Colour Palettization as Archaeogaming Method

Disclaimer: This post was written as part of my ANTH 320: Archaeologies of Gender requirements in Fall 2016. It has been in publication hell since then, but I’ve finally decided just to upload it here as I begin my archaeogaming thesis next month and will be needing to reference this essay as part of that. So. Here goes:

The academic study of video games is yet an emergent field, and the interdisciplinary field of archaeogaming ever more emergent still. As scholars become more convinced as to the validity of video games as an expressive medium, so to do they become convinced that video games exist as an expression of a society’s ideological mechanisms (Dill & Thill, 2007). In considering video games as a cultural artefact the question, “What can we use to come to a greater understanding of gender and/or the construction of gender in and from video games?” is something which requires refinement. Andrew Reinhardt, blogger at, has specifically isolated the construction of methodologies and tools as one of “archaeogaming’s grand challenges” (Reinhardt, 2015), and in considering this I have constructed a possible methodology which has applications for the archaeogaming of gender. It is my contention that with regard to gender the analysis of colour palettes has a great amount of potential to influence archaeogaming methodology when such graphical output is considered to be a component of the video game as artefact.

Current methods for discerning gender as an end-product, or object, of ideological mechanism in video games tend to focus on whether or not women are identifiable as characters within a game and subsequently whether or not their depiction may be perceived as positive in some capacity (ex. Dill & Thill, 2007; Reinhardt, 2016). While such “looking for women” approaches are effective in their own right (Conkey & Gero, 1997, p. 415), there does not appear to be as much work done thus far by game theorists with regard to how characters are “coded” as women—or any gender for that matter—in order to be identified.


In constructing an analysis of a video game one may use one or more colour palettization tools to create a data set by which an analysis of gender through colour theory may be undertaken. In considering the video game as artefact this is to be done with consideration to the full operational context of the video game. Additionally a consideration of some of the concerns which may arise with the use of such a method must be undertaken.

Methodological framework

How are ideological functions/effects in games expressed? With regard to colour as representative of categorization of something such as gender “[c]lassification is achieved because colour functions as a marker of social identity” (Koller, 2008, p. 397). “Colour codes” may thus be considered to function as a method by which social groups may demonstrate themselves (Koller, 2008, p. 397). With a near-infinite range of visible colours presently capable of display with contemporary computers and screen technologies the isolation of colour as an area of intentional effect within video games is ideal. Colour choices are rarely now considered with relation to the graphic capabilities of hardware, and more within our current video game moment than ever are colour theories capable of being applied to the discerning of ideological effects (ex. gender, emotion, etc) (Geslin, Jégou & Beaudoin, 2016). Within a Western context, for example, the colour pink is now often associated with women and feminity (Koller, 2008). Princess Peach exists as one of perhaps the pinkest characters in video games, and has done so for a number of years. In analyzing the character’s first (and presently only) solo game “Super Princess Peach” (see fig. 1) the colour pink is obviously predominant, however as is the colour blue. The shade and tone of blue chosen is what provides the “social communication” of the colour palette (Geslin, Jégou & Beaudoin, 2016, pp. 8), and the use of such a blue in relation to pink may still communicate femininity via association (Koller, 2008, pp. 399).


Figure 1. Cover of “Super Princess Peach” for the Nintendo DS. Cover image added to the Mario Wikia by user Conker’s Bad Fur Day, 2011, Retrieved from Copyright Nintendo. Reprinted under fair use.

With regard to the above a full consideration of colour must include a consideration of hardware capability if one is to conduct an analysis of games through time. For an example of the importance of hardware in an analysis of colour consideration may be given to the Magnavox Odyssey. The Odyssey was one of the first platforms to require screen overlays for a number of games, including the game “Simon Says” (see fig. 2). While the computer hardware of the Odyssey itself displays only white blocks on a black background, the use of overlays expands the colours displayed to the player significantly. If one were to ignore the overlays as a necessary component of the game-hardware experience an accurate analysis of colour could not be undertaken.

Figure 2. Image showing overlays for the Magnavox Odyssey game “Simon Says.” Image Retrieved from Reprinted under fair use.

In considering the graphical output of the game to be a component of a video game as artefact the lithic construction model of chain opératoire (herein: operational chain) may be turned to for insight (see fig. 3). The operational chain is defined by O. Bar-Yosef, et al. in “The Excavations in Kebara Cave, Mt. Carmel” as “the different stages of tool production from the acquisition of raw material to the final abandonment of the desired and/or useful objects” (p. 511, 1992). While a complete explanation of the applications of the operational chain within archaeogaming is worthy of an essay in itself, for the purposes of this paper its use lies in being able to discreetly define the technological tradition of a video game in relation to both raw material procurement (or materiality) and use as a method of providing context for further colour analysis.

Figure 3. A diagram demonstrating the operational sequence of a lithic tool. Diagram from Grace, Roger, 2014, Retrieved from Copyright 2014 by Roger Grace. Reprinted under fair use.

In this scenario the technological tradition of graphical output of a video game may be considered as graphical output capability in relation to genre, which exists as a product of platform (ie. materiality) of the game (ie. play as use). Considering Final Fantasy X-2, for example: the technical tradition is 128bit, or 6th generation graphics; it is of the Japanese Role-Playing Game (JRPG) genre; and saw original material release for the Sony Playstation 2. While this is all information game theorists already tend to include in their analysis as background data (ex. Consalvo & Dutton, 2006), by placing it within the model of an operational chain one is able to privilege analysis of a single specific component (ex. graphics) without losing the context of related components. This is especially important for the analysis of colour theory as not only are colour interpretations individualized based on culturally-bound ideological frames, but also based on genre-bound ideological frames.

Current programs

While current free-use palettizing tools are ideal for outputting colour palettes based on a percentage of colours used, their goal is to provide an aesthetically pleasing outcome (Color Palette Generator). This causes for there to be “highlight” colours often included in their output, which while aesthetically pleasing are not necessarily useful for analysis. Additionally, such tools limit the number of colours output in order to save on processing power. In considering figure 4 concerns surrounding the use of current free-use palettization tools are evident. Although the palette generated is aesthetically pleasing and obviously draws information from the image it does not provide an accurate sampling of the colours present in Yuna’s costume, either in number or range of colours output.

yuna 2
Figure 4. A concept image of the character Yuna in her gunner outfit from Final Fantasy X-2, originally released on the Sony Playstation 2. Next to Yuna is the colour palette output from Image of Yuna added to the Final Fantasy Wikia by user Monterossa, 2014, Retrieved from Copyright Square Enix or employee. Adapted under fair use.

Considering the concerns defined above: using current free-use palettization tools for archaeogaming is still likely possible. In such a case the images for palettization should be trimmed so as to remove as much superfluous data (ex. background, whitespace, etc) as possible, and cropped for areas of interest (ex. “highlight” areas; items which are in contrast, bright metallics, etc). While this will result in several disjointed images being analyzed, this will still allow for some colour analysis to be undertaken (see fig. 5). While this process should account for areas of interest in the image, they cannot account for any transparency. As such it is my recommendation that image formats which allow for alpha-channels not be included for such an analysis.

Figure 5. A cropped concept image of the character Yuna in her gunner outfit from Final Fantasy X-2, originally released on the Sony Playstation 2. Next to the cropped image is the colour palette output from Original image of Yuna added to the Final Fantasy Wikia by user Monterossa, 2014, Retrieved from Copyright Square Enix or employee. Adapted under fair use.

Future programs

Drawing from current palettization tools, a specific tool for archaeogaming research should still output a dataset based on the percentage of a colour used. However the key difference lies in the specificity which may be wanted or required for quantitative research. In my opinion such a tool would be best designed as a program which a researcher may pick colours which they wish to focus on, input an image, and the program then outputs a dataset showing how often that colour range appears in said image. This being said, in considering how a palettizer can or “should” be designed for archaeogaming further research as of yet needs to be done within the archaeogaming community.

A more social concern surrounds the relationships between members of some game development communities, academics, gamers, and those who are a combination therein. Historically game studies have focused on “lists” of games (ex. Nooney, 2013), and the narratological aspects of games or the ludological aspects of games (Malliet, 2007). Specifically, the considerations of narratological concepts or otherwise expressive outputs (ex. whether or not a game expresses a certain theme, etc) of games has popularly been the realm of video game journalists (ex. De Rochefort, 2016). While not a universal tension, since 2014 the “#Gamergate” movement has exposed distrust within video game communities (VanDerWerff, 2014). Much of this distrust stems from a fear of secrecy on the part of writers (and, honestly, much also stems from straight-up misogyny), but a solution may be found in some flavours of feminist archaeology which recommend complete transparency on the part of the archaeologist (ex. open-source publishing, publishing field notes, etc) (Conkey & Gero, 1997, pp. 429-431). While palettization may be a useful tool for many aspects of archaeogaming, and it is my personal belief that open-source publishing is an important aspect of future academia, if palettization is to be used to specifically discern gender expression in games it becomes especially important for results to be freely accessible in order to attempt at easing tensions between and within video game communities. While this does open authors up to vitriol, it also offers a greater opportunity for learning and is more in-line with “standard” contemporary anthropological and archaeological community-based practices.


As an interdisciplinary field archaeogaming has the potential to accumulate methodologies from a number of fields both within (ex. lithic analysis) and outside (ex. colour theory) of archaeology “proper.” As explained in this paper: colour theory specifically has great potential for application as archaeogaming method, specifically with regard to discerning gendered appearance. Although questions for analysis with regard to colour theory are wide-reaching, specifically with regard to gender these palettes may be used specifically to determine such things as: “Was colour used by designers to engender characters?”, “Do these colour choices have implications cross-culturally?”, “Have any colour choices been localized in order to ‘read better’ or ‘read differently’ cross-culturally?”, “Are characters allowed multiple costumes? What are the implications of each/certain costume palette with regard to how the character expresses gender?”, etc. Thus as a part of a larger analysis video game as artefact one may look to colour theory to inform their analysis on the construction of gender/gendered presentation of such things as characters or space.



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