A Proposal for Standardizing Color Language in Video Games

A Proposal for Standardizing Color Language in Video Games

Color is a tremendously useful tool in game design. Players come to associate certain shades and hues with different mechanics and systems, which can obviate the need to label them in more intrusive ways. But there’s a problem — even as some conventions have been established, nobody has proposed a standardized system which can be applied across all games to avoid confusion. I mean, nobody asked, but here is one.

Doom Eternal

Red: Damage/Enemy

Red is bad! It’s the color of blood, which is supposed to stay inside of you. If you’re seeing red, that’s a problem. Red indicates when you’re taking damage (e.g. around the corner of the screen in a first-person shooter) and can also indicate enemies in UI overlays. We’re phasing out the use of the red cross on health pickups because it’s confusing and also maybe a violation of copyright? You could make the argument that health potions should be red because it’s like blood that you’re putting back into you I guess, but I’d prefer a different color.

Green: Healing

From now on, all healing effects are going to be green. If you pick up a green potion, that’s going to fix your wrecked body. If a fairy shoots a beam of light at you and it’s green, that’s going to be good for you. Green is a color that’s everywhere in nature, and if something is natural that means it’s good for you. Green is not for poison effects! We have a whole other color for that.


Purple: Poison

If you’re taking lingering damage from some kind of slime or curse or something, that’s going to be purple. As we all know, bubbling purple liquid is absolutely terrible for you. Remember that Sunny D commercial where the kids avoid the purple stuff? That’s why — it’s going to chip away at your health until you drink a nice green potion or visit a church to get a priest to fix it. Pokemon nails this, for the most part, with Poison-type Pokemon primarily being purple. However, some of them are still green — get on it, Game Freak.


Blue: Ally/Magic

Blue is another pleasant color — it’s associated with water and the sky, which are our friends. As such, blue is the perfect color to denote allies. Don’t shoot people whose names are in blue or who have blue arrows floating over their heads! They’re your pals. Blue is also the universal color of magical energy, i.e. mana. You know that Terry Pratchett book, The Colour of Magic? It’s blue.

Nobody Saves the World

Yellow: God

If there’s a God in your game, then you better believe it’s gotta have a yellow aura. Yellow is an ok color for healing effects, too, but only if the source is heavenly in origin. If you’re being healed by a heretical magical spell or a science ray, then it should probably be green.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2

Orange: Tails

Orange is Tails’ color. If you include orange in your game that means that the character Miles “Tails” Prower is playable. I don’t make the rules. I mean, I just did, but. Yeah.