm.

Marc: Like, you know that they're trying to explain a mechanic to resolve conflict, for example, or once you realize you're in a table and you can kind of navigate it a little bit, you're like, oh, this is funny.

Like, Mork Borg has a bunch of hilarious tables, like the different Psalms for the end of the world and like, I feel like even, like, the weapons and stuff had a lot of stuff is, like, annotated in ways throughout the book that's really delightful.

Sam: This is actually the most interesting thing that happened in our sort of pre recording interactions was, I like, sent you the Bare Bones edition and then you came back to me, like this game rules, I completely get it, I've only consumed the Bare Bones edition, and you still like, I made this point in the original episode, but the text was good enough to convey all the same things that the graphic design is trying to convey, even if the design in the graphically laid out version of Mork Borg is conveying that stuff a lot louder. Like, the writing really came through for you, and I found that really... Impressive.

Marc: Yeah, and I don't know if that's because I'm I'm more used to scraping that kind of information from the writing of a gaming book. I do think they did an awesome job, like you're saying. And I guess, in general, what I think is that so much of Mork Borg is unified by this tone that they're trying to convey, and they did a really great job on all fronts.

And at the end of the day, for playing the game, you just need to know what that tonal target is, or that's one of the main things that you're getting from the graphic design and from the way it's written.

Sam: Yeah.

Marc: And I was, able to play, I actually ended up playing it with some of my favorite gaming friends, many of whom I, like, went to high school with, and I don't think any of them, I just said, hey, can we play this game? I didn't, I should have maybe given them more context, but I'm pretty sure they all just grabbed the bare bones version of the rules too. So other than the adventure that I think somebody found somewhere there wasn't a lot of art for anybody involved.

But they all completely understood what... well, I shouldn't say completely because can you ever truly understand what an artist is trying to communicate? But they, they all seem to get it too. And they, went into it with the goal of living in that, that macabre, like, hilariously dark world.

Sam: Yeah, totally.

I would be curious to hear you describe your experience of looking at the art of Mork Borg. Like, you taking it a square inch at a time? Or, like, pick a spread, and what does that spread look like to you?

Marc: Yeah here, I actually have it open right now, if you give me a

Sam: Yeah.

Marc: Okay, so I'm looking at the spread you were talking about on the podcast of the Weapons Table, which is such an ingenious way of doing this table, it's just a picture of a corpse riddled with different weapons, and, on each of the weapons it says the name of the weapon and the damage that it does.

so for me, if I zoom out, I can get the whole, I can understand the image, but then I have to process it in pieces. So I actually have to zoom, like, way in to be able to read where it says, like, short sword.

Sam: Yeah.

Marc: And because of that zooming and just because of my eyes in general, I don't know that I'd be able to understand, like, if you took the text away,

Sam: Yeah.

Marc: I'd be like, I don't know, it's like sort of daggery.

What else? I'm looking at like a, there's a sword, there's a short sword. There's a lot of stuff that like could be interpreted similarly.

Sam: Yeah.

Marc: But I, I'm zoomed in so far that I'm looking at, like, the guy's face and then I see that there's a knife sticking out of the side of his head.

Sam: Yeah.

Marc: and so I have to kind of scroll around and, and what makes it amazing is that it's so un table like. it's

Sam: Yeah.

Marc: more than anything.

Sam: Well, it's only like two thirds of a table, right? Because the 1 is on the previous spread. And the 7 through 10 are on the next spread.

Marc: And for me as a, as a disabled person, this is hard to navigate. But for me as an appreciator of creativity, I love how this just, just smashes the face of all of the rules of how you should normally lay out this kind of information for maximum clarity.

Sam: Yeah.

Marc: and because I understand that it's unclear for everyone a little bit, you have to do a little bit of work to understand what's going on, I'm not as emotionally put out as I might be otherwise because I know that I'm, I'm, all I'm having is a sort of accelerated effect of what everyone else is going through.

Sam: Yeah.

Marc: That, and I know that to play the game, all you really need to know is whatever weapon your character has, and I think they have that on a separate page reiterated.

Sam: Yeah.

Marc: So I sort of like float around it, scrolling side to side, which is one of my least favorite things to have to do. and I just get a little kick out of each thing I run into instead of taking it all in at a glance.

Sam: Yeah.

So... Overall, I think it's fair to say that you and I agree that Mork Borg is doing a pretty good job at being accessible here, given the quality of its writing, but do you think It should have tried to go further? Like, should there be a version that includes, like, alt text on every spread, or, Or is like, black and white, so that, like, there's someone on the Dice Exploder Discord Lady Tabletop, shoutout, who said she gets migraines just, like, looking at Mork Borg, and she has felt really left behind for that reason. That she can kind of see the visuals, but can't really engage with them and has had to stick to the barebones edition and feels left out. Hopefully I'm representing her accurately.

Marc: you know, I guess I can't obviously speak to, to her experience and that, that is a real bummer. And I can also feel just from how aggressive all the art is. As for anyone listening, since reading The Bare Bones and playing live, I went and bought the book because I was so curious what all the hubbub was about. And I'll say, it's gorgeous. I mean, obviously I have to zoom in, so I'm not quite seeing it exactly the same way as everyone else. But I love the variety of it, the different fonts and how it's laid out. Like, it's, a masterpiece of that.

And I think looking at it really made me think about, like, what, you're asking, like, is it accessible? The question in a way is, like, what experience is accessible?

Sam: Mmm.

Marc: If I'm trying to give someone the book and have them enjoy the book as much as I did, then, yeah, probably, like, alt text would help in that scenario, but if I want someone to play the game with me, that alt text might bog down, say like a screen reader for example. It might, for me at least, might bog down what I'm trying to really do, which is like understand what the actual rules of the game are. Because once I, caught on to, like, the tone, it was like I was looking for what the rules were so that I could play it, and also enjoying the ride of the story of this super messed up world.

And so I think, like, if the goal is to have people enjoy it as, like, an art book, or like a coffee table piece which it definitely qualifies as, as far as how well it's put together and, and designed then yeah, but I think if the point is to get them to the table where they can play the game and the accessible experience is the actual playing of it with your friends, then for me personally, I I think the bare bones edition is a great way to do that, and maybe an even more stripped down plain text version, purely for the sake of screen readers.

Although I don't know that there was any huge problems. It was really just around tables, if you had to figure that out. But I feel like those are, what I think is interesting as a person who loves games is like, I love craftsmanship of the game, the inventiveness of the game, the creativity that went into it, and the creativity it took to bring it to life in that specific way.

But like, when I'm actually playing the game, I didn't need the book at all.

Sam: It's such an interesting point to make that the experience you are trying to get everyone to in an RPG is the game at the table. I have never thought of accessibility in tabletop RPGs that way, but of course I should. Like, Mork Borg is a little bit of an exception in that it is clearly trying to function as an art book as well, but...

There, you're absolutely fucking right, like the point is to like get everyone at a similar level of expectation to the table, and the barebones edition is pretty good at that, at like, getting us to be able to play this game together, right?

Marc: Yeah, and when I think about the areas of accessibility for that part of the experience, a lot of it is stuff we haven't even touched on yet, like getting adventures that are accessible. And a lot of that stuff doesn't get the same attention that the core rulebook does, both as far as design, accessibility, all those things. But those are the kind of things where it's like, or even just having like a cheat sheet so that while you're playing you can be like, what do I roll for this kind of thing.

Sam: Yeah.

Marc: Which I think Mork Borg does have some of that stuff. But...

Sam: but it might be nice to have a plain text version, too.

Marc: Exactly, and something that anything that you can, command or control F and find, like, you know, weapon list or

Sam: Yeah. Yeah, exactly.

The other thing I'd throw in there, like, this could be another entire episode unto itself, but like, when you start talking about accessibility of finding adventures on the internet, like, actually getting people to the table with the context and rules they need to do collaborative storytelling together, I think monetary accessibility is like a huge deal, too. Not just in this country, but like globally, there's this whole conversation about global south creators especially have a hard time sort of accessing the industry because of finances, and capitalism, and creators need to get paid fairly, like, if we don't take care of each other, people are going to have a harder time putting out work, and like, all of that that I don't want to get into because it's just, it's a different hour, but, like,

Marc: yeah,

Sam: you're absolutely right that there's a ton of these barriers unrelated to disability at all, that play into accessibility.

Marc: And for example, in the case of I was like, Hey, I'm, I'm doing this podcast. I'd love to play this game before October 2nd or whatever. Is anybody free? And because they had the bare bones edition available, someone actually shared the link to download it before I even could because I was just asking if they would have any interest in it.

And so I was like, yeah, here it is. And they had all downloaded it and read it.

Sam: Yeah. Yeah. And, I think that it's great that Mork Borg has fostered such a community around it that allows you to do that, and it is, and like Google obviously just like helps with that. But, I think there are games out there that don't even have created. Good starting scenarios to sort of like let people show up and like dip their toe in and like kick things off.

Like, not everyone has the time to try to hunt down an adventure that they like. Not everyone has time to read a 300 page rulebook before you start playing. Like there are all these, these like practical considerations in accessibility of games that I think should be more a part of the conversation around.

Marc: And when it comes to the physical accessibility of it too, the group of people you have is at least in my case, and from my experience, like a pretty big factor in that as well. Because like if there's something buried deep within one of the books, I can just say, Hey, does anybody have that book handy?

Like, I'm happy to go find it, but it's going to take me like five minutes to do it. It might take you one and then we can all get back to playing. Or even just people who, I feel like a classic example is just like having a, whoever's running the game know the rules really well so they can just go, you're going to roll 2d6 and you're trying to beat this number.

Sam: Yeah, or like the way I always used to run Dungeons and Dragons was like, yeah, I know how the rules work, but like I'm not gonna learn how the Warlock works. Like that's your problem you're the Warlock. Like We have to divide and conquer the rules here because I don't have time for everything.

Marc: Yeah, I mean, I've been in a Genesis campaign, and I know I've read the whole rules at some point, but we've just sort of reverted to, it reminded me honestly of the a little bit of the Calvin Balling article on the Dice Exploder, this is a Dice Exploder blog plug.

If you're just listening to the audio, you're not even getting the full Dice Exploder experience guys. But it's one of those things where it's like, we all agreed on that and we knew that. And the real goal was to have fun in the moment. And if instead of digging through the book to find out if there was a rule covering something, we just got to the point where we would kind of estimate what it was based on the other rules we knew.

Sam: Yeah. Well, another thing that you brought up in there is playgroup, like, I know people who find playing story games inaccessible because their friends are stuck on D& D, or their friends don't want to do roleplaying games at large, and they don't want to play on the internet, or everyone they find on the internet is a jerk, or just tracking down a group of people to play these games with at all is harder for some people than others.

Marc: Yeah, I know it's sort of a double edged sword because I think as a teenager getting into gaming, that was weirdly like the blessing. It was a sort of just excuse. It was like I had to figure out four friends or else I couldn't play D& D. and having that regular activity was a thing that brought us together.

and I think that's part of why there's, there was such a boom during the pandemic when everyone, realized you could zoom play these games and that the physical in person experience, although it, it's awesome, isn't necessary. And maybe that's a good correlation to kind of what we're talking about here too.

It's like, does the art in the Mork Borg book add something to the experience? Like, yeah, it's beautiful, but does it prevent you from enjoying your time playing the game? Not necessarily.

Sam: Well, I think, playing remotely is a great example of a lot of this stuff that we're talking about because playing remotely makes things more accessible for a lot of people. Suddenly, not only can you play with a wider group of people in your life, Like I have several groups where every different person lives in a different state or country, but you know, I'm immunocompromised and for a while it was just not easy for me to go in person to meet up with people and play these games. And that's true of plenty of people.

But you also like gain a bunch of tools by like everyone can have a copy of the book open on their computer easily And that makes things easier in some ways. You can have like a shared whiteboard that everyone can look at at the same time which. Allows you to all be drawing at once on something as opposed to having to pass a piece of paper around or whatever. Like there are real gains you gain in gameplay by moving digitally.

But you also Lose some things, right? It's harder to just be like, I'm gonna sketch a quick map here, and here it is, it's like on the table now, we're looking at it. Like, there's some things that being in person makes easier. Picking up on social cues, facial expressions, all that stuff. You can, like, learn the language of doing that on Discord, but it's harder.

And I think that that is a fabulous example of accessibility at large. That like, you can change a thing, and it will make some things better and more accessible in certain ways, and it'll make other things worse and less accessible in certain ways, but the fact that you have a diversity of options means you're gonna be including more people overall, and like, that's the big important thing.

Marc: And I also think, I'm just sort of flipping back through my mental scrapbook of gaming in person and Zoom experiences, and honestly, the funny part about it is It's easy to think about these like tangibles, like, we were playing on Zoom, we were playing in person. But like at the end of the day what I would like from gaming is most often to have a fun time playing the game, and probably also a chance to hang out with old friends or something like that.

Sam: Yeah.

Or new friends.

I just got back from Big Bad Con.

Marc: Yeah, exactly, yeah.

And so... when I think about, like, the actual experiences, like, sure, I've spent a bunch of time where you're all in person, you're kind of making group decisions, and I don't want to be the one who's like, well, I can't see this card game very well.

Like, I've played card games where I can barely see the cards, and I know that I'm going to lose, because half the time I'm just playing something from my hand so that I'm not delaying the game for everyone else. And I still have a great time,

Sam: Yeah,

Marc: you know, or at least an okay time, because I'm curious about the game, because I like the other people, and because there, we're all bringing an energy of trying to have fun. I'll play a game in any scenario, as long as everyone wants to have fun doing it.

And you could curate the most amazing, you know, you could have like, the perfect physical table, the perfect spread of snacks, and all of your favorite people, and if one of them is just like, I'm having a shitty day and I'm gonna take it out on everyone else, eh.

Sam: Yeah,

Marc: You know, it doesn't matter how many like, Costco frozen pizzas you made.

Sam: I think there's an interesting framing you just did in there of games as an accessibility tool in and of themselves for socializing

Marc: Mmm, yeah.

Sam: like It is not always easy to sit down and to hang out with people especially people you've recently met or even old friends you just have a hard time keeping up with. Like I'm in my 30s now and like it's adult world is crazy people having kids. Yeah, it's it's a it's the whole thing. And just having a framework to describe how we are going to hang out makes it easier to do so than to just say Are we gonna like show up on Monday nights and like, shoot the shit? Like, why, what, huh? But then like the game itself, like the card game you were describing, is completely inaccessible to you, right? Like, you are using it as a to an accessibility tool to, like, a greater purpose. But like, that tool is completely off the mark.

And, and so like I think it is helpful there to think about the, like, what is the actual accessibility goal that you're shooting for, and how can you support getting there?

Cause like someone should try to make that card game more accessible to you, or the group should be like, Eh, maybe we could like, find a different thing to do than the like, card game that Marc can't play. Like, but also like, maybe that doesn't matter, because your goals are like set differently.

And I want to kind of just bring this back to making art and designing games, that that same thought process is true in the game itself. Like, if you're making an art book, if that is your goal, then the way you make that accessible is really different than if your goal is to make a game that people are playing at their own home tables. And what you are aiming for your like top level goal and then taking individual pieces and tools underneath that and seeing how can you change them adjust them to like feed into that top level goal? I think is how to think about accessibility at l arge.

Marc: That makes a ton of sense. And I also think there's a tricky thing with art. I was reading, Rick Rubin wrote a book recently that everyone has been telling me to read I think it's called The Creative Act: A Way of Being and I finally started reading it, and I was like, god damn, they were all right. It is a great book.

But one of the things he says that I've heard a million times before but like it's one of those things it's like you just keep forgetting it over and over is like you can make a thing and someone else could enjoy it or have any reaction to it whatever that reaction is and they might not have that reaction for any of the reasons you put into making it. Like one of my other friends had just sent, around the rules to Mork Borg, I might have never known that the graphic design existed.

Sam: Yeah

Marc: And I might have had whatever reaction to the game that has, you know, nothing to do, if I just hated death metal and that kind of aesthetic, I'd be like, whatever. Or, I might love death metal, but feel like this is not the right kind of it, I don't know. But the point is, you just never really know what someone's gonna get out of the thing.

And that's kind of like the great joy and terror of creating anything. Because once you externalize it, the audience can do with it what they will.

Sam: yeah,

Marc: And I think it's one of the big challenges for something like accessibility is It's sort of still tethered to your original vision of what it is. And you know, as humans, we have, I think I put in the outline for this episode, the phrase theory of mind, which I'd been reading in a bunch of AI related articles,

Sam: Yeah.

Marc: but it's, it's like theory of mind is the ability to reason about the internal mental states of other people and now other non people.

But on a super complex level, we spend a lot of time as humans guessing how other people feel and think about things. But all we have to do that with is our own experience and the limited amount we've heard and been able to glean from other people around us.

And so I think accessibility is a special challenge in this area because you want it to be accessible for the way you intended it to be consumed, but you also only have a limited, like, even I wouldn't necessarily know how to make it perfectly accessible for other low vision people for all the reasons we talked about earlier.

Sam: well, I have like six things I want to say about all that, but the first is like, this is the thing with not just accessibility, but art, full stop. And like, being a human being and communicating with other people at all, is that, yeah, accessibility is a noble goal, but like, the point of art for me, is that I am trying to express something to an audience. And it is not possible to be inside my brain, like you, so I'm always going to be expressing imperfectly. Like you cannot experience the same thing that I am experiencing and trying to, to share with you, but you can get something close, hopefully? Maybe? Or as you are describing, like maybe something completely different.

And I think the goal of accessibility is for my expression to be heard and understood by as many people as possible. But you simply are not going to succeed at communicating with everyone. Because like, everything is inaccessible to someone, right? Like, and we shouldn't not make first person shooters because some people get motion sick looking at them, right?

Like, like, the problem is if all video games are first person shooters so people who get motion sick looking at them never get to play any video games. Like, the problem is that certain people get left out way more frequently than other people. Like, I don't, your, art, your individual piece of art is never going to be a tent big enough that you communicate what you are burning to communicate with the entire world, right? But, making that tent bigger is cool, and making a lot of tents that exclude the same people over and over is not good, and you should strive to not do that.

Marc: That's fair. But I mean, and I think what's hard is accessibility is often framed in trying to open the door to people who can't do certain things, or who like have an obstacle in accessing the thing the way you want. And so it's, inherently like, negative isn't quite the right word because accessibility is really positive, but it's, you know, you could argue that like none of Michelangelo's work is accessible to blind people.

Like, and I've, like, I went to the Sistine Chapel. I could not really see it, you know? I could tell that everyone else was having, like, I got a waterfall reaction of everyone else in the space having their breath taken away or whatever, but...

I went home and I looked at zoomed in pictures. So I was like, I guess this is what they were talking about, but you don't, I don't know.

It, I think what

Sam: It's different, it's different. You had a

Marc: and yeah, and there's always trade offs. And I think where, where so much of it, and I think this is probably true in areas outside of disability too, but I wouldn't necessarily be able to speak to that. But it's like, the, the challenge is often like, commercial too.

It's like, if you make a hugely successful, expensive thing that everyone wants to be a part of, You are, to my mind at least, more morally obligated to make that accessible than if you're just shooting off, like, a thing you made in your basement to the best of your ability in the limited time you have between, you know, supporting your family and uh, you know, going to your job and doing your other responsibilities as a human being. I, as a consumer, am not going to be like this asshole couldn't have even made it accessible for me because they wanted to feed their children this month.

Sam: Yeah, like I, I think, a thing I was trying to say earlier distilled into one sentence is, it's okay to fail at accessibility because you are always going to fail at accessibility. Like you should do your best, but like, your best is gonna be way worse than like Coca Cola's best, right?

Marc: So it's like, as long as you are doing everything you can,

Sam: Yeah, it's like, you know,

Marc: because I don't want to let Coca Cola off the hook.

Sam: Yeah, that's what I'm saying, yeah, yeah, like, and I, I think what you are saying is important too, that like, it's not morally wrong to not put out a audiobook version of your game. But if you have like 20 minutes and a phone, you can probably throw that up on itch.

Like, like, I don't know, like, maybe,

Marc: think what would help in the disability accessibility space too, and this does exist, or some versions of this exist it's just like, I think a lot of it's just unawareness

Sam: hmm.

Marc: It's like, yes, I want to make my thing accessible, and I used Microsoft Word, and usually that stuff ends up accessible.

And I found this list of other accessibility stuff I could do, and I did all those things, and that's great. And I think one of the other things that I try to remind myself whenever I'm making something is like what you're saying, like do everything you possibly can within your power to do, and also don't be afraid to ask other people to help you with it because if you have a popular enough thing, and there's a demand for an audiobook version of it, there might be people who need it and people who generally just want to support accessibility who will help you bring that to life, like whether that's donating money or whatever.

But also knowing that accessibility is a process. Because you're always gonna find out about like, for example, you could make it amazing for people with low vision and find out it gives people migraines. And then you're like, well, shit, all the things I did to make it accessible for low vision, increase the contrast or whatever is a common thing for low vision, that might contribute to migraines for all I know. Or it contributes to some other thing.

And so you're constantly balancing these tradeoffs and doing your best. I guess I'm circling back around to your do your best, but know that it will never be perfect.

Sam: Well, another example I want to talk about is, like, transcripts for this podcast. Shoutout to you if you're reading the transcript to this right now. I love you.

I make transcripts for this podcast using Descript, is the program that I edit in, which I have mixed feelings about because Descript is like really excited about AI and has all these AI technologies attached to it that, like, I think are kind of the good use of AI tools? They're allowing me to make this show more accessible by generating a transcript. And then I edit the transcript as I go, because the AI isn't, you know, it's like 90 percent good at it, but there's a lot of, in that remaining 10%. So I like, clean everything up. I make sure it's spelling Nechrubel properly and so forth. And that's like, a surprising amount of work and like, time investment on my part, but I've decided it's important to me to do that.

And I was at Big Bad Con this weekend, and went to a podcast panel, and people were like, ha, transcripts are really expensive to get right, the AI stuff is first of all, AI technology, and second of all, pretty inaccurate, and like, not every podcast has a transcript as a result.

And I think all of those things are true at once, that like I totally get it if someone doesn't want to use AI tools, and like, that also means that their podcast doesn't have transcripts. I understand if someone's like, I'm gonna just like, have the AI generate the transcript, and the transcript's gonna be wrong a lot of the time, but like, that's better than nothing, like, so people can read a lot of it. There's still 90 percent of it in there that's good. And I understand people who are you know, paying 120 an episode to get their thing transcribed or doing what I'm doing and, like, taking the extra time because they have it, because I don't have kids, to like go through and edit the transcript and make it good.

Like, all of those things are different levels of accessibility. With different trade offs attached to them, that all feel really defensible to me in terms of like which one you would go for. And I think, I just think that's a great example of any kind of accessibility work you are doing as a creator.

Marc: And I think in the creative space, there's a weird thing because so, so many projects are just started, out of passion and often self financed. And they take, it's not nothing to put together a podcast, the amount of work you do, scheduling, recording, editing, all of the stuff is a lot to then throw an extra, chunk of work on top to get an episode out.

I've, you know, been a, producer and host of a couple of different podcasts over the years, and it is a lot but I think the interesting thing about accessibility is the only time people care is when they want access to your content.

Sam: Yeah, yeah.

Marc: So, but I think what is so hard for in at least in the world we live in right now, the demand for content compared to the cost of producing it is like, they don't scale at the same rate. So, like, the cost of creating a ton of different accessibility features might outpace the cost, and I say cost meaning both money and time, I guess might outpace the amount of demand.

but I, and so I think there's this tricky gray area, and then at some point you hit like the Coca Cola range, like you were describing earlier, where it's like, I think we all agree that there's enough demand that this should be accessible.

Sam: yeah, yeah.

Marc: so in that sense, I think what would help is any giant ass list of all the really easy, cheap, free, automatable things you can do to make stuff accessible. That you know, would help anybody. And then also just knowing where you are on the curve. And as a creator, knowing where you are on the curve too, like, and trying your best to be ahead of that.

To be ahead of, like, where you would otherwise be. Like, if you can give that extra hour to make a transcript, there's at least somebody out there who really appreciates it.

Sam: And another thing I'll say is David Radcliffe is another disabled screenwriter that I think we both know, and he tweets with some frequency about how if you make your space, your game, your whatever more accessible you open yourself up to a whole audience that is hungry for that.

That like, you might be surprised how making your game more accessible to a particular community will bring in that community as an audience that you otherwise would not have had because they don't have a lot of other options, and that's cool.

Marc: It's definitely true that, of me and my group of friends, when I've been at conventions, the games that are accessible are more often than not the ones that we play.

Sam: Yeah, no shit.

Marc: Accessible, I guess I should say, from my point of view. That's the other thing, too, is like, accessible in isolation means nothing. It's like, to who? How? For what? What are they accessing?

Sam: I think we should also make a distinction between what is accessibility mean in art, and like, what does accessibility mean like, in life, just like, getting around. Like, I think there's a really big difference between the accessibility of, like, food and water and shelter, and the accessibility of, like, ramps into buildings, and, like, Mork Borg's plain text edition, you know? Like, those are all really different things,

Marc: It lives a little bit higher on, like, the Maslow's Hierarchy of needs, you know? It's not that art isn't a need.

Sam: Yeah, yeah. and like, I would argue that food and shelter are more important access needs than ramps into buildings. Not that ramps into buildings aren't incredibly important access needs for people. And thinking about, again it's a spectrum but like, what are you, ethically or morally obligated to provide when you create anything, in terms of accessibility, is messy. It's messy. Do your best. I dunno.

Marc: Well, and it's, it's, like, the Bare Bones edition of Mork Borg, I don't know how much of the creation of it was an accessibility attempt or just a way to provide the rules of their game.

And they're such an interesting case, and maybe this is a helpful case for others, but because the book itself has so much value as an art piece, I would guess they weren't as afraid to give away the rules knowing that people who found the game and liked the game would be that much more motivated to have this very collectible, beautiful art piece. And a side effect of that is to provide accessibility.

Whereas oftentimes it goes the other way around, like, if you provide a plain text version, you're either giving it away for free, and thus anyone can get it, or you're charging a lot for a plain text version, which seems somehow also unethical.

Sam: Yeah, yeah, not unethical. I know plenty of people who do that. Like, there's this campaign that has gotten a lot of praise in the past year called Wolves on the Coast, which is entirely just in plain text, and it's really popular, really successful, and that's great, obviously, right?

Like, no one should feel bad about just putting out their game as a Word document, that rules, like, do it.

Marc: And I'd say that, I guess I should really completely take back everything I just said in that vein, which is like, we're like, we're writers. What you're paying for in the plain text version is the writing.

Sam: Yeah, yeah, and it's cool to provide a graphic design thing too and like it's just all it's just all shades of gray.

Marc: I think it's different too when you're, when you're a game designer, your perception of how a game works and what goes into the book and all that is like very high resolution.

Sam: Yeah.

Marc: And most players of games or casual fans of things, which almost always is the majority of consumers of a thing, are working with a much lower resolution. So their experience of something doesn't...

Like, it's easy in, like, screenwriting work, like, I'll, like, read a script and be like, how, be very impressed with some, you know, nuance of whatever that went into it, of craftsmanship, of a technique, or of a way of accomplishing an often challenging thing and nobody else reading the thing might even care to bother to notice that.

And they don't need to. And I think that makes it hard too, because you'll get into moments where you're like, oh my god, the graphic design of this is so important. It's so propulsive and it intensifies the experience so much. "You couldn't live without it."

And I think that's the blessing and curse of having a high res perception on something like this.

Sam: yeah.

Marc: But I do, I do think it's worth saying that whether you're aware of the choices you're making or not, by choosing medium, by choosing the format of something, choices like font size, choices like contrast and all of that, you might be doing them for one purpose, but they're having other impacts like, like accessibility.

And I think from, you know, from the, the social model of disability point of view, it's like you as the creator, for better or worse, you are responsible for all the choices that went into this thing that you made. And some of those choices will become obstacles to access, whether you want to or not.

and it's really easy to be like, ah, but I, I couldn't help it. But like, take the mantle of responsibility for accessibility.

Sam: Yeah. But be okay with failure! Like, it's you're going to fail. You can't succeed. Like, we already talked about this, but like, you are going to fail. Everyone should be okay with failure. Our society would be so much better if everyone was fine fucking up and failing all the time. And you should try your best, you should do better, and like, strive to learn and make improvements from project to project on accessibility specifically.

But it's also there's always going to be more to learn. You're never going to get it perfectly right, and that's okay.

Marc: Yeah and know that you will fail, and that it's a process. And, the thing about a process is you have to engage in it. Like, you have to keep doing it. Which also means, continuing to fail on some level.

Sam: Yeah.

Well, Marc, thank you so much for joining me today. This was incredible really, really great conversation, I think. Yeah.

Marc: Thank you so much for having me, this was a blast. Longtime listener, first time caller, you know.

Sam: Thanks again to Marc for being here!

Before I go, I want to take a sec and really plug the hell out of today's show notes because if you're coming out of this like "damn, okay, but what do I actually do to make my game more accessible other than put out a plain text version?" Well, there are so many people who have got you covered. In my mind, the gold standard resource here is the Accessibility in Gaming Resources Google Doc compiled by Jennifer Kretchmer, aka DreamWisp on most socials. Jenn is an incredible performer, gamer, and disability activist, and this resource list is just so thorough. Check it out, then toss her a couple of bucks for all the work she did putting it together.

I'll also recommend the TTRPG Accessibility Drive Game Jam going on on Itch and hosted by Tim Zee. The jam page has more good links. Plus, it's a game jam. Update one of your old games with an accessible new version and submit it. There's always time for that.

Finally, I've got a few other links down there that I really like. A couple of tools: one to check color schemes for acceptable levels of contrast, another for checking how your color schemes will look with various forms of colorblindness, plus my favorite dyslexia friendly font. And that's what I got!

That's all for this week. You can find Mark on IMDB, I guess? I don't know, probably just leave the guy alone.

You can find me on socials at sdunnewold as always, itch and bluesky preferred, or on the Dice Exploder Discord.

Our logo was designed by sporgory, and our theme song is Sunset Bridge by Purely Grey.

And thanks, as always, to you for listening. See you soon!

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Dice Exploder
Dice Exploder
A show about tabletop RPG design. Each episode we bring you a single mechanic and break it down as deep as we possibly can. Co-hosted by Sam Dunnewold and a rotating roster of designers.