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Real Is Brown

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"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."
Yahtzee Croshaw, Zero Punctuation

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 splatter on the camera).

A handful of 2D and early 3D games used this to make up for a limited number 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). Starting with the PlayStation and the Nintendo 64 the colours became less restricted, allowing for games that had wider palettes and thus could support many different shades of grey, blue and brown. But the golden age of this trope came when consoles became powerful enough to use color grading effects, not even a decade after films began to use it themselves. With almost no examples to guide developers and an eagerness to stand out from the previous generation, it was both easy and tempting to abuse color grading.

It was also used to cover up a limitation of lighting and shading engines - 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 around the eighth generation of console games, 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. Again, if everything is tinted one dull color, it's not as noticeable.

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. Realistic titles in the modern day will often use this, and it's practically a stylistic requirement of gritty post-apocalypse titles to show how wrecked the state of the world is.

It's becoming increasingly common for colorful games to mockingly parody this trope, usually by including an optional "next-gen" filter that tints the whole game brown. This, combined with noticeable improvements in graphics rendering technology since the heyday of the trope, means Real Is Brown has all but become an Undead Horse Trope, with the exception of a few franchises launched in the 7th generation. It's also become a Cyclic Trope similar to what happened with gritty comic books: while the sixth and seventh generations emphasized titles which did this, the eighth and ninth more proudly displayed colourful and saturated titles as a reaction. In addition, the introduction of the color- and contrast-improving High Dynamic Range (HDR) technology into many modern TVs has further caused many gaming companies to lean on wide color palettes to both provide rich and colorful Scenery Porn, and to ride on the HDR trend.

That's not to say this trope has no artistic merit: the visual effect of Real is Brown does work in instilling a serious appearance, and any moments that do have saturated colour will stand out much more than they would have otherwise. Similarly, a colourful work may bring in a more muted colour palette for a dramatic, serious and less hopeful part of the story to reflect the mood. That said, the heart of this trope is less the palette itself and more the comical overuse of it in practically every realistic video game in the mid-2000s, instilling the belief in both creators and the audience that a serious story can't be taken seriously if it has saturated colours. Needless to say, this kind of viewpoint is laughable these days.

See here for further info.

Compare Gold Is Yellow. 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". Warm Place, Warm Lighting is a related trope specific to filming, where media stereotypically portrays warm and poor locations like Mexican or Latin American settings in a dusty yellow/brown filter to imply an arid, dusty, polluted look.

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, or a bombed-out cityscape. 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

    Action Adventure 
  • Assassin's Creed, every area is seemingly themed around a single color, and usually dark, desaturated shades of it. If the color palette is too broad for that, the bloom gets intensified.
  • Assassin's Creed: Mirage has an optional "nostalgia" filter that desaturates the otherwise vibrant visuals while cranking up the blue and gray, mimicking earlier games in the series (hence the name).
  • Castlevania: Rondo of Blood was a very vivid and colorful game. Its 2.5D remake Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles changed the color palette to be primarily dark brown and gray as part of its aesthetic overhaul, which also replaced the cartoonish, anime-inspired character designs with more realistic ones.
  • 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.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess: Thanks to it being a direct response to the massive fan backlash that The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker received outside of Japan, this installment moves away from its predecessor's highly stylized, brightly colored, and cel-shaded visuals in favor of an art style that leans heavily on both realistic detail and amber palettes. Ironically, 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 both the ground and the internal rooms of the Palace of Twilight. The HD remake is considerably brighter and less brown in many places, although certain areas such as the Twilight and Eldin areas retain similar color schemes.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Star Control I and II were both exceptionally colorful games, utilizing 256 colors to a significant extent. Colors actually play a major role in the second game, helping the player to recognize mineral-rich star systems and planets just by their colors. The third game, featuring far more advanced graphics, is decidedly grey and brown.
  • 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.
  • Tyler: Model 005 is set in an old, dilapidated house. As a result, much of the colour used is brown.

    Action Game 
  • Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots gives most of the game beige or gray colors in most of the cutscenes.
  • 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. However, the rerelease gives you the option to turn off this filter.
  • 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
  • The traditionally lavish Musou series (Dynasty Warriors, Samurai Warriors, Hyrule Warriors) takes a turn for the dirt with Legends Of Troy (Troy Musou).
  • 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. [1]
  • Final Fight: Streetwise renders its city in washed-out grays and browns, much unlike the games that preceded it (including the 3D Final Fight Revenge).

    Adventure Game 
  • 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.
  • Sierra games in general had much more brown in their graphics after the transition from 16-color, parser-based games to 256-color, point-and-click games.

    Driving Game 
  • Need for Speed: Most Wanted (2005) paints the whole scene brown-orange every time you crank up the Visual Effects; when Carbon was created, they thankfully replaced the gritty brown with modern, cutting-edge blue. The 2012 Most Wanted completely averted this trope.
    • Then Need for Speed: Undercover went back to brown with too much bloom.
    • EA released a patch for Undercover that among other things moved the sun up and away from its position directly at the horizon and in the middle of your screen.
  • The Forza Motorsport series focuses on real-world colors and shades. Certain tracks (like the Mazda Laguna Seca) are composed entirely of brown, tan, gray, and bloom.
  • Split/Second (2010), by the virtue of ripping-off emulating Michael Bay movies.
  • GRID has a yellow tint applied over everything.
  • While the Mario Kart series has traditionally avoided this trope like the plague, there are two games that display it:
    • Mario Kart Wii: The graphics are a lot more washed-down, including the character designs. The best way to see this would be to compare the Retro Tracks in the game compared to their appearance in their debut games.
    • Mario Kart 8 has 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 (compare Piranha Plant Slide from Mario Kart 7 to its appearance in 8, for instance). 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. The Deluxe Edition takes advantage of the Switch's more powerful hardware and gives a tracks a brighter color palette, averting this trope.

    Fighting Game 

    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.
  • Quake:
    • Quake was one of the pioneers of this trope in video games, as noted in the page quote.
    • Quake II seems to like the color orange. The PSX port however much prefers shades of blue and green.
    • Quake IV went back to brown, with some Mars-like red mixed in for external environments and the occasional burst of alien green tech inside.
  • Daikatana followed up with a subversion by making everything eye-searing green, instead. Later episodes get more varied color palettes
  • 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 Call of Duty 4 that is mainly shades of gray.
  • Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter is one of this, and it's one of the earliest examples of "Mexico is Brown". It also make use of Orange/Blue Contrast, where the overlay and HUD of the high-tech GHOST optical gadget clashes with the world that is almost entirely covered in shades of brown.
  • Yahtzee of Zero Punctuation satirized this trend in his review of "Clive Barker's Clive Barker's Jericho (by Clive Barker)," describing the levels as, "in order, brown ruins, more brown ruins, brown castle, more brown castle, and revenge of the brown castle." The issue has come up a number of other times as well, such as in his review of Wolfenstein (2009), done in limerick form: "There's an active resistance / In need of assistance/And everything's gone greyish-brown."
  • 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 gamut 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.
  • Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, compared to the first and third games, has a smaller 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.
  • It's hard to avoid this trope to some extent when your game is set on Mars and you're going for a somewhat hard-SF feel, but 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.
  • Being a cyberpunk game, E.Y.E: Divine Cybermancy relies heavily on Real Is Brown in many of its levels. Some levels swap out the palette for Real is Green or Real is Blue.
  • Halo: Reach breaks with the rest of the franchise by using this trope.
  • 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: BFE 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 its predecessors (Serious Sam II, for instance, is a very colorful game), but does make it more vibrant than other games on this list.
  • The Order: 1886 looks like everything is seen through a sepia-filter, with no bright colors whatsoever, even the British Army's famous red coats are dull.
  • Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood and Call of Juarez: The Cartel both have the "coffee filter" look typical of many games from that time period (the late 00's to the very early 10's), in contrast to the first and fourth games in the series, which are actually very colorful (the first game actually being quite heavily saturated to the point of looking oversaturated to some people).
  • Blood (1997) shakes things up with a few brighter levels (the snowy mountains and sea, the hedge maze, the forest, some watery areas), but most of the time if you're in an environment that's meant to be manmade (a city, a train, an old hotel), it will head into the brown end of the spectrum. Even Dark Carnival is pretty high on browns. Areas with stone construction use grays. Additionally, most weapons and nearly all the enemies are some mix of gray and brown, with the only standouts being the dynamite types (orange), the Tesla cannon (bright blue highlights), the hellhounds (orange-red), the spiders (some red, some green), and some of the cultist Palette Swaps in the expansions (the standard brown and gray ones are joined by blue, green, and red). Blood is anything but realistic, so this is more for the sake of furthering the game's Gothic Horror atmosphere than anything—and those environments aren't likely to stay brown for long.

  • 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.
  • Can be an Invoked Trope for any PC gamers which use a third-party hook known as "Reshade" where shaders are injected into any supported game resulting in either more brownish visuals or the opposite.

    Hack And Slash 
  • Diablo III was announced and early screenshots and interviews stated that they wanted it to have a rich color palette with natural areas with a variety of greens, oranges, and blues. Fans started a petition against this; see Aversions and Parodies below for Blizzard's response.
  • The human world in DmC: Devil May Cry is deliberately depicted like this in massive spades. By contrast, the parallel demon world is full of lively, flashy colors.
  • 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.
  • Few exceptions aside, Drakengard's locations are all extremely desaturated. This is somewhat justified for Goddess' Castle environs and Desert of Seal (though even those overdo it), but why forests and sea have sepia color? Then again, it does fit this game.
    The Dark Id: So, welcome to Drakengard's gameplay... Yeah... I hope you like the color brown. Gears of War and its ilk is a tapestry of rainbow like vibrancy compared to the early parts of this game.

  • 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. The game also has a general desaturation filter applied over most of the world, which makes everything seem more washed out.
  • Rift suffers from this in some places, particularly the Defiant start zone.
  • World of Warcraft:
    • 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 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.
  • Grimms Notes has its battle sprites (and a few artworks) drawn with brown outlines and applied with a brownish filter, accidentaly making them look somewhat unpolished. Most affected characters are those whose color palettes are supposed to be completely white, ending up looking dirty in battle. Even the Animated Adaptation went with this trope.

    Platform Game 
  • Ratchet: Deadlocked, in chasing after the comparatively grittier Halo series, has a decidedly more monochromatic and flatter colour palette to many of its levels, and less saturation overall. While there are many levels that aren't brown, they tend to be some shade of green, blue or grey instead. As noted in the Parody listings, however, the change wasn't lost on the developers.
  • Ori and the Blind Forest uses a washed-out palette in most areas, which is justified by the decayed state of the forest. Conversely, the sequel averts this trope, except in the Silent Woods, the ground zero of The Corruption.

    Puzzle Game 
  • Lampooned a bit in World of Goo, where after updating the "graphics card" in the Cyberspace-set Chapter 4, most of the subsequent levels in the chapter contain nothing but grays, browns, and bloom.
  • The Room: Old Sins is noticeably browner than its predecessors.

    Real Time Strategy  

    Rhythm Game 
  • 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 
  • Arcanum: While untouched forests are still green, much of the game takes place in clear-cut forests, underground dungeons, polluted cities, and wasteland, justifying the drab palette (incidentally, the game comes from the makers of the first Fallout games).
  • 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.
  • Dragon Age:
    • Dragon Age: Origins. Everything is brown. Even the characters' teeth.
    • 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, but hey! No darkspawn.
    Merrill: Ferelden wasn't that brown! The dirt and the muck give it character!
    • DAII has 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 the Mark of the Assassin DLC, which takes place in an Orlesian castle with all the color that such opulence would suggest.
  • Mass Effect:
    • Mass Effect 2 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.
    • 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.
  • 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:
    • Final Fantasy VI is noticeably more muted than its SNES predecessors, with most of the playable cast being some combination of forest green, navy blue, and shades of tan in their color palettes (Terra and the Moogles being the main exception). Enemies that work for the Empire, such as grunt soldiers, robots, or magitek armors, are also duller in hue than the much more diversely-colored wandering monsters - again, with one big exception. Similar to VII, one of the main visual signifiers of the World of Ruin is the palette changing from the faded greens and rich browns of the World of Balance into an ugly dull tan with rust-red oceans.
    • 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.
    • 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 are also awash in brown colours. Especially noticeable if we compared it with the vibrant and colorful world of Spira from the previous entry. This might be explained by the fact that the main designer, Akihiko Yoshida, is a fan of earth tones as evidenced by his work.
      • Most of the other Ivalice Alliance games use this trope, as well. Very much deliberately used, as a way to contrast Ivalice's more grounded setting against the high fantasy of other Final Fantasy games.
  • One of the major complaint about Resonance of Fate is the sheer amount of brown-ness and colorlessness. Considering the Steampunk-with-gears setting though, it actually works; a definite case of Tropes Are Not Bad. Also averted with the characters' often flashy outfits thanks to the Virtual Paper Doll levels of customization.
  • 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...
    • Despite this, Fallout 3 is actually much more green than it is brown, likely in reference to the association of radioactivity with a Sickly Green Glow in popular culture. This is due to a filter diluting the palette - modding the game to remove it makes the game far more colourful than you'd expect.
    • 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.
    • Averted by Fallout 4, which uses a realistic shading not unlike Grand Theft Auto V. The brief Pre-War sequences in Fallout 4 further emphasize the colorful cars and clothes.
    • Averted by Fallout 76, which takes place in West Virginia, which was left relatively unscathed by the Great War.
  • The Elder Scrolls: Following the series' 3D Leap (and overall jump in graphics quality), this trope has been heavily played with. (There are also plentiful Game Mods for each game which change the color scheme in either direction to your liking.) To note:
    • Morrowind:
      • The island of Vvardenfell, the game's setting within the province of Morrowind, is more than 60% an ashy, volcanic wasteland owing to Red Mountain, the massive, active volcano at its center (and the second tallest mountain overall in Tamriel). Naturally, this leads to a lot of brown and gray in the game's color scheme. Even the plant life in the "greener" areas of the game are still often dull in color, leading to a washed-out appearance.
      • Averted in the expansion. Tribunal takes place in Mournhold, Morrowind's captical city on the mainland, and is awash in color. Bloodmoon takes place on the northern island of Solstheim, with plenty of bright, snowy white and forest green in its color scheme, making for a sharp contrast from the main game.
    • Oblivion:
      • Averted with Cyrodiil itself, the capital province of the Empire, which is mostly a temperate rainforest similar to the Pacific Northwest. The landscape is positively awash in an almost watercolor-like color scheme. Even objects like weapons and armor are brighter and shinier than in its predecessor or successor.
      • Played straight within the Oblivion Gates, portals to Mehrunes Dagon's Oblivion plane of "The Deadlands". It is a gloomy Mordor-esque Lethal Lava Land of dark volcanic rock.
      • The eponymous realm in the Shivering Isles expansion both plays it straight and averts it: the setting's map includes the bright and cheery "Mania" and the dark and depressing "Dementia".
    • Skyrim drops much of the bright colors of its predecessor. It takes place in Tamriel's far northern province of Skyrim, which is largely snow and tundra, so large chunks of the game world are washed in shades of gray, blue, and white. Even the greener areas tend toward darker and duller colors. The remastered edition of the game for PS4 and Xbox One is considerably brighter in many locations.
  • Heroes of the Lance had a technologically restricted color palette in which dingy grays and drab browns were the prevailing shades.
  • NieR: Automata uses a very pale color palette across its environments, and makes use of dominant color to keep things ever more monotone. Even the fairground area is dominantly red, with other colors tinted to blend in. It adds to the game's intentionally bleak atmosphere, which is accentuated when certain locations and setpieces cause the colors to appear even more washed-out, bordering on Deliberately Monochrome at times. It probably for this reason that the Player Character is clad primarily in black, which makes them easy to follow during the action despite them having less color than the environment.
  • Both Shadow Hearts and Shadow Hearts Covenant are examples to varying degrees.
    • The primary colors in Shadow Hearts are black, blue and dark green owning to the fact roughly 75% of the game takes place at midnight and the overall Survival Horror vibes of the work.
    • Covenant has mostly shades of brown, yellow and gray once again due to the fact that half of the game takes place at dusk (Europe) while the rest is at dawn (Japan).
  • Secret of Evermore has a really subdued palette that prominently features shades of green, blue, brown and black. It makes a nice contrast with the game's main inspiration, Secret of Mana which is pretty much the polar opposite of this trope.

    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 Gun Frontier project games, including Metal Black, did a muted color pallete to allow pseudo-realistic sprites.
  • The Shoot 'Em Up Battle Garegga does this for the scenery and the bullets, which can lead to many WTF-inducing deaths. The Danish, Chinese, Sega Saturn, and Rev.2016 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 Project series).

    Simulation Game 
  • Sort of played in the SimCity series, where different zone types have a certain color scheme so the player can easily differentiate them with a quick glance. 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 was played annoyingly straight in the vanilla 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. In response, the Rush Hour/Deluxe expansion added extra building sets with some extra color.
  • 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

    Survival Horror 
  • In Darkwood, the main color scheme is a hearty amount of brownish tinted colors to highlight how much of a Crapsack World the setting is, the only exception being the starting area with vibrant green. And even then, the Dry Meadow has its places where browns and black are the dominant colors, complete with Surreal Horror sequences to give you a forecast of what to expect as the game goes on.
  • 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.
  • Played straight with Resident Evil 4 thanks to the limitations of the consoles at the time, as the game wanted to make as realistic as possible. The trade-off for resolution and its wide-open areas was lowering the color palette. The game justifies it by having the first third of the game is set in overcast daylight and the rest takes place at night. The castle in Act 2 adds tapestries and other decor in rich blue, red and purple hues, thanks to the game being set indoors allowing for rendering short-cuts.
  • Resident Evil (Remake) did this before it was cool, with nearly the entire game being washed-out shades of brown and grey, with a radioactive-green color filter throne on top for good measure. The mansion is so unceasingly brown and run-down that you might forget that people lived in it until a couple weeks prior to the game’s start. It’s an especially noticeable example since the game it remade had a quite vibrant (inspired by the Overlook Hotel) color scheme that made the mansion more “eerily sterile” than “haunted house.” Tropes Are Tools, the remake is often regarded as the best looking game of the next decade (or two) in no small part due to the muted color scheme letting the artists get around the GameCube’s limitations, although the original aesthetic has its advocates.

    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).
  • Speaking of Gears of War, the game is generally given a dour filter, with everything being gray or brown. Gears 4 tried to address this with some greenery, but the game still looked like it was dunked in coffee most of the time.
  • Considering what Dubai looks like, one would think Spec Ops: The Line averts the trope, and indeed it does in the more intact indoors environments. However, the city is set in a desert, and six uninterrupted months of monstrously thick sandstorms more than justify it being played straight.
    Radioman: It's wrong to call it a storm. I've never seen a storm that could blast paint off a car. This is sand, flying through the air at 80 miles an hour.
  • The world of the Sega Saturn game Amok seems to consist primarily of dimly-lit brownish voxels.

    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.
  • Compare the colors in Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon for the Nintendo DS to those of the three Fire Emblem (Binding Blade, Blazing Blade and Sacred Stones) released on its predecessor. Everything is notably duller in the next-gen game. In turn Sacred Stones had a more muted palette compared to its predecessors, likely because the game was designed for the backlit models of the GBA SP.
  • Gears Tactics takes place in the Gears of War setting, so it's rather inevitable everything is either brown or gray.
  • Gungnir has the world be very brown to symbolize how dark it is in comparison to previous Dept. Heaven games.
  • JARS' art style lacks large amounts of color with much of the game being shades of brown and gray.

    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.
  • Check out the graphics of every Grand Theft Auto game from Grand Theft Auto III to Grand Theft Auto IV, in order. With the obvious exception of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City's vibrant neon lights and Grand Theft Auto V advancement in graphical engine, an unmistakable brownish-gray trend emerges:
    • 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. Turn it 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."
    • Both episodic titles for GTA IV approach this trope differently. The Lost and Damned turns it up by using monochromes of brown, yellow, and blue, and desaturated colors. The Ballad of Gay Tony returns GTA IV's color scheme, but mixes in shades of pink and purple in the distant background in light of the game's glitzy theme.
  • Saints Row 2. However averted in the next three games.
  • 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.
  • Mafia III sort of justifies this as it takes place in New Orleans in The '60s and it sorta tries to emulate old TV shows or films.

Non-video game Examples

  • The anime of Attack on Titan has an incredibly drab color palette. This article from Anime News Network says it best:
    "The world of Attack on Titan is dense and elaborate. Even after 25 episodes of the anime, we've barely cracked the surface of everything going on inside those walled cities. But to be perfectly honest, it's also easy to sum up Titan's universe in one little word: It's Brown. My god, is it Brown."
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist (2003) and its sequel film Fullmetal Alchemist: The Conqueror of Shamballa, our side of the Gate is presented with darker and more muted colours, in contrast to Edward's world which is full of bright colors.
  • In Sword Art Online and its spinoff AGGO, the online game of Gun Gale Online is presented as this, taking place in a post-apocalyptic landscape largely consisting of abandoned cities, deserts, and forests. The rest of the series, which takes place offline and in other online games, averts this with bright and cheerful colors.
  • Beastars loves itself some high-brightness-low-saturation colors.

    Comic Books 
  • 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.)

    Fan Works 
  • Little Hands, Big Attitude: Shadow admits that he expected Earth to be more colourful, but so far he has seen nothing but drab and grey landscapes and dreary underground facilities. Granted, it's in the middle of winter.

    Films — Animation 
  • 9 plays this straight as an arrow, but it's actually still incredibly gorgeous.
  • A common complaint about The Lion King (2019) is that the film's more realistic landscapes, while majestic, looked drab and muddy when compared to the fantastic, multi-colored scenery of the animated original (and the stage show).

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Color films shot with Kodak Eastmancolor film (as opposed to the much more expensive, but higher quality Technicolor process) tended to have an overall light brown look to them due to how they handled color (a single-strip, all-at-once-development negative versus the three-strip filtered black and white film that was dyed at the last step with true red/green/blue dyes for a super saturated color appearance). Furthermore, Eastmancolor prints produced before 1983 were notorious for having color fading issues, resulting in formerly colorful footage turning into "Real is Red".
  • Disney's live-action remakes tend to have noticeably darker color palettes and dimmer lighting as just one of the many ways they attempt to look more "realistic" than their respective original animated versions.
  • In Dune: Part One and even moreso Dune: Part Two, the colors aren't very saturated, but most of the scenes taking place on Arrakis have a brown-colored palette or an orange hue, naturally as they take place on a deserted planet where there's Spice in the air (as for Real Life, the Wadi Rum desert in Jordan where they were filmed has that color naturally). Arrakis' brown color motifs are also strongly contrasted with the Deliberately Monochrome of Giedi Prime.
  • 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). It also helps cover up how green and healthy all the plants look in what's supposed to be the dust bowl droughts.
  • The Matrix: The movies 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.
  • Flashbacks in The Da Vinci Code may seem to give the idea that The Past Is Gray.
  • WWII films often depict a war in a grey spectrum. When it comes to the war ending, everything is brighter.
  • Spy Game avoids 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 are 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.
  • Clerks II utilized this, except for the dance number on the roof.
  • The colors in The Book of Eli are bleached to create a bleak, desolate, post-apocalyptic scenery.
  • The Road also takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting, and its colors are similarly bleached.
  • Outland made it work, enhancing the grungy Used Future aesthetic of the setting.
  • 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 latter in Technicolor.
  • Man of Steel: In a deviation from the Superman and comic book aesthetics in general, the film went with a more stylized and desaturated look. It had grey oceans, pale blue artic, sun-baked Kansas, obsidian black alien environments and the Superman costume a very dark blue. Considering director Zack Snyder's filmography featuring more vibrant Color Wash (in display in its sequel Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) this was a deliberate stylization to make the world feel natural and lived-in and, in turn, make Superman feel unusual but still a part of that world. For Zack Snyder's Justice League meanwhile, Snyder went for an ashy filter that made gold and silvery tones pop out.
  • The Hobbit: The first movie is more saturated than the LOTR trilogy. The saturation dies down in the next two as the story becomes more serious.
  • The Three Musketeers (2023) has shades of brown everywhere. Even the eponymous Musketeers never wear their traditional blue velvet outfit and wear brown leather instead.
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit: Both the live-action and the animation to be composited with it were desaturated for that Film Noir look. This contrasts with the opening cartoon and the scenes set in Toontown, which have highly saturated colors.

  • 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.
  • Artist Jaz Parkinson created color signatures of several famous books and plays based on the number of times each color is mentioned in the work. The Road's is dark, to say the least.
  • 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).
  • Mistborn: The Original Trilogy: Since the Scadrial sky is constantly covered by ash spewed by Ash Mounts and there are also ash falls, everything is brown and gray, even plants have adapted to the limited sunlight spectrum. This gets even grayer in the second and third book, as ash falls are getting thicker and thicker and everything is dying.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Most Live-action television Teen Drama and Supernatural Fiction employee Darkerand Edgier to quite literally mean, a cool lighting filter on EVERYTHING because it's edgier.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • The series makes use of this for the purpose of allowing the viewers discern quickly to between the various locales; The pseudo-arctic Wall and the Land Beyond are typically white and grey, the tundra-filled North is dark grey (getting lighter with onsetting winter), the wind-swept Iron Isles are grey and dark blue, the temperate Vale is grey and washed green, pseudo-mediterranean Kings' Landing is gold and olive, pseudo-Moor Dorne is luscious yellow and bright green, and pseudo-Levantine Slaver's Bay is dirty desert brown.
    • Daenerys's three dragons, while still having black (for Drogon), green (for Rhaegal) and white (for Viserion) tints, are all closer to brown in the show compared to the more vivid descriptions from the books. Unfortunately this, combined with the fact that Rhaegal and Viserion's names are rarely if ever used onscreen, makes it harder to tell them apart.
    • In its prequel show, House of the Dragon, everything is incredibly foggy, and it uses even more saturated and duller colors, almost having a Film Noir vibe, to empathize that this show has fewer fantasy elements, and is more closer to a Historical Fiction in genre.
  • 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).
  • The short-lived Criminal Minds spinoff Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior had this look, giving the series a more moody atmosphere. Strange though, given how the original series doesn't use this effect as crudely.
  • Lampshaded by Glen Matlock of the Sex Pistols, in the BBC documentary Punk Britannia. Describing the dreariness of 1970s London: "everything seemed to be orange, brown or mustard yellow."
  • An interesting contrast exists between HBO's two World War II miniseries, Band of Brothers and The Pacific:
    • 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.
  • On Adam Ruins Everything, Adam and Murph travel back in time to a wedding in the 1800's, which is sepia-toned, to show that it was far in the past. The bride is also wearing a casual brown dress, which she and Adam explain to Murph has nothing to do with whether she's a virgin or not, but reflects that she comes from a less wealthy background.
  • Mocked on The Boys (2019) when they're filming Queen Maeve's movie and everything has an almost sickly brown tone to it. As soon as the director cuts, it abruptly goes back to normal colors and you get to see what the environment actually looks like.

  • The office in Taylor Swift's "Ours" video is decorated in a way that makes it look very sepia-toned.
  • Metal bands love this trope, as evidenced by many of their album covers (especially those in Death, Black, Doom and other "extreme" subgenres). Hell, the very first metal album ever recorded, Black Sabbath's Self Titled debut, was a legendary case of this. This is also very common in their Music Videos. For example, "Internal Cannon" and "Empire" from August Burns Red's Leveler album.
  • The plant life on the cover of R.E.M.'s Murmur is dominated by the weed kudzu and its natural green has been browned out.

  • "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.
  • 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. game to the Game Boy Advance version and you'll see how the GBA version has its colors a lot brighter and more colorful.
  • Turns out auto-colorization A.I.s also think real is brown, as demonstrated when someone converted some brightly colored historical photos to grayscale and passed them into the AIs.

  • 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 Lammily doll, created as counterpart of Barbie is designed with the average proportions of a healthy American woman and has brown hair and eyes, matching her "realistic features".


    Western Animation 
  • Animator John Kricfalusi observed a similar trend of "pee and poo colors" used to convey a depressing or serious mood in Western feature animations dating back to around 1970.
  • Kaeloo had an episode where Kaeloo, freaking out about the idea of Moral Guardians telling her that the show is giving unrealistic expectations to children, tones down the show's cartooniness and makes everything realistic. The moment this is put into motion, the screen is covered with a brown filter to make it look dull and dreary.

    Real Life 
  • The universe is beige (a brighter shade of brown).
  • In places with cold winters, little snow, and lots of deciduous vegetation—the lower Midwest, for instance—this trope is very much a reality for several months of the year. The plants all die or lose their leaves, the sun sets early, and even the daytime sky is clouded over more often than not. One of the best parts about the return of spring is the return of color.
  • In a very specific example, crocodiles and alligators are actually either grey or brown in color as opposed to green. The trope exists (and has existed since Ancient Egypt) because Nile crocodiles appear to be green (they're mostly brown and black in color, but do have yellow-green flanks).

Notable Aversions and Parodies

Video Game Examples

    Action Adventure 
  • Cleverly parodied in the Uncharted series: one of the unlockable cheats is the "Next-Gen Filter", which washes the game in a brown filter and adds more bloom. It gets topped with the Blorange filter in the PlayStation 4 titles.
    • The team at Naughty Dog went to extraordinary lengths to avert this trope in normal gameplay, though, and the sheer variety of colors in each environment is simply stunning. Desaturation filters are used, but to great effect when Nathan is low on health, with the shift to near-monochrome being a stark visual cue to get to cover now so Nathan can heal.
  • Deus Ex: Human Revolution is often mistakenly identified as a case of this. However, the game does not use desaturated colors to promote realism. Instead, it uses a strongly saturated monochrome of gold colors as both a nod to the "golden age" of its setting as well as the Film Noir genre. Other colors, such as red and greens, serve as a Splash of Color.
    • As Ross Scott points out, the game's overuse of its yellow filter can wear out the eyes quickly. The devs, realizing this, released the "Director's Cut" which allows you to turn off Lemon Blast Mode, but unfortunately then replaces it with a bland grey filter, with no option to turn off both filters whatsoever.
  • Enslaved: Odyssey to the West takes place After the End, meaning that its setting 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.
  • Horizon Zero Dawn was directly inspired by Enslaved in this way, and it shows.
  • 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.
  • The Legend of Zelda: 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.

    Action Game 
  • 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.

    Driving Game 
  • 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.

    Fighting Game 
  • 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.
  • Similar to TF2, Overwatch goes for a stylized cartoon look, but the environments and characters designs are even more colorful and vivid than TF2's.
  • 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 averts this, 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. Played straight with the Xbox 360 port of the first game, which uses an excess of blue hues, especially at night.
  • Surprisingly, Call of Duty: Black Ops II 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.
  • Doom:
    • The original Doom 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. The 2016 reboot was criticized at E3 2015 for being "too yellow." However, the developers later released a series of screenshots that showed off the game in various lighting environments and, sure enough, the game actually IS quite colorful. The dynamic lighting is just so powerful (and quite colorful) that it tends to sometimes hide the details of other objects in the scene.
    • Doom 64 is a downplayed example: The vast majority of the setting is dark military bases and castles, resulting in a noticeably more drab color palette, but there are still some colorful environments.
  • Lampshaded in the Marathon Game Mod RED, 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 II. 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 ending the first level by 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 '10s, 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. The first game is still quite brown-tinted and desaturated, with all other colors very pale in comparison to the brown and grey, with the rare bright green patch of greenery every now and then. The developers lampshaded this when they introduced Borderlands 2, saying that the artists learned that colors other than brown existed. It starts you off in a snow-capped valley next to an ice shelf, with lots of blue and white. Other environments include a lush green and stone-grey mountainous valley, a shining clean modern city filled with blues, yellows and silvers, a volcanic region with a purple tint as a result of all the Eridium deposits being mined there, dense swamps and jungles, dried up ocean beds in a tropical setting, among many others in an effort to avoid this trope. There still are the usual desert and trash-laden areas, to help establish the contrast.
  • Inverted in First Encounter Assault Recon: a shift to a monochromatic or desaturated palette indicates that Reality Is Out to Lunch.
  • Deep Rock Galactic exploits its utterly unreal setting to avert this trope. Rather than having one general brownish palette for all, every biome has its own individual defining color, which helps to give each its own identity. The closest to brown would be the Sandblasted Corridors, which are utterly dry, desertic and sandy and thus earn their yellowish-brown palette.

    Hack and Slash 

  • Parodied in the 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.). 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.

    Platform Game 
  • Parodied but not quite in Ratchet: Deadlocked. One of the "cheats" is called Super Bloom, and sure enough, everything is really really bright. As noted above, however, it isn't completely averted.
  • 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 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 (1994), 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.
  • The World of Mana has not lost its colorful, soft pastel palette in the move to 3D. Say what you like about Dawn of Mana, but damn does it look pretty.
  • 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.
  • Valkyria Chronicles uses a more vibrant color palette to avert this tread, in a war themed game no less.

    Simulation Game 
  • 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.
  • No Man's Sky applies a green screen filter on toxic and radioactive planets, a blue filter on icy planets, and a brown filter on desertic planets. In addition, if you land in certain Glitch planets, there is a high chance that your view will become completely desaturated only once you land in the planet.
  • Parodied in Tropico 4, where you can allow nuclear explosions near your island for money. When the nuke explodes, the whole view is temporarily tinted brown with tons of light bloom.
  • World of Warships averts this mostly, which is not surprising given the naval setting. Since it takes place on water the dominant color is blue. As far ever thing else goes camouflage schemes tend toward pastel colors in striking patterns, which is very much Truth in Television for ships of the World War II era. Premium ships notably also lack rust, making them look even brighter. This aversion is interesting because the game's elder stablemate, World of Tanks, mostly plays the trope completely strait.
  • Satisfactory applies location-based color filters, such as a purple filter for the purple-heavy Southern Forest, a blue filter for the Blue Crater, a desaturated filter for the Swamp, or an extra saturated filter for the Long Beach.

    Third Person Shooter 
  • As the Gears of War series progressed, 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 includes environments such as a very green jungle and a tropical island resort in the middle of the ocean. 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.
  • In many ways, Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine is designed and marketed as the anti-Gears of War. As such, although the environments are Deliberately Monochrome (being a Forge World and all), they serve mostly as a backdrop for the vivid colors of the various character models.
  • Splatoon: Sure, the games in and of themselves are about painting the arena, but the sheer level of defiance this series has against duller colors makes one think that wanting to avert this particular trope may have inspired the artstyle 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 
  • 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. It was later parodied with a patch (v1.02) which included new Style Filter commands, changing how the screen is displayed. One of these is called "Next Gen", which invokes this trope.
  • Averted in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, where true to its "fabulous Eighties" feel, Vice City is plastered with bright colors, white sunshine, neon lights 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.
  • 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).
  • Parodied by Minecraft. In April Fools 2013, Mojang released a joke update called Minecraft 2.0 with lots of stupid features which basically made fun of community suggestions. One of the features was a filter called Super HD Graphics. It didn't change the resolution of the game at all; it just made everything look really brown by desaturating the graphics.

Non-video game Examples

  • The same article from above that noted how incredibly brown Attack on Titan is then contrasts it with Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, which has a much more varied and cheerful color palette despite sharing a lot of production members and having a strong visual similarity and aesthetic look to Titan, indicating that the creators were definitely looking to avert this trope.

    Comic Strips 
  • A Hsu and Chan comic that poked fun at shooters like Killzone and Gears of War included this inspiring line
    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.

    Films — Animation 
  • Ralph Breaks the Internet: Slaughter Race is a GTA Online-esque open-world racing game that takes place in a drab, run-down, smog-filled city that's mostly done in shades of brown and gray, quite unlike the colorful games Ralph and Vanellope hail from.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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.
  • Barbie (2023) depicts Barbieland as a bright, artificial world with hues of pink throughout. The real world in contrast, has a slightly muted color pallete.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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 (2008) 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."
The 2006 movie, on the other hand, went for Orange/Blue Contrast, giving it a much blander look that was not well received.
  • In one of the darker periods for Doctor Who production values, the team ran out of money to afford sets, and instead shot most of the episode "Underworld" with CSO Miniature Effects sets. In order to make this look more realistic, all the sets were made brown. Most viewers find the effect of this is just to make the obviously unrealistic effect more difficult to see.


  • The Trope Namer is a parody in VG Cats, where Aeris digitizes Leo into a video game and abuses him with environmental settings. Image at the top of this trope page.
  • This Subnormality strip spoofs it in a workplace setting.
  • The Alt Text of this Level 30 Psychiatry comic makes reference to this trope when talking about Dr. Gardevoir's split persona's dull color scheme.
    Apparently hallucination have the same palete as third person shooters.

    Web Original 

Cranky Kong: Bah! When I was a young fella, the technology we had only let us use 25 colors on screen at a time. Now we see people using even less than that by choice. Kids these days...


Video Example(s):


The Game Awards Want Realism

MatPat talks about a trend of how most video games nominated for game of the year end up having a dull color scheme of browns, greys, and blues, citing a reason for this being that the Game Awards is basically the Oscars of Video Games, thus they also want to be as mature as the Oscars.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / RealIsBrown

Media sources: