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Painting This Blog Yellow So Everyone Will Click On It

Even the most exhaustive video game discourse is a chance to learn new and interesting things

6:36 PM EST on February 11, 2024

Cloud from Final Fantasy VII climbing a yellow ledge

Hi, welcome (back) to Aftermath, I'm your host Luke and tonight we are not talking about football, we're talking about Video Game Discourse. In particular, this weekend's favourite talking point: yellow paint.

If you have no idea what I'm talking about, you should leave this blog immediately for the sake of your mental health. Go watch the Super Bowl, go watch a replay if you're reading this later, make a cup of tea, whatever. If you do know, or don't and would for some sick reason would still like to know more, then I will begrudgingly ask you to keep reading.

So! Last week, Dave Oshry from publisher New Blood tweeted this:

It's an old argument, but something about it--maybe because Dave is a popular guy on social media, maybe because Final Fantasy has a large and rabid fandom, maybe because between layoffs and the collapse of late stage capitalism everyone wanted to just talk about video games for once--set it off. Every time I opened Twitter over the weekend--yes, my fault, I shouldn't have opened it at all, I know--I saw folks talking about yellow paint in video games.

So what, exactly, is the "Yellow Paint Virus"? It's the way that loads of modern video games rely on very obvious prompts to guide the player through their levels, particularly when it comes to sections that involve climbing. The yellow ledges in the tweet above are a great example, but if you've played anything from The Last Of Us to Dying Light, you'll know exactly what yellow paint on a ledge means.

Gamers becoming aware and sometimes annoyed by this--while helpful, it can also be visually jarring, and even seen as treating the player like an idiot--is nothing new! This "yellow means climbable" post is ten years old, and one of my favourite Hard Drive blogs is "Adventuring Grinds to Halt as ‘Guys Who Paint the Climbable Ledges Yellow’ Strike Enters Third Week".

But the topic continues to make people angry, and so every 6-12 months, it rears its head again. And this time has been particularly chatty, so I thought I'd write about it here. Not to "cover" it as though it's the Super Bowl of Video Game Discourse, but because this time around I saw so many good, practical explanations of the practice--and debate over the specifics--that I thought they were worth sharing.

As an entrée, here's Aftermath's own Chris Person with some good general advice:

For a longer read from a development perspective, though, this thread by Joe Wintergreen has some excellent points, especially with regards to the fact that there are many ways to make a ledge or door obvious without having to paint it yellow, and some of the best games ever made are examples of this:

As a slight counter, though--this is a debate after all--here's a reminder that as smart as some of us might think Half-Life 2 was with most of its signposting (Wintergreen specifically mentions the game's boards, which rely on texture and repetition instead of paint to show you what to do), others have different experiences:

My favourite read, though, is from Bungie's Max Nichols, because it gets to the heart of why this issue keeps coming up, and keeps inspiring so many takes: it keeps coming up because, like so many other exhausting topics on social media, there's an entire bingo card's worth of complaints people have that can be expressed through this single, yellow-painted lens:

While I'm sure 94% of people involved in this Discourse will happily dive right in next time it comes around, I can only hope that you, Aftermath reader, are now in possession of enough mature, nuanced takes that you can just mute the term and go about your lives. And if the urge to indulge in yellow paint ever does take hold, then maybe you can just play this fun game about it instead

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