What makes a video game? The argument about the type and extent of gameplay that must exist within a release in order classify it in this way has been a long-running one. Many players believe an element of difficulty and some degree of skill are part of the requirements and therefore certain genres, such as visual novels, don’t always fit the bill.
So what about a title where all you do is click on pixels to make them change colour; is it still a video game? This is the thought I had after downloading Coloring Pixels on Steam last month. During another gamers’ block evening where I couldn’t choose what to play, it popped up in my suggestions queue and I decided to take a chance. Adventures weren’t doing it for me at that moment and I couldn’t face getting into 100-hours or more for an RPG, so I thought I’d try something completely different – and I had nothing to lose because it was free.
The title’s Steam page describes it as 'a relaxing colouring-by-numbers game'. Remember those creative kits you used to get as a kid that came with a paintbrush and picture divided up into sections, each numbered to correspond to a little bottle of paint? Well, Coloring Pixels is essentially that but in a digital format. You choose your pixelated image, select a colour from the palette at the bottom of the screen, and click away on all the squares containing a specific number.
There’s no penalty for mis-clicking on a pixel; it will be filled with colour but the number will remain on top, letting you know an incorrect shade has been added here. Simply choose the right colour then click again to correct and make the number disappear. There’s also a handy counter above the entries in the palette to let you know how many pixels of each hue remain. The only challenge is to correctly colour all squares within an image to finish it, and your reward is a cute little animation showing your coloring in.
Two things happened after my initial 45-minute session with Coloring Pixels. First, I was surprised to find that such a simple release was holding my attention; normally I play video games for their narrative and it’s rare that something without a story is able to entertain me for long. But I completed the first TEN levels without feeling bored or even truly realising I’d got through them (although I should say they were all pretty easy, with a maximum of 56 colours on a 24 by 32 grid).
The second discovery was that I was completely chilled out – so much so that I’d forgotten about my gamers’ block and could feel my eyes growing heavy. I had to switch off my laptop, curl up in the corner of the sofa and close my eyes for a short nap. ToastieLabs advertise their project as ‘a great way to wind down’ and they’re not wrong; I’ve recommended it to several friends after they’ve had a bad day at work, and each has reported back that an hour of colourful clicking has been somewhat therapeutic.
The weekend afterwards I decided to step up my game: 100 by 100 grids were no longer doing it for me and I wanted something bigger. I searched through the standard books that come with the free version of Coloring Pixels and chose a much larger image with a longer palette. During four hours spilt over two separate sessions, I streamed myself clicking on a total of 40,000 squares to create Ocean View. 60 levels are available upfront but you can also pay a short cost for further books if you need more pixel action.
So what is Coloring Pixels? Can it truly beer classified as a video game if all it involves is selecting colours and clicking on pixels to fill them in, with very little challenge? When I asked Google about the definition of a game, I received the result ‘an activity that one engages in for amusement or fun’. And when I ran the same query for video games, I got ‘a game played by electronically manipulating images produced by a computer program on a monitor or other display’.
So yes, I guess ToastieLabs’ release can be called a video game by those standards. But you know what: does it even really matter? So far I’ve spent almost seven hours with Coloring Pixels and each minute of those has been a joy, regardless of whether you’d consider it to be a game or not. Here’s a little title I can chill out with when I’m not in the mood for solving inventory puzzles or taking on monsters, something to keep me company and my hands busy while my brain winds down after being at work all day.
If you’re looking for a form of stress-relief, I’d highly recommend downloading Coloring Pixels. Click click click…
Video game lover, Later Levels blogger and SpecialEffect volunteer. Big fan of wannabe pirates and fine leather jackets.