Color-blindness and Video Games

There's no right answer, here.
At one time or another, a good chunk of the Giant Bomb staff has revealed that they're color blind.  I think this is great, because I'm color deficient too, so I always hope that they'll at least mention when a developer isn't making the game accessible for the likes of us.  Actually, there's a sizable portion of the general population that has some sort of difference in color perception that makes some colors indistinguishable from others, which means that it's smart for game designers to make systems with us in mind.

It's not too hard for designers to make things easier on us cripples; if you alter the darkness or lightness of the shades, then they're easier to tell apart, even for people lacking all color perception.  If you get a bright green and a bright yellow that share about the same level, they may become almost indistinguishable for people with certain deficiencies, which can ruin a game.

Most game makers are savvy to this, and many of them actually put in systems which help the color blind out.  This is especially true in puzzle games, where bright, different colors are often used to help the player figure out what pieces to use.  One that instantly springs to mind is Puzzle Quest, where there are symbols on the gems as well as colors, so if we're having trouble with a color we can refer to the symbol instead.  Games like Puzzle Pirates do that too, at least in some of the games.  It just makes good design sense to be as inclusive as possible.

A game I could mention that's more mean about it is my current whipping boy Star Control 2, which has clues like "find the yellow star in the long constellation that looks like a beast which swallowed a big thing."  OK, I think, some of these look yellow, some of these may be green but I'm not sure...  that one looks long, wait, what? 

Super Puzzle Fighter 2 was a pain for me, and I'd have to break out  3-D glasses and wear one filter on one eye to help me differentiate the yellow and green gems.

And so on.

What gets me is that often puzzles, both in puzzle games and in adventure games, often treat the color component as a sort of given.  Everyone can see it (they think) so this is as easy as banging blocks together is for a toddler.  I think companies are being better about this though, over time.

For those of us who don't quite have the patience to get a courtesy nod from mindful developers, there are some tools out there which are pretty handy.  It didn't really work for the SC 2 problem above because the game used a mix of colors for stars that threw off the readings (so I couldn't tell exactly what color given things were) but the program Eye Dropper  at least helped me figure out what colors were different from each other (link forthcoming).

As always, be smart about using software from vendors you don't trust.  It works fine for me and I've had no problems, but you know the drill: run it through anti-virus and anti-malware software if you want to be sensible; the software designers may have turned evil since I last downloaded the thing:

Eye Dropper

This could be of use for just about anyone, really, if you wanted to see the color values of a given pixel.  Mine does go a bit haywire with certain software, and I haven't tested the newer version out.  If you do try it out, let me know in the comments what you thought about it.  If I see no comments here I'll assume there was no interest or everything went fine :)

An interesting aside: we always assume that all cultures have WORDS for the same colors as we do.  But Ancient Greek, for instance, supposedly didn't have a word for blue, or many colors at all.  They talked about the bronzy sheen of the sky, rather than its color.  Same for modern Chinese, at least Mandarin, which has a word for blue that doubles for the word blue-green, but many different words for red (words that pre-date red as a symbol for communism; the Russian positive association predates communism, too).  I'm not talking about the goofy colors that they seem to invent so every corporation has its own patented shade of mauve, I'm talking basics here, words that have lasted for a long time.  Makes me wonder if there are other color blindnesses lurking in the background, just because Westerners don't quite have the right name for them yet.  It may be true that colors matter only if cultures think they matter, or perhaps the psychology of color is a lot more complex than we can put into words at the present time.

Another tidbit: while it's true that color blindness mostly manifests in genetic males, genetic females can get color blindness as well.  It's a lot harder to get, genetically speaking, but it does happen.

This article was originally going to be specifically about Star Control 2, but I figured this topic was a bit more interesting (for me to write, and possibly for people to read).  I have made some headway in SC2 since my last blog mention, to a point now where I sorta see what I've been doing to set certain problems in motion, and have been finding methods to counteract some events.  At least I THINK these methods work.  It's a lot of trial and error, and a lot of time has been spent experimenting and reloading. 

The save game system, and modern gaming's dependency on it, might make a good topic for the future.
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11 Comments
Posted by ahoodedfigure
There's no right answer, here.
At one time or another, a good chunk of the Giant Bomb staff has revealed that they're color blind.  I think this is great, because I'm color deficient too, so I always hope that they'll at least mention when a developer isn't making the game accessible for the likes of us.  Actually, there's a sizable portion of the general population that has some sort of difference in color perception that makes some colors indistinguishable from others, which means that it's smart for game designers to make systems with us in mind.

It's not too hard for designers to make things easier on us cripples; if you alter the darkness or lightness of the shades, then they're easier to tell apart, even for people lacking all color perception.  If you get a bright green and a bright yellow that share about the same level, they may become almost indistinguishable for people with certain deficiencies, which can ruin a game.

Most game makers are savvy to this, and many of them actually put in systems which help the color blind out.  This is especially true in puzzle games, where bright, different colors are often used to help the player figure out what pieces to use.  One that instantly springs to mind is Puzzle Quest, where there are symbols on the gems as well as colors, so if we're having trouble with a color we can refer to the symbol instead.  Games like Puzzle Pirates do that too, at least in some of the games.  It just makes good design sense to be as inclusive as possible.

A game I could mention that's more mean about it is my current whipping boy Star Control 2, which has clues like "find the yellow star in the long constellation that looks like a beast which swallowed a big thing."  OK, I think, some of these look yellow, some of these may be green but I'm not sure...  that one looks long, wait, what? 

Super Puzzle Fighter 2 was a pain for me, and I'd have to break out  3-D glasses and wear one filter on one eye to help me differentiate the yellow and green gems.

And so on.

What gets me is that often puzzles, both in puzzle games and in adventure games, often treat the color component as a sort of given.  Everyone can see it (they think) so this is as easy as banging blocks together is for a toddler.  I think companies are being better about this though, over time.

For those of us who don't quite have the patience to get a courtesy nod from mindful developers, there are some tools out there which are pretty handy.  It didn't really work for the SC 2 problem above because the game used a mix of colors for stars that threw off the readings (so I couldn't tell exactly what color given things were) but the program Eye Dropper  at least helped me figure out what colors were different from each other (link forthcoming).

As always, be smart about using software from vendors you don't trust.  It works fine for me and I've had no problems, but you know the drill: run it through anti-virus and anti-malware software if you want to be sensible; the software designers may have turned evil since I last downloaded the thing:

Eye Dropper

This could be of use for just about anyone, really, if you wanted to see the color values of a given pixel.  Mine does go a bit haywire with certain software, and I haven't tested the newer version out.  If you do try it out, let me know in the comments what you thought about it.  If I see no comments here I'll assume there was no interest or everything went fine :)

An interesting aside: we always assume that all cultures have WORDS for the same colors as we do.  But Ancient Greek, for instance, supposedly didn't have a word for blue, or many colors at all.  They talked about the bronzy sheen of the sky, rather than its color.  Same for modern Chinese, at least Mandarin, which has a word for blue that doubles for the word blue-green, but many different words for red (words that pre-date red as a symbol for communism; the Russian positive association predates communism, too).  I'm not talking about the goofy colors that they seem to invent so every corporation has its own patented shade of mauve, I'm talking basics here, words that have lasted for a long time.  Makes me wonder if there are other color blindnesses lurking in the background, just because Westerners don't quite have the right name for them yet.  It may be true that colors matter only if cultures think they matter, or perhaps the psychology of color is a lot more complex than we can put into words at the present time.

Another tidbit: while it's true that color blindness mostly manifests in genetic males, genetic females can get color blindness as well.  It's a lot harder to get, genetically speaking, but it does happen.

This article was originally going to be specifically about Star Control 2, but I figured this topic was a bit more interesting (for me to write, and possibly for people to read).  I have made some headway in SC2 since my last blog mention, to a point now where I sorta see what I've been doing to set certain problems in motion, and have been finding methods to counteract some events.  At least I THINK these methods work.  It's a lot of trial and error, and a lot of time has been spent experimenting and reloading. 

The save game system, and modern gaming's dependency on it, might make a good topic for the future.
Posted by Kilzombie

Good read.

Posted by Ax

Great post, I especially love the end bit about language and having words for something.  There's that classic example, used in every sociology class I've ever taken, about how Eskimos have many different words for snow.  Turns out that is, at least in part, an urban legend, but I think the basic concept of how people interpret the world through language is sound.

Posted by ahoodedfigure

Thanks Ax (and Kilzombie, since I'm being public about thank yous all of a sudden). 

Language is sort of a hobby of mine, even though I'm not good at speaking them per se.  The Eskimo thing comes from the nature of the language.  The idea of "word" is something centered around languages like English or Russian, where we tend to have discreet words for concepts.  With other languages, though, a word, a string of letters separated by spaces, isn't so exact.  You can have multiple concepts in a single word as this is defined.

Languages like Hungarian and Finnish do this (maybe Turkish, I'm not sure off the top of my head), where adjectives and prepositions are all squished into the term itself.  As far as I've learned about that myth, Inuit and its cousin languages do this too.  So you can have many words for snow, but just swap out adjectives.  Each word is different in the sense that you have a new word every time you add a different element.

I think a better thing to find out would be:  How many CONCEPTS they have for snow.  Like, how many different snow types they can name, that sort of thing.  Regardless of how many words there are.  But you find these sorts of things in any culture with a need to separate ideas.  A wind from the east could have a different name than a wind from the west, because the wind from the east tends to carry a lot of irritating sand, while the wind from the west, from the sea, tends to be cool and sometimes bring rain.  To those of us with more variable weather conditions it may seem astonishing, but to them it was all but necessary to distinguish the two.

I think we do see the world through language, but only in part.  We also see with our hearts in a sense, and we struggle when we don't have a word for a thing we see, and that struggle for a new word or to explain an emotion feels bigger than the entire language.  Language is one of our biggest tools, and it's steeped in the culture it's brewed in, so you'll get amazing variety, even over small geographic areas.  That's why I think forcing people to speak a certain language to the exclusion of their mother tongue is more than just getting them to sign their name properly on bureaucratic forms; it's in a sense a partial annihilation of the culture itself.

Posted by Ax

Very nicely put, you obviously know a bit more about the subject then I do.  I think you made a great point when you mentioned how frustrating it can be to see something with our heart, but not have the word for it.

I also think there's an interesting sort of loop where on the one hand we as cultures are shaping language, but on the other the language is shaping us.  It's almost a feedback loop.

I often wish I had a better head for languages other than English than I do.  I can speak a little bit of German, but that's pretty much the extant of my knowledge.  It's too bad our society doesn't place a higher priority on language skills, particularly at a younger age.

I have a bachelor's degree in English, but my focus is mostly on stories (actually...creative writing to be exact).  One interesting discussion I remember from several of my classes arose from the question of translation.  It can be easy to forget when reading a translation, especially a well written translation, that what you're reading may or may not capture the actual intention that the author had when writing it. 

Translators are often left with the question of whether they should focus on accuracy or on making something actually work in English (this question is incredibly important when dealing with poetry where a more accurate translation can completely miss the essence of what made a poem so memorable in the first place.)

There's an interesting balance that must be struck and that balance, I think, gets at the heart of what communication and language are all about.  Anyway, I'm going to stop myself before I get even more off topic.  Very interesting conversation.

Posted by ahoodedfigure

"Very nicely put, you obviously know a bit more about the subject then I do..."

I don't know if I know more.  I certainly think about it a lot, but just about every human being deals with language and expression in one form or another.  Everyone has the potential to be an expert of their own viewpoint.  At least at a particular instance, since we change all the time in subtle ways.

"I also think there's an interesting sort of loop where on the one hand we as cultures are shaping language, but on the other the language is shaping us.  It's almost a feedback loop."

I'm reminded of cultures which use protectionist means to help prevent their language from being influenced, and in their opinion corrupted, by outside languages.  Some are successful if they're isolated enough, but many fail at this, sometimes catastrophically.  Language influences cultures, cultures influence language, but languages themselves are like amoebas, striking out at each other, consuming each other.  English, as you know, is a mad conglomeration of influences, and I wonder if this in some way contributed to its resilience.  Or perhaps it's just an illustration of its heritage.

I have met Russians who have maybe had a single foreign language during their schooling, or perhaps none.  But America is not exactly high on the list of foreign language learners.  I tend to be of the mind that learning languages early and learning more than one is beneficial, not only to one's own brain elasticity but also toward the obvious opening of social horizons.  This from someone who learned a little bit of Spanish and Chinese (and can barely remember them) when growing up.  Youth is the best time to learn, but I think one should never give up learning, either, even if you can't learn as quickly as you did as a child.  It's good mental exercise in the very least, but it also helps remind one that one's own language does not have the monopoly on concepts.

Literary translation is something I often think about.  You've probably talked more about this than I've ever thought about it, but what I came to, and what a lot of translators talk about in the forewords to their translated texts, is the spectrum between adherence to the language and adherence to the intention of the author.

I CAN NOT STAND translations of Japanese which go too far in the direction of picking up every little Japanese idiosyncrasy.  Japanese is different enough that in order to translate it properly, it's best to be expedient, and get rid of the speech particles which, to Indo-European ears may sound terribly repetitive (as I imagine the Germanic and Latin languages' tendency to put articles in front of everything sounds boring to them).  Those mostly emerge in otaku translations of anime series, but it can happen in less niche interests as well. 

A counter example would be the translation in a game like Lunar: The Silver Star.  The meaning of the game was brought forth, but many of the cultural references in the game were replaced with American ones.  To me it was quite funny, and I understood a lot of them.  It made for an entertaining game experience, but at the same time, in the back of my mind, I always wondered what the original dialogue might have been.

A bad example of needless localization was a very specific example, something someone else may think of as obsessive, but in Spellcaster for the Master System, there was a noodle vendor in town that you talk to...  but they called the stuff that he was serving spaghetti.  I kept looking at the stuff, which had no sauce, no peppers, no anything that might suggest spaghetti, and it seemed rather incongruous.  This wasn't a more original fantasy setting like Lunar; this was fairly heavily influenced by Japanese and Indian myths and folktales, at least in part.  Since it was obviously taking place in some sort of fantasy version of Japan, there's no reason not to make things fit the setting and call them noodles.  There were probably other examples, but that one stuck out in my mind.

Every translator struggles with her or his text.  It's a war you can't really win.  At best you can limit the casualties as you try to put forth something that brings this work to the masses who can't read in this foreign language.  At the very least, it's important for us as readers to understand a bit about the culture that the writers come from (in my opinion.  Others argue that doing that would prejudice you to believe that the author was a direct product of his or her culture.  I realize that's a fallacy to assume that all the time, but it can't hurt to know a bit of the possible influences should some confusing behavior or fact come out in the text that couldn't be translated directly). 

You do your best to meet the writer in the middle.  But this happens even in your own language.  As a writer of sorts (god, if you don't know I'm a blowhard already, just look at how much I've typed!) I often struggle to say exactly what I want to say using the crude tool of language.  Language itself sometimes changes the stories and essays I write, and I'm sure it happens to most other writers as well, from amateur on up.  It makes me wonder if some day we won't have translations of modern English into whatever version of English may still exist in the future, given how much language seems to change.  I've heard that other languages, like Icelandic and Castillano can still be read many  hundreds of years after their original writing with little or no problem of understanding. 

Your point about poetry is true, and the essence of language isn't just meaning but sound.  If you have a really long word in German that you need to say a really short thing in English, it becomes comical for a German translation of that term to replace the English one... 

I guess the big question is, what are we trying to do when we translate?  Are we trying to let that author's voice be heard by others?  Are we trying to use their good framework to bring interesting concepts, while hanging our own cultural ornamentation on it?  Are we maybe trying to have real cultural insight into this other world? 

I'm fine with you talking at length about it.  It's not like my page gets a lot of traffic, so you won't be drowning anyone out if you want to say more.  Maybe others will want to chime in, and I'm cool with that, but if you want to say more I can think of no better place for it.

Posted by HTTenrai

Did you know that, in the HD versions of Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, the pieces now have elemental effects on them to help tell them apart while they're falling? I wonder if it actually helps colorblind players any.

Posted by ahoodedfigure

I'd have to see it to be able to tell you :)  I didn't know they were putting out new versions of that.

Posted by Ax

Yeah, I took German as my foreign language in college and that is one of those languages that has a pretty strict control on the language and what can be added (or subtracted) from it.  Interestingly enough German has gone through something of a transformation in the past twenty years BECAUSE of the board that controls the language.  They want to make it more accessible for foreign students as an incentive to get us to study it. 

The funny thing is these artificial changes have been really slow to take hold...mostly because stubborn teachers refuse to teach the new way of doing things.  Most of my teachers would tell us the way they'd learn and at best mention the changes.  It doesn't help that for the most part the changes are very superficial and don't actually make the language any easier.  Eventually they might take traction, but it's going to take a  while.

I really like that amoeba simile for how languages work.  English has a particularly fascinating (and bizarre) history.  It's basically a history of conquest.  I mean to start out you have the Anglo Saxons (who themselves were imports) then along comes the Romans.  They never really succeed in conquering Britain completely, but its at this point that Latin enters the language.  The Romans abandon the island to go deal with their problems, time passes, and then along come the French to run things. 

This is where things get pretty strange from a linguists point of view.  Almost any time one culture is conquered by another for a length of time as long as the French were around the conquered people's language is subsumed completely by the conquerers (you can see this a lot with many of the heavily occupied roman territories--Spanish and French now are both basically just evolved versions of latin)--but the English language managed to remain separate.  To be sure it absorbed many French words (and more Latin), but it retained a separate identity.

It's believed that the class division is the main reason for this.  The French were ruling, so French became the language of the aristocrats, court, etc.  But you had all the English out there still speaking English and for the most part doing their best to ignore the French.   By the way if you want a really good example of this it can still be seen today.  Pig, cow, sheep--these are all words that come from Anglo Saxon.  Pork, beef, lamb--all words that come from French (by the way I hope I didn't get any of those wrong, it's been a little while).  The English were the ones raising the animals--so today the names we give those animals are the names they were using.  The French didn't care.  The French did however care about the food they were eating and preparing--thus the French names for the animals as food.  Even after hundreds of years this division still stands.

This is probably a good place to make a transition over to the comment you made about needing a translation for modern English in a  few hundred years.  I would say that one good way of looking at the possibility of this is to go back and see how much translation is needed for various works throughout the history of the language.  Middle-English for example requires only a great deal of patience to read.  Translations DO exist for it, but they're really designed for lazy students who don't want to have to work to hard.  For a good example of what Middle English was like you can check out the works of Chaucer or (my personal fav) Malory's Le Morte Da Arthur.  There is no standardized spelling and many words an phrases either no longer exist or thier meaning has shifted. Still, if you stick with it you can start to read it with a fair amount of ease (especially if you have a good set of footnotes to help you work out the meanings of those words and phrases).

Old English on the other hand is a much tougher nut to crack.  The obvious example here is, of course, Beowulf.  Old English is basically just Anglo Saxon--it's what English looked like before the French came in and messed things up.  And you'll find if you look up a copy that it is basically a completely different language.  Don't get me wrong.  A dedicated student will notice familiar words here and there if they look hard--but if you want to be able to read it you'll have to learn Anglo Saxon as though you were learning a different language.

One thing to note is that the change of the language is slowing.  Linguists have noted this.  Odds are students reading The Stand by Stephen King three hundred years from now will have no harder a time reading it then I had reading Malory, and maybe even an easier time depending on how things go.  But then there's no saying that for sure.  Technology has started to shift English in interesting directions (just look at im speak for a good example).  On the internet few people bother to stick to the rules of grammar and spelling (actually im speak can in many ways be very reminiscent of middle english due to the lack of standardized spelling).  One can only speculate how this will affect the language over the next fifty years or so let alone any amount of time beyond that.

Well I think I'm typed out for now except to say that Lunar: Silver Star is an awesome game.

Posted by ahoodedfigure

[Changes to the German Language]

I haven't heard of this before.  What sorts of changes, do you remember?  What parts of speech do you remember the changes affecting? 

Artificial changes rarely work, except in isolation or when there's an absolute necessity for it.  Like when developing a written language for a people that don't have their own, it tends to stick because people will prefer it to having nothing as the alternative.

"I really like that amoeba simile for how languages work.  English has a particularly fascinating (and bizarre) history.  It's basically a history of conquest.  I mean to start out you have the Anglo Saxons (who themselves were imports) then along comes the Romans.  They never really succeed in conquering Britain completely, but its at this point that Latin enters the language.  The Romans abandon the island to go deal with their problems, time passes, and then along come the French to run things."

If you're referring to the Anglo people that migrated there before the Romans I think I understand your reference, though I think you got the Romans and the "Saxons" reversed, but yeah, it's complex.  It's why you have traces of Germanic and Latin influences.

"This is where things get pretty strange from a linguists point of view.  Almost any time one culture is conquered by another for a length of time as long as the French were around the conquered people's language is subsumed completely by the conquerers (you can see this a lot with many of the heavily occupied roman territories--Spanish and French now are both basically just evolved versions of latin)--but the English language managed to remain separate.  To be sure it absorbed many French words (and more Latin), but it retained a separate identity."

I think that they're evolved, though, because of the influence of the old languages.  I don't think they're completely gone, not by any means.  Just like the Roman Empire didn't completely vanish when it was finally destroyed, but instead it influenced those that came after it.  Culture often lives on.  That's not to say it always does, especially when the conquerors are systematic about their destruction of culture.

But you find influences, for instance, in the many facets of Christianity now, where each particular culture has its own style of worship, own special days, own observances, that are not out of Paul's Church, but instead direct influences on the beliefs that came before. 

"It's believed that the class division is the main reason for this.  The French were ruling, so French became the language of the aristocrats, court, etc.  But you had all the English out there still speaking English and for the most part doing their best to ignore the French.   By the way if you want a really good example of this it can still be seen today."

I think the ruling classes came from things the same way they do everywhere, but yes, the Norman influence may have altered the language a lot quicker.

"Pig, cow, sheep--these are all words that come from Anglo Saxon.  Pork, beef, lamb--all words that come from French (by the way I hope I didn't get any of those wrong, it's been a little while).  The English were the ones raising the animals--so today the names we give those animals are the names they were using.  The French didn't care.  The French did however care about the food they were eating and preparing--thus the French names for the animals as food.  Even after hundreds of years this division still stands."

I've heard that before, and I think it's an interesting division.  Not many languages do it, but English does.  I assume Russian doesn't?

On your point about perhaps not needing a translation in a few hundred years, I think you're right.  As I was writing I wondered if I might have overstepped a bit, because the current interconnectedness allows for a general stability in the language, even if the ranges of dialects and variations is perhaps wider than before because of the flourishing of sub-communities and general population growth.

Your not about standardized spelling, too, is interesting, since I've noted that before it was simply unregulated, and now it's bad due to expedience and the throw-away nature of internet communication.  In a way IM speech is sort of like a bridge between formal written language and colloquial speech, since colloquial speech often throws grammar out the window because expedience and expression are more important than getting all the rules right (except for pedantic assholes). 

It's interesting that you bring up Stephen King, because I'm familiar enough with his writing to know that a lot of his references are ALREADY becoming anachronistic.  While the language itself is often colloquial and chummy, it in no way is as obsolete as his references to old rock bands or popular figures who, in a hundred years, may not be remembered.  We have a tendency, as I imagine many people did in ages past, to refer to present-day institutions, people, and situations which we assume have existed for long enough, and assume will always be remembered.  This dates such texts terribly.  I love Stephen King's prose, but there may be a time when his name is not synonymous with an easy or entertaining read.

I guess we'll see how things progress.  Have you noticed any changes at home in the way language is being influenced, or do you perhaps need more time to take it all in?



Posted by Ax
German Changes

I don't honestly remember much of what the changes entail.  The major change I ran into was that they were trying to phase out the eszett (a special German character that sounds like double ss).

English History

Frell!  You're completely right about me mixing up the order of the Romans and the Saxons.  Stupid school...what is it good for if I can't even keep simple facts straight ;-).  Oh well.  It's funny too, because I pulled out my history of english text book thinking, "Ha!  I'll show him..."  But it was I who was schooled.

I agree with you that the influence of dead languages remain, but that influence can often be a very subtle one (the celtic influence on English is miniscule, despite being here before the Saxons or Romans.

As for my comments about the French ruling class.  I understand what you mean when you say that you think it was pretty much the same as everywhere, but I was trying to make the point that they way things played out was not quite the same as the way they played out everywhere else.  The main issue is that the French never outnumbered the English, nor did the English common folk ever stop speaking English.  This can be constrasted with other invasions, for example the Saxon invasion of the Celtic people, where it was not just a ruling minority taking over, but instead an influx of an entire people.

Evolution of English

Yeah I think you make a good point when you look at IM speak as a kind of bridge between written language and spoken language.  It's all about expediancy and expression and I think as time goes by and more and more people are raised communicating on the internet we'll see more and more bleed over into the formal language.  Even before the internet many of the most strict formal rules of English had begun to break down.  It is often acceptable now for students to begin a sentence with 'and' or 'but' or to write fragment sentences in certain situations.

Stephen King

I picked Stephen King mostly because he is one of the most widely read authors in the world for the time when he was writing.  It seems highly unlikely that an English class 100 years from now will be able to ignore an author who had that much influence and mindshare.  His collaqual and chumy style is likely to be a large part of what is studied when students look at his texts.

As for his references to culture, you are completely correct, although I think Stephen King won't be so bad off as some writers who rely upon pop culture reference to provide entertainment (imagine students in a film class trying to decipher Buffy the Vampire Slayer with it's myraid pop culture references).  That said these sorts of references occur in almost every literary work there is.  Shakespeare is a great example.  This was a person who, much like Stephen King, wrote his stuff for the masses.  In todays world it can be hard to believe that Shakespeare, the very symbol of high culture, was actually writing for a pretty common audience.  And his work abounds with references to things that require footnotes in order to make sense.  Or take an author like Dante.  There's a lot of political stuff going on in his Divine Comedy that flies right over the heads of modern readers.

These sorts of things of course date the authors, but being dated isn't such a bad thing when dealing with literature as it is for someone just looking for some entertainment.  Actually a lot of the fun for me in my literature classes came from learning about obscure references in literary works.