"I'm sure with the benefit of hindsight we can all agree Quake wasn't exactly easy on the eye. Which was your favourite Quake level? The brown castle, the greenish brown temple, or the other brown castle? Jericho shows us exactly how far we've come with the levels being, in order: brown ruins, more brown ruins, brown castle, more brown castle and revenge of the brown castle."
Desaturating or heavily tinting a game a single color for the sake of realism, usually to a sepia effect (hence the trope name), but sometimes blue or pure grey.
Giving a game a narrow color palette can make it look gritty, dramatic and "realistic" and stand out from similar titles. Done well enough, a game and its color scheme will always be associated with each other. In practice, this means a world of brown, grey, and the occasional red (y'know, from the blood splatteron the camera).
It's also used to cover up a limitation of lighting and shading engines even in modern games - a light shines down and illuminates an object from that side, sure, but figuring out where the light goes after that and what else around it might also be illuminated (a process called interreflection) is extremely difficult for the computer to simulate, especially when it needs to do so 60 times every second. Until very recently, the only solution was to use static lighting (accurate light and shadow mapping planned out in advance) and while reasonably effective, it comes at the cost of not having dynamic or interactive terrain or lighting, which in turn means no smooth day/night cycling or destructive terrain physics. (This may be one of the reasons why Battlefield 3 and Crysis have such high system requirements, as they try to do both things at the same time). Again, if everything is tinted one dull color, it's not as noticeable.
A handful of 2D and early 3D games used this to make up for a limited amount of onscreen colors, as they operated on limited-size color palettes, and requiring more hues to display a scene meant sacrificing subtle variations in saturation and brightness for those hues (as each variation requires a separate color in the palette).
Unfortunately, at a certain point your players will take a look outside their window and back at your game, and something will seem wrong. Why are those palm trees brownish green, even though you're supposedly on a tropical island? Brown may be realistic for some surfaces, but not for all of them, and everything is best taken in moderation, otherwise you'll end up with a game that's Deliberately Monochrome.
It's becoming increasingly common for colorful games to mockingly parody this trope, usually by including an optional "next-gen" filter, tinting the whole game brown. This could make Real Is Brown on the way to becoming an Undead Horse Trope.
See here for further info.
See also Mood Lighting, Color Wash. The use of Post-Processing Video Effects makes Real even Browner. See also the sister trope Who Forgot The Lights?, which deals with a shortage of light in general. This trope is usually when Color Contrast is deliberately avoided. Usually paired with a Crapsack World for added "realism".
Now with a theme song. Resistance 3 - Fade to Brown Music Video.
NOTE: This trope does not apply to a game taking place in an environment that actually would be gray or brownish in Real Life, like a lot of deserts. Unless they're just set in a desaturated environment to make their lack of color look like a deliberate design choice.
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Video Game Examples
Many parts of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess do this when the bloom and brown come close together, particularly outside of the Snow, Zora and Forest areas. Most of the background art during the first half of the game is either gray, brown or light green with a brown filter over it; and that's before you enter the Twilight Realm, in which case, the Twilight descends over the scenery, making everything look even more brown. In an ironic twist, the homeworld of the Twilight Realm averts this trope, as it instead uses shades of purple and yellow for the sky, and grey with blue for the ground and the internal rooms of the Palace of Twilight.
Shadow of the Colossus is said to have popularized the Real Is Brown trend, seeing as it was still a breathtakingly beautiful game, aesthetically speaking, and inspired other games to go with muted colors and lots of bloom. Note that the designers were not actually going for realism, but rather, a very stylized look. The game accentuates whatever the prevailing colours are in the area you're currently traversing. For example, when the player explores places of lush green, those colours are picked for enhancement instead of the yellowy brown of the desert or the dark earth.
Assassin's Creed I plays this in a similar level. And if there's nothing to brown-ize (or whatever color seems to be supposedly prevalent in an area), the bloom gets intensified Up to Eleven.
Tomb Raider: Anniversary is noted for its greys and browns (particularly in Egypt) compared to the bright colors of the original. It makes sense considering most of the areas have been subject to hundreds if not thousands of years of weathering, dirt, and dust.
Prince of Persia (2008) seems to be this. Though it's a thematic choice; as the title character liberates the world from darkness, it becomes verdant and lush again.
I Am Alive is just one small step above complete grayscale. Fitting when one thinks of the dust of the post-apocalyptic world it takes place in covering everything.
Stubbs the Zombie has the tutorial level as full of vibrant colors, but when you start the game proper, the developers added a grainy green filter over everything, to apparently showcase what the world looks like to a zombie. As if anyone ever wanted to know.
Played with, but generally averted in Heavy Rain. The beginning of the games starts out with such bright lighting and colors that it almost makes your eyes water. After things go bad, the colors are dark, dingy brown-greens and rusty reds. However, the color later returns, and there's several bright and/or realistically subdued color schemes throughout the whole game. Including one very saturated location that looks like it was lifted right from 2001
Armored Core 4 is an extremely gray and brown game. It's very jarring compared to the old installments, which were vibrant, almost technicolor-y in parts. Frustratingly, the environments seem to have a bleaching effect, so that bright red mech you just made is going to look just as gray as everything else. Its sequel, 4 Answer, is still pretty brown/gray, but it improves the shading noticeably to avoid the weird, faded out ghost effect of 4. Compare 3◊ with 4◊. Even the interface is bleached out.
The Matrix Path Of Neo has at times very heavy green tint, otherwise it's mainly grays, black and other drab colors, except for a few random pops of brightness. 
Limbo of the Lost could almost be considered an unintentional parody (or is it?) of this trope; despite almost every background being plagiarised from a wide variety of sources the game still manages to be an unrelenting onslaught of brownish hues.
Need For Speed Most Wanted paints the whole scene brown-orange every time you crank up the Visual Effects; when NFS Carbon was created, they thankfully replaced the gritty brown with modern, cutting-edge blue.
While the Mario Kart series has traditionally avoided this trope like the plague, a few of the tracks in Mario Kart 8 have a strangely subdued, low-contrast palette. This is particularly notable in the Retro tracks, when you compare both versions and notice just how much brighter the old versions are. There are still plenty of courses with the familiar bright colors of past Mario Kart games, though, and the tracks are generally much better at distinguishing what amount of less saturated colors is actually realistic than some other examples on this page.
Starting with Melee, the series tends to give its character models more realistic details if possible; especially noticeable in this regard are cartoony characters like Mario. Bowser usually is depicted as orange or dark yellow in the original Super Mario Bros. series. In Melee he is just dirt brown◊, although this has been remedied a bit for Brawl.
Smash Bros for Wii U and 3DS aims to avert the trope by focusing on primary colors so characters and levels look brighter and pop out more.
First Person Shooter
Resistance 3, full stop. IGN has posted a video called "Fade to Brown". Averted near the end, where things in New York take a vibrant white as the snow stacks up, and the end level is almost completely blue and purple.
Battlefield 3 plays with this trope a little. Maps like Bandar Desert,Talah Market and Operation Firestorm has a brownish filter over it. All maps have a desaturating, blue tint applied to them; disabling it via SweetFX results in a vastly different looking game.
"Which do you prefer, the brown castle, the greenish-brown temple, or the other brown castle?" — Zero Punctuation
Quake II seems to like the color orange. The PSX port however much prefers shades of blue and green.
Daikatana followed up with a subversion by making everything green, instead.
Any modern Call of Duty/Medal of Honor game, except Modern Warfare 2, which is quite vibrant in places, particularly the Rio de Janeiro levels. Naturally, there were complaints about the game being too colorful; on the other hand, there were complaints about the game not being as pretty-looking as the glossy, colorful first game, or the beautifully desaturated Call of Duty 4.
Modern Warfare has a filter which turns down the contrast quite a bit, everything is suddenly colorful, the grass is green the sky is blue and moonlight turns things a stark shade of blue. Only thing is, the black is also blacker, making it hard to see after hours. There's also the flashback mission in Modern Warfarethat is mainly shades of gray.
Left 4 Dead was predominantly set in dark, greyish settings. So when Left 4 Dead 2 trailers showed that it would be brighter and more colorful. For VS mode, players who are controlling the special infected have their whole vision in a sepia tone.
Killzone, set on earthlike Vekta, had a modicum of (effects-filtered) color, including a green swamp level. On the other hand, man-made installations veered deeply towards brown-grey, and the final level was nearly entirely in monochrome greyscale.
Killzone 2 runs the gammut of colors with this, earlier levels are a dank sickly green color with mixtures of yellow thrown in while the later ones run a mixture of brown orange and towards the end an almost blood red, though in all fairness you ARE on another planet known for its very harsh conditions In a subversion, the sky above the clouds is nice and clear.
Killzone 3 features plenty of the standard blasted-out cityscapes, but also neatly averts this in some wilderness areas that look like the protagonists wandered onto Pandora.
Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising relies heavily on this trope. Granted, the brown hues were a deliberate choice to help make the camouflage more convincing, but it gets jarring when your in-game character and the enemies can easily make out each other over 500 meters away at times, while you're still wondering where the hell are they hiding at.
The second entry in the Metroid Prime trilogy is criticized for lacking color variation during most of the campaign; The Temple Grounds and Agon Wastes sections is very brown and dreary, which contrasts with the purple hues of the more unearthly dark world. Torvus Bog, meanwhile, is mostly brown and grey, but with a fair bit of dull green mixed in. Sanctuary Fortress, on the other hand, punches you in the face with neon shades of blue and red the moment you enter, showing a surreal and more colorful environment.
Red Faction has a serious brown problem in its outdoor and underground areas. Unfortunately, those are the only places where you really get to use the game's famous Geo-Mod engine — you can dig holes all right, but you can barely tell what shape they are or how deep they go. Indoor areas have their own problems, but at least you can see where you're going.
Averted throughout most of the Halo games, but Halo: Reach is much more obey-y in regards to the trope. In a moment of irony, Yahtzee complained about Halo 3 being too colorful.
On their default graphics settings, Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter and The Second Encounter both look far more washed out than the original versions. Thankfully, the game has a variety of graphic filters to choose from, with "Vivid" being the closest to the original games in terms of color. Serious Sam 3 has a similar saturation setting, but is overall much more grey and yellow than the first two, with the graphical slider going all the way to legitimate greyscale. The vivid setting doesn't make it like it's predecessors (Serious Sam 2, for instance, is a very colorful game), but does make it more vibrant than other games on this list.
On the Amstrad CPC, Mutan Zone, Solo and Sol Negro (which all had graphics by Carlos A. Díaz de Castro) ran in medium-resolution mode with a palette composed of brown, gray, orange and black.
Hack And Slash
Diablo III was announced and early screenshots and interviews state that they want it to have a rich color palette with natural areas with a variety of greens, oranges, and blues. Fans started a petition against this.
The world of Bloodforge has very little in the way of colour and is rather grainy and monochromatic. Most of the colour in game comes from the excessive amounts of blood pumping from the corpses of Crom's various opponents.
City of Heroes averts this, but City of Villains plays it straight: the Rogue Islands tend to be muted shades of brown or grey, with the occasional patch of vibrant red. Going Rogue's Praetoria averts this as well. Buildings come in all colors in the first few zones, and even the underground and the industrial zones have a good amount of color.
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn applies a brown filter whenever the player enters the the Sylphlands in East Shroud.
Rift suffers from this in some places, particularly the Defiant start zone.
Some zones are this, including the Eastern Plaguelands. The entire zone seems to be covered in a kind of brown fog. In general, however, the developers averted this trope on purpose, after they tried deviating from the vibrant colors of Warcraft III and it didn't take. This particular zone is a purposeful use of monchrome. The brownish haze and blighted plant life are the remnants of the plague (see the name of the zone?) that turned the population of Lordaeron into undead. The same basic issue is why Felwood looks sickly green everywhere.
Any zone that's got a predominantly "evil" presence is like this. The Plaguelands (green/brown), the areas around Blackrock Mountain (red), Darkshore (Grey), Felwood (green), Duskwood (grey), Hellfire Peninsula (orange), Shadowmoon Valley (nigh-radioactive green), and most recently, Icecrown (washed-out blue).
Feralas, in an aversion, is a beautiful, mostly-untouched rainforest that is almost entirely a bright, vibrant green. Players who are new to the region will be pleasantly surprised by the incredibly green environment since the two areas next to the rainforest are desert. Which are, of course, brown and red (Thousand Needles), and Gray. (Desolace) There is actually a Night Elf NPC who lampshades the sudden drastic land change.
Dance Dance Revolution X uses and subverts this at the same time. A lot of its interface had gritty, urban overtones with lots of metallic, rust, brown, paint splotches, and yellow going on. Yet, somehow only about 2 of the game's "stages" also share this urban motif; much of them were futuristic looking or made out of desserts.
Role Playing Game
Tsugunai: Atonement is an obscure little RPG released in 2001 which pioneered Real Is Brown. The hero goes around in a medieval-esque village apparently in the days before dye was invented.
Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter uses this trope rather well. Without making everything consist of the same color palette, the backgrounds (at least most of them) are brown and gray. The characters thankfully give a nice contrast...and help you actually see them. Thank goodness they didn't pass a law against wearing primary colors.
Hysterically lampshaded in Dragon Age II, with correct dialogue options, when Merrill asks how you like the north.
Hawke: I miss the cold. And the dirt. Kirkwall isn't brown enough for me.
Merrill: Fereldan wasn't that brown! The dirt and the muck give it character!
2 had a much more stylized color palette than its predecessor, possibly to avert the problems of this trope. Of course, since most of the game takes place in Kirkwall's dusty brown streets and alleyways, or in caves which are likewise brown, this trope gets played straight anyway. This is only really averted in Mark of the Assassin, which takes place in an Orlesian castle with all the color that such opulence would suggest.
Mass Effect 3 has serious lighting reduction and desaturation compared to the bright, vivid colors of the previous game. While this is consistent thematically with the apocalyptic Reaper invasion, it can be jarring to see that your own character with face imported from the previous game loses much of the coloration on his/her hair, eyes and skin. The default male Shepard, for instance, has his Perma Stubble turned into a Beard of Sorrow by the virtue of the new engine darkening all hair tones significantly.
Mass Effect 2 also makes use of the trope in places, most noticeably with the game's two Crapsack Worlds, Omega and Tuchanka. The latter one actually gets this trope turned on its head in the final mission set there in 3, where you start glimpsing signs of lush, green plant life, suggesting the planet could someday recover from the hell the krogan bombed it into.
1989's "last gasp of the Cold War" espionage RPG The Third Courier may have been one of the earliest examples of this trope. The game takes place in Berlin before the fall of the Berlin Wall. West Berlin is depicted with fairly bright and colorful architecture, while East Berlin is all gray and brown and forbidding.
Final Fantasy XII uses a mix of shades brown, green, yellow, and gray. A good portion of the game is in a desert, but areas like plains, forests, or beaches look very bland due to lack of variation in colors. Especially noticeable if we compared it with the vibrant and colorful world of Spira from the previous entry.
The Fallout series, what with everything having been nuked to within an inch of its life about 200 years ago. Very little green has returned:
Lampshaded by Three Dog in the third game when telling his listeners about the Oasis:
Three Dog: Somewhere out in the Wasteland is a place with lots of trees, a veritable oasis of green in a depressing sea of brown...
Interestingly though, the game most expected to be brown, Fallout: New Vegas, actually has very good color variety when you're not in the wasteland or ruins. The Strip in particular is very bright and colorful, Zion while very full of reds, greens and blues it actually matches the real appearance of Zion in reality which has many red rocks and thriving forests, and Mt. Charleston is filled with snow and evergreens. However, it is set in the Mojave Wasteland so there is a lot of brown. But the developers have seemingly made the choice to associate brown with despair, failure, and destruction as the areas in the game that are the most brown are Legion territory, the Divide and the Sierra Madre. Things tend to be brighter in NCR territory and the city of New Vegas proper.
Midgar and Junon in Final Fantasy VII are designed with shades of gray, brown, and a dark filter to make the colors look even more muddy to emulate how the cities would look with the mass amounts of pollution from the Shinra company. Every other place in the game is a lot more vibrant with more variety in colors. The outside portion of Cosmo Canyon is a mix of red and brown due to the terrain and the setting sun's light.
Vvardenfell in The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind is very brown and gray, due mostly to the ash-spewing volcano in its center. Averted in the Tribunal expansion; Morrowind's capital city Mournhold is on the mainland, and is awash with color.
Used somewhat in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, where a lot of the color is fairly dull and washed-out compared to its predecessor Oblivion. Granted, Skyrim is Tamriel's far north province and is mostly snow and tundra (whereas Cyrodiil is a temperate rainforest like the Pacific Northwest), but still. For those so inclined, there are mods such as this one available for the PC version that increase the color saturation, making the game much prettier.
Heroes of the Lance had a technologically restricted color palette in which dingy grays and drab browns were the prevailing shades.
Shoot Em Up
1942: Joint Strike is designed to look like a World War II movie, complete with sepia tones and occasional film grain filter. And the projector winding up and down at the start and end of a level.
The Shoot Em UpBattle Garegga does this for the scenery and the bullets, which can lead to many WTF-inducing deaths. The Danish, Chinese, and Sega Saturn versions have a feature that turns some of these bullets into brightly colored, easier-to-see bullets (not unlike many Bullet Hell shooters, such as the Touhou series), though many players prefer the harder-to-see bullets.
Sort of played in the SimCity series, where different zone types follow a different color scheme so the player can easily differentiate them. SimCity 3000, for example, has gray-brown buildings for poor apartments, brick red for mid-class apartments, and white with red or slate gray for rich apartments.
However, the trope is played annoyingly straight in SimCity 4, in which to make the buildings more realistic and subtle, all colors were desaturated beyond belief, resulting in incredibly ugly and grungy buildings for the poor, boring buildings for the middle class, and not so cheery colored buildings for the higher class.
Steel Battalion definitely counts with regard to the outside environment, though the cockpits on 2nd-gen and especially 3rd-gen VTs have their fair share of color.
Because of the prevalence of official and user-made sand levels in MechWarrior Living Legends, the game often feels like this. Other levels, like Extremity, have Real is Purple, or Real is Muddy Green in the case of Marshes
Silent Hill plays an interesting variation: true to the intensely creepy and putrid nature of these games, everything there is black, brown, red, and crimson red. There's also the distinctive graphical effects for daytime, night-time and dark world. Granted, the town's dreariness is very much intentional, and it makes the odd instance where brightly-colored objects or setpieces do appear all the more jarring.
The town in Pathologic is this most of the time. In its normal state, the town is a drab and depressing array of brownish colors (the town is in the steppes, where it's naturally dirty all of the time). However, when the disease comes, infected districts will be hit with a green filter that makes everything look sickly, which later gets swapped for a yellow filter before finally returning to normal.
Played pretty straight in Resident Evil 5. While it did set the overall mood for the game, one Russian modder was so disappointed that he wrote a graphics mod which removes the coffee filter, along with a sarcastic message insulting Capcom for what they did. Averted with Resident Evil 4, as the first third of the game is set in overcast daylight and the rest takes place at night, and neither setting really makes colors "pop out".
Resident Evil, despite being set in a realistic setting and using horror as the theme, was quite colorful and bright due to the Playstation being fairly new and the developers not knowing what the system could do at the time. The remake on the Gamecube shifted the color and brightness in the opposite direction by making everything dark unless there was a good light source nearby and all the colors are muted and washed out with a mix of brown and gray. Since the Gamecube was much more powerful than the Playstation, the developers were able to capture the feeling of survival horror on a realistic level. Resident Evil 4 in particular inspired a TON of later game conventions.
Third Person Shooter
Played with in darkSector. The opening movie and first level are all in washed out black and white gray tones, and just when you think the whole game is going to be like that, the next level is a rather colorful Eastern European harbor village, with the rest of the game having reasonably bright colors (there is a mild color filter, but it's nowhere near as bad as the coffee filter in GTA4 or Gears of War). Things do get darker later in the game when night falls (it's partially a horror game, after all).
Spec Ops: The Line is in fact set in a desert during the middle of a sandstorm, justifying the use of this trope. The interior settings avert it, however.
Turn Based Strategy
Advance Wars: Days of Ruin has this on many maps: with dust in the air blocking out the sun, you couldn't really expect colorful landscapes. The map and combat unit sprites have also been significantly toned down in colour from the previous games and look a lot more brownish. Even in skirmish, where maps featuring grassland and ice appear, they are notably more subdued in colour than the previous games in the series.
Final Fantasy Tactics doesn't dip too far into the trope, but it is noticeable that the majority of the color pallets are various shades of gray, tan, brown, and bits of green, which also go with the game's dark and gritty themes. Final Fantasy Tactics Advance has its colors become a lot more vibrant and varied.
Gungnir has the world be very brown to symbolize how dark it is in comparison to previous Dept Heaven games.
Wide Open Sandbox
Gothic games tend towards this trope in many areas. In fact, this trope is so prevalent that many fans mod Gothic 3 and its expansion (which had a lighter color platette) to resemble this trope to fit the motif of the other two games.
San Andreas might justify this by imitating the look of early 90s films set in South Central.
GTA IV might be closer to "bleached" in the day, but becomes quite vibrant at night. Also, the game includes a saturation bar. Turn it all the way down and it looks like Gears of War. All the way up and it starts to look more like CSI: Miami. In Yahtzee's review of Grand Theft Auto IV, he describes GTA IV's default Real Is Brown color scheme as such: "Realism, of course, means seeing the world through a used coffee filter; whatever isn't brown is grey, and whatever isn't grey is too dark to make out."
This seems to be the case in Prototype. It's also a case of Real Is Actually Brown, since the developers took hundreds of photos of New York so they could get the setting right.
Non-video game Examples
In general, as comics coloring processes and paper have improved, colorists have used more moody, subtle colors. The introduction of computer coloring in the 1990s (including gradients) resulted in a brief burst of bright colors and rainbow effects, before everyone settled down and started doing more moody shades. A later reprint of Jack Kirby's "Tales of Asgard" stories recolored them with modern techniques. This should have been an exciting juxtaposition of old and new artistic methods... except they made everything brown.
The Incredible Hulk was gray in his very first appearance, but bright green in the next issue, as the four-color technology of the early 60s couldn't do a consistent gray. By the 80s, technology had advanced, and the gray Hulk returned.
Other titles of the early 1980s like Camelot 3000 moved away from the four-color model of earlier superhero comics. It helped that comic companies were starting to introduce better-quality paper; Camelot 3000 was among the first to benefit from this — resulting in a hyper-aversion of this trope for the first few issues. Since the colorist wasn't used to working with genuinely white paper, the colors leap off the page at you. Later issues got things under control.
New Avengers does this a lot. In fact, it seems to have become prevalent in comic books sometime between the nineties and the twenteens.
House To Astonish refers to "the Vertigo browns": "in order to make us think everything is serious, they colour everything sepia".
The Flex Mentallo hardcover collection changed the day-glo colors of the original miniseries into Real Is Brown. (Note, for example, the bright-pink moon city, which is now medium gray.)
"Human", the former default color scheme in Ubuntu Linux (a distribution which likes to present itself as "Linux for human beings") is made mostly by shades of brown. Other -buntu branches have their own default colors, and the main branch had since switched to color schemes based in orange, but you can still find a "Human" theme in the repositories.
In the image editing program Paint.NET, the effect Photo -> Stylize applies a healthy brown tone, saturates the lighter parts, and softens the image to give it some bloom.
Heaven's Gate, especially in some of the earlier scenes. Naturally this doesn't improve the quality of shots where the frame is dominated by dust and smoke.
O Brother, Where Art Thou? was color-corrected to a shade of brown. In a sort of Inversion, the purpose isn't realism as getting the viewer in the mood: the correction is to sepia tones, which are common in surviving old-time photographs (fitting the setting: rural Mississippi during The Great Depression).
The Matrix and its successors tint all of the scenes which take place in the Matrix in green, underscoring its surreal nature.
The last four Harry Potter films seem to have been entirely filmed from behind a blue-grey lens cover, giving it a significantly darker and more monochromatic feel than the previous installments.
WWII films often depict a war in a grey spectrum. When it comes to the war ending, everything is brighter.
Spy Game avoided this in general, but during one flashback, holy shit is Vietnam brown.
Jurassic Park: A lot of the scenes with CGI dinosaurs take place at night. Consequently, the special effects hold up a lot better than most other films of the time.
The film Winter's Bone is set, and was filmed, in rural Missouri in the winter. As such, there's hardly any color to be seen.
Deliberately inverted in Amélie, where the colours were saturated because the creator wanted to show a "heightened reality," which had a sort of Magical Realism feel to it.
The film used for Minority Report was specially processed and graded in post-production to give the movie a blue-grey tinted, washed-out look, in contrast with the sleek future it depicts.
Memento uses mostly muted tones and director Christopher Nolan originally intended it to have a completely blue pallette, but included greens and greys as well. The scenes that take place in chronological order are in black and white.
The Wizard of Oz is quite possibly this trope's Ur Example. Famously, the movie differentiated the realistic world of Kansas and the fantastical world of Oz by filming the former in sepia and the later and Technicolor.
Cormac McCarthy does a good job of conveying this in The Road. Ash has blotted out the sun for years and most of Earth's flora and fauna are dead.
Spike Milligan, in his war memoirs, describes the miserable time in the Italian campaign in 1943 when the autumn rains set in. For a month, Milligan related, everything in his world was brown, the all-pervading Italian mud that got everywhere and killed all other colours. Even the sky, apparently, was brown. (although here he may have been exaggerating).
The set of any standard soap opera in the US is overwhelmingly dark brown. The effect is done here to convey the idea of wealth (dark wood like mahogany is more expensive than light wood like pine.)
Band of Brothers, like its spiritual predecessor Saving Private Ryan, made wide use of desaturated colors, creating an atmosphere that was often quite bleak and washed-out, which persisted throughout the series.
By contrast, The Pacific made use of far more warm tones, creating a brighter and more colorful environment to emphasize the series's tropical setting.
The office in Taylor Swift's "Ours" video is decorated in a way that makes it look very sepia-toned.
Following the runaway success of the first Transformers film, the toys in subsequent toylines were striving for "realism" meaning fewer Cybertronian (alien) alt-modes, and more realistic color schemes. This resulted in things like a character who traditionally was red being turned white with red trim, and more true to this trope, figures getting random brown plastic (on characters who traditionally never had any brown in their coloration). While this was mostly dropped by the time the second movie rolled around, the more realistic aesthetic did stick around for the third resulting in a great number of gray, beige, or brown vehicles.
The universe is Beige (a brighter shade of brown).
Most television sets have their saturation turned way up, so that they look brighter and more lively in the store and when you first turn them on. Entertainment center calibration guides will generally result in a less-saturated and, yes, more realistic image.
Even Nintendo is not immune to this on a meta-scale. In 2006, to commemorate the start of the seventh generation, Nintendo changed the color of their iconic red logo to grey. Ironically, Nintendo and its Wii has been one of the main resistors against this trope given its colorful games like Super Mario Galaxy and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. Nintendo also added a filter to their NES games on the Virtual Console that is supposed to emulate how the game would look on a TV from the 1980s, resulting in the screen looking like the brightness was turned down and the color palettes being washed out in darker colors. For example, compare the Virtual Console version of any Super Mario Bros. 1 to the Game Boy Advance version and you'll see how the GBA version has its colors a lot brighter and more colorful. Then there's the change of their lively red logo to a dull grey logo.
In countries that don't get much sunlight (the U.K., Russia and Finland for example) the lack of sunlight will make the colours look dimmer and more grey.
Humans come in three main colors: Apricot, light brown and dark brown.
Crackedpointed out that most films (specially the posters) tend to use a color scheme of roughly orange and teal. These two are different enough to have a good contrast and tend to be the most realistic you can use for this sort of thing (the environment usually being teal, such as the sky and things like people, objects, and fire tend to be the orange). They also pointed out that every genre has its own color filter that it tends to use.
Notable Aversions and Parodies
Video Game Examples
Cleverly parodied in Uncharted: Drake's Fortune: one of the unlockable Easter Eggs in the game is the "Next Gen Filter", which replaces the game's beautiful and varied colors with shades of brown and adds more bloom. The team at Naughty Dog went to extraordinary lengths to avert this trope in the actual game, though. The sheer variety of colors in each environment is simply stunning. The sequel is even better. It's still used to great effect when Nathan is low on health. The shift to near-monochrome being a stark visual cue to get to cover now so Nathan can heal.
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West takes place After the End, meaning that its setting is...green. Lots and lots of green, from the plants that have taken over man's natural structures. According to the developers, this was in deliberate defiance of this trope.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is a spectacular aversion, featuring a beautiful and detailed landscapes similar to Uncharted. It is played completely straight in the necromancer area, though.
Ōkami is bright, vivid, and absolutely beautiful — because Amaterasu, protector-goddess of Nippon, is ranging abroad in the land restoring its lustre. And she's the player character.
In the case of The Legend of Zelda, The Wind Waker and Skyward Sword are filled with vibrant mixes of colors reminiscent of retro-style Japanese animation and Paul Cezanne respectively. The former barely has any brown except on Dragon Roost Island that actually has a volcano. The latter has the entire Lanaryu Desert transforming the brown landscape into lush green fields. Another Zelda game, Majora's Mask, downplays this trope as it uses shades of green and brown on the Ikana region, being an intended level design as it's thematically a Bleak Level, but the rest of Termina is very colorful (frequently mixing up blue, green, purple and beige).
Averted in Mirror's Edge, which takes place in a totalitarian future that's largely a sterile white and pastel shades, with the occasional splash of bright primary color. The color also works into the gameplay: Since there's no heads-up display, the game tells you how much health you have by desaturating your vision. There's also an optional feature that highlights obstacles along your route in bright red, making it much easier to tell which way you should be headed next.
Mostly averted in the two Need for Speed: Underground games: although the industrial zones are mostly a drab brown, the cars and the rest of the city have all sorts of bright colors, true to the glamour of the street racing scene as codified by The Fast and the Furious.
Averted in Gran Turismo 5, which is a lot more colourful than the previous games in the series.
The Mushroomy Kingdom stage in Super Smash Bros.. Brawl mocks the "brown = next-gen" philosophy by applying it to World 1-1 from Super Mario Bros., turning the bright stage into a deserted wasteland.
First Person Shooters
Team Fortress 2 - Originally in the development cycle, Valve fully intended to go with modern realism but trying to make the gameplay equally realistic was proving difficult, so they went with the stylized cartoon look. Although the levels themselves might be found in other next-gen shooters, colors abound in player models, weapons, effects, etc. Seriously, it looks like a really warped Pixar cartoon. With the Mann-Conomy update, you can buy paint of various colors to make your accessories crazy colorful.
Evil Genius and No One Lives Forever both nailed the "vivid '60s" graphical style years before, and both have shared TF2's ability to still look pretty despite the onward march of pixel shadery.
Bioshock averts this trope completely by bathing the city of Rapture in bright neon lights.
Bioshock Infinite looks set to avert this even further, being set in broad daylight on a colorful flying city.
The Crysis trilogy averts this trope in almost every possible way. Which is half the reason that the games are so technically demanding.
Surprisingly, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 is another good aversion, especially compared to the Modern Warfare saga. Treyarch did their best to add some color to the game's environments, and it certainly shows, with blue and white hues dominating most of the futuristic locations.
Halo has inverted this from the very beginning. Most Covenant technology is purple, blue or pink, energy shields are mostly bright orange or blue, some high-ranking Covenant wear shiny gold armour, plasma fire is blue or green and the needler's projectiles are hot pink. Environments are also pretty good about averting it. It's also lightly mocked with one of the Forge filters in Halo: Reach (based on one from Halo 3 DLC) called "Next-Gen" with dark, gloomy tones. Reach is more washed-out than most Halo games to give it a bleak feel, it still manages to have more color than a good portion of other shooters.
Battlefield 3, despite the game's realistic settings and buildings crumbling to ruins, averts this by using rich and vibrant colors on most of the levels.
Battlefield 4, on the other hand, has many environments with nearly-identical desaturated grey palettes.
Believe it or not, Doom (which was noted for its "realistic" graphics, back in its day). Sure, plenty of levels go for muddy browns and grays, not helped by the generally dim lighting, but the palette has plenty of very saturated blues, greens, oranges, yellows and reds. The starting position of the first level of the first episode makes the deep blue floor very evident.
Lampshaded in the MarathonGame ModRED, which had a level almost entirely covered by sandy brown textures, titled "Jagermeister's Nightmare" as a Take That at a player who complained about the limited palette.
Largely averted in Serious Sam 2. There are only few chapters with brownish color scheme (Planet Kleer). Also averted on one hand in the first game. You can change the setting of blood from default red to green to hippie... and yet majority of the environment was sandy brown. It did take place in Egypt, after all.
In the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series, the colors themselves are quite realistic. It is constant (to the point of unnatural, but this is Chernobyl Anomalous Zone) overcast that makes them look less saturated. On the rare occasion of bright sunlight vegetation looks particularly exuberant.
Older Than They Think: Unreal was praised exactly for averting the dull "base" palettes other First Person Shooters used in most of their levels. One of the most acclaimed high moments of the game is leaving the Quake-like interior of the Vortex Rikers and looking at the wide expanse of Scenery Porn that is NyLeve's Falls, a very colorful canyon full of greens, blues and whites. Even in "boring" settings such as the Rrajigar Mines or the Terraniux ship, colored lighting and the glow of liquids liven things up considerably. The game's aged very well, too: even as of The New Tens, Unreal's graphics are still considered very nice-looking.
Borderlands was originally supposed to look very gritty and realistic, but halfway through the development, the development team noticed how the artists used cel shading and other bright colors in their concept art, which caused the team to like it and change the entire game to reflect it. Even though most of the game takes place in areas with tons of garbage and sand, the colors are very vivid.
After bad reaction to this in their first trailer, Gearbox decided to turn Borderlands cel-shaded.
And the first game is still overwhelmingly brown, although the Space Western theme justifies it.
The developers lampshaded this when they introduced Borderlands 2. They said that the artists learned that colors other than brown existed. The sequel starts you off in a snow-capped valley next to an ice shelf. Other environments include a lush green mountainous peaks and valleys, your usual deserts, a shining clean modern city filled with blues and silvers, a volcanic region with a purple tint as a result of all the Eridium deposits being mined there, dense swamps and jungles, arid craters filled with angry bikers, dried up ocean beds in a tropical setting, among many others in an effort to avoid this trope.
Parodied in the Lord of the Rings Online MMORPG where the vision of your character (i.e. game world) becomes very desaturated and bloomy—but only in state of severest alcohol intoxication.
A good portion (minus the above examples) of World of Warcraft. Nearly every indoor location has a huge contrast of colors, simply based on proximity to light sources(torches, lanterns, etc.). In addition, they seem to be avoiding this more with recent content—most of Northrend is strikingly colorful. The only exception is Icecrown.
And now with Cataclysm, Deepholm and Vash'jir are even more vibrant and beautiful.
Mostly averted in Warhammer Online - some of the areas are delicate shades of mud, specifically the Greenskin zones, but this is completely in character. Other areas tend to accurately mirror their host race's sensibilities (Stone buildings in countryside or snow for Empire, same but with more tentacles for Chaos, stone and metal for Dwarves, black and corrupted for Dark Elves, marble and bright colors for High Elves) in the architecture and often the landscape itself. For example - the area wracked by the Dark Elves' magic is suitable gloomy, purple and lightningy whereas its companion section for the High Elves is brightly lit, with purple trees and hills that appear to be made of sponge cake. Evidently the High Elves are fond of art, music, culture and hallucinogenic narcotics.
Similarly averted in Star Trek Online. Klingon territory tends to be painted in earth tones but this comes straight out of the shows.
Parodied but not quite in Ratchet: Deadlocked. One of the "cheats" is called Super Bloom, and sure enough, everything is really really bright.
Eversion. The topmost layers of the worlds are delightfully colorful, bright blues and reds and magentas. Once you start to evert, those colors get progressively muted and brownish. At least, until things start looking downright creepy. The blood is bright red, though. And copious in abundance. Real Is Brown trope is most visible in world X-5 and after that, the colors start to get more vivid again.
Since Eversion never bothers to say the middle layers are realistic in any way, it's less "Real Is Brown" and more "Brown Is Ugly".
Bionic Commando Rearmed averts this by giving all the characters and objects the same bright colors they had in the original game.
Role Playing Game
In Earthbound, there exists a town called Happy Happy, home to a cult whose members believe everything is to be painted blue. So the town -as expected- uses a palette of only blue or blue-related colors. When the cultists change their ways the town takes up a more natural look.
Completely inverted in Fable, which features extremely lush, painterly, stunningly beautiful scenery ablaze with colors that are just as totally unrealistic as the next-gen brown tint.
Later games in the SaGa series look as if someone drank a couple pints of Rustoleum and barfed it up on a pre-Raphaelite painting.
Final Fantasy XIII, which was intentionally designed to be the opposite of what Final Fantasy XII presented, punches you in face with color as soon as you start up the game. Even the most color-drained area of the game, the Gapra Whitewood, is an intense shade of white and blue, with red elements.
Super Paper Mario has a nice little Take That towards this trope during the Sammer Guy fight, where one insists that dulls colors are the next generation. You can read it under the Quotes page.
Averted in Freelancer, where the backgrounds, despite having a dominant tone, run through a wide range of tones. The backgrounds are also color-coded: Liberty gets mostly dark blue, Bretonia gets purple and orange, Rheinland gets orange, Kusari gets light blue, the Border Worlds are usually white with blue, and the Edge Worlds are green.
Third Person Shooter
Gears of War sort of qualifies as a subversion at least as the series progressed, it never got pastel bright mind you but starting with the second game much more diverse areas began to surface such as snowy mountain environments and caverns filled with luminescent organisms or the red and squishy belly of the giant worm. The third game appears to take place largely in a very green jungle. What many copycat devs may have failed to see was that Gears 1 wasn't brown for the sake of brown, it looked like that because it took place almost entirely in the ruins of a city that had been pounded by superweapons.
Splatoon: Sure, the game in itself is about painting the arena, but the sheer level of defiance this game has against duller colors makes one think that wanting to avert this particular trope may have inspired the game somewhat.
The Last of Us, as per Naughty Dog tradition, averts this. The game takes place a couple decades after civilization falls to a Zombie Apocalypse, during which time nature has begun to reclaim ruined cities. Vines, flowers, and algae-filled water abound. In this game, Real is Green.
Wide Open Sandbox
Narrowly averted in Spore. Original in-progress videos had the game with a darker, bloomier, close-to-one-color style, while the game was still taking a realistic approach. However, this was changed for a cute and cuddly feel, and even more color than in real life was added. Expect to see bright pink creatures around the place.
Later parodied. A patch (v1.02) included new Style Filter commands, changing how the screen is displayed. One of these is called "Next Gen". Take a guess as to what it does.
Also averted in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, where true to its "fabulous Eighties" feel, Vice City is plastered with bright colors, white sunshine and the great blue ocean all over the place.
While the resort and jungle in Dead Island are very colorful and lush, the slums are overwhelmingly brown and grey.
Completely averted in Just Cause 2. All the colors are vivid, lush, and the colors are so convincingly reminiscent of real-life tropical locales. Even the mandatory desert stage is a vivid hue of yellow instead of gray, contrasting brightly with the blue skies (except when it rains).
Hsu: That's what I wanna fight for. For our dirt! For our rocks! for our sprawling rusty industrial complexes and every blessed brownish-gray inch of Vetka culture.
Dolores Claiborne has the present in dull, muted grays. In contrast, the flashbacks are in brilliant color, since they occur before the town turns against Dolores.
In both the UK and US versions of Life On Mars, the present is shown in harsh shades of white and gray, while the past is decidedly brown.
The spinoff of the UK series, Ashes to Ashes continued this theme - the past is reddish-brown, the present is white-blue.
The producers of Miami Vice explicitly called for 'no earth tones', in order to maintain the MTV style of the show. In the words of one of the episode directors:
There are certain colors you are not allowed to shoot, such as red and brown. If the script says 'A Mercedes pulls up here,' the car people will show you three or four different Mercedes. One will be white, one will be black, one will be silver. You will not get a red or brown one. Michael knows how things are going to look on camera.