Genrelisation

When we discuss game genres, most of the arguments seem to involve working out how to properly sort certain games into the right boxes; arguments like “What is an RPG?” or “Is this game Survival Horror?” seem to be some pervasive versions of this, but I think we have far bigger problems on our hands when it comes to looking at genres. Defining genres and properly sorting works into them is an important and sometimes difficult part of talking about games, and problems with doing so plague all media. Just go into a CD store and watch them try to work out where the dividing line between “Pop” and “Rock” comes. However, games in particular seem to have found an odd collection of genres that are to some degree arbitrary, and in many ways unhelpful. It’s not just that it’s occasionally hard to sort the right games into the right boxes, but more worryingly I think our system of boxes is flawed to begin with.

The Flaws

"Puzzle games"

For starters, sometimes games are very specifically sorted into certain genres or sub-genres, but far too often vastly different games will be declared part of the same category. To give an example, the undoubtedly niche "Rogue-Likes" get their own genre/sub-genre, but Portal and Tetris are said to both be part of the same “Puzzle” genre. Similarly, “First-Person shooters” and “Third-Person Shooters” are considered major genres in their own right, despite being essentially the same idea with different camera angles, and yet very different experiences like Mass Effect and Final Fantasy are both lumped together as “RPGs”.

If you look to other mediums like television or books, genre classifications focus on the overall experience the TV programmes/books/whatever else provide; there’s horror, romance, drama, etc. Like any genre classification, they’re vague descriptors, but they aim to treat the work as a whole to effectively give their potential audience some idea of what they’re going to get out of it. Whereas many game genres zero in on a mechanic or handful of mechanics as though they define the entire experience, and attempt to paint a full picture of a game using them.

This is what creates a large part of the aforementioned grouping problem, because even if say, Vanquish and Splinter Cell feel like very different experiences, merely by sharing the same mechanic or two they both earn the title of “Third-Person Shooter”. The idea that the non-central mechanics, narratives, and aesthetics may need to be taken into account to properly sort games often goes out the window. Imagine if movie genres were defined by a single collection of cinematic techniques, or book genres were defined by vague plot structures. It seems crazy, and yet it’s basically what we’re doing with a lot of games.

Games just seem to be less effective in the way they define genres than other mediums.

We have alleviated this problem to some degree by putting together different genre terms and including aesthetic descriptors to give ourselves terminology like “Modern Military FPS” or “Cartoon Puzzle Platformer”, and I think this has done a lot of good, but these are far from altogether solving the above problems, a lot of the time these terms don’t get used, and slamming together different words like this seems an inelegant solution that could present other issues. All in all, the fact that we try to stack multiple descriptors on top of each other in this way highlights that the base terms that we use to describe games don’t do their job properly.

Game genre names also aren’t very descriptive in a lot of cases. You know what you’re getting with, say, a “First-Person Shooter”, but a “Shoot ‘em Up”? That doesn’t really describe what’s going on in that genre as opposed to any other genre where using guns plays a big part. Why are there “Role-Playing Games” when you play a role in just about every game? And why are only a small fraction of the games where we go on adventures called “Adventure Games”? We can also see that while other mediums have genre names that sum their works up in one or two words, video game genres have names long enough that we have to start using acronyms for them before we even start adding extra descriptors.

The Effects

Now you may be thinking at this point that bad genre classifications aren’t really a big problem, and in some areas they’re not. You can easily argue that we all know what these genre terms mean, even if they’re poorly named, and that even if these terms don’t give us much information about the overall content of the games, we’ll find that stuff out soon enough anyway because we like to dig deeper into games. And yes, this is largely true, but I don’t think any problem should be just waved away, and as I see it there are larger issues than this. Perhaps there’s something to be said about how our fuzzy collection of genres may reflect that we don’t have an incredibly evolved vocabulary for talking about games, and that current genres may cause problems with sorting games on websites, but what I want to talk about are two other rather major problems that have the tendency to be easily overlooked.

I think we have an issue of inaccessibility on our hands.

Firstly, while we, the kind of people who browse video game websites, have few issues understanding the contents of games, bad genre classifications really don’t help people outside the medium, people new to the medium, or people who don’t play a lot of games. There are already way too many barriers facing people who want to play any video game that isn’t on a phone, tablet, or Facebook, so we should definitely be trying to stay away from unnecessarily enforcing more. Seriously, think about how much talking you’d have to do to explain to people what each genre title means.

This is where I think the act of smashing together jargon to be more specific about game genres largely falls down. Throwing around terms like “MMOFPS” or “Fantasy Action RPG” only makes it harder and more intimidating for people who don’t play games to find games they do want to play. Even for those who only buy two or three games a year, I seriously doubt they all know what this terminology means, and when the basic terms you’re using to describe your medium are often confusing and excluding, I think it’s inarguable that something’s gone wrong. If you’d never read a piece of fiction in your life, you’d still have a pretty good idea of what you were getting from an “Action” or “Drama” story, but with video games you probably wouldn’t know what exactly makes a game “Real-Time Strategy”.

The second issue is that I think that the way we classify games by genre alters our perception of games. It’s very easy to see the genre of a game as being the fundamental thing defining it, and accurately describing the experience as a whole, but under the current system of genres we have that’s just not the case.

Now, I wouldn't dream of saying we should just throw away terms like "Shooter" or "Hack-and-Slash". When used correctly these are effective descriptors of fundamental parts of games, we need them. However, I still think we can come up with better terminology for what games provide us at a basic level, and better ways of thinking about what defines games overall. Obviously a big change is not going to come any time soon, but I still think it’s interesting and useful to look at how genres could change, and to think about what make a game what it is.

Possible Alternatives

There may be better systems out there.

While I’m not sure they’re not the first people to come up with it, I think the BAFTAs have a pretty good system for summarising and categorising games. As opposed to most other video game awards which sort games by traditional video game genres, the BAFTA awards for video games essentially use four genres; action, strategy, family, and sports/fitness. I’m going to discard those last two genres at this point, because as we’ll see any games from them can essentially fit into the other two genres, and they only really exist as part of the BAFTAs due to the fact that they target audiences that most other games traditionally just don’t. So let’s take a look at action and strategy.

We often think of “Action Games” as being any game full of guns and explosions, and “Strategy” games as being any real-time or turn-based strategy game. However, from the context of game mechanics, action games can be seen as those games which test hand-eye co-ordination, reflexes, timing, spatial awareness, and so on. Most current action-adventure games, shooters, fighting games, rhythm games, sports games, and racing games would qualify as action games. Strategy games are those games which require tactical thinking and problem-solving skills, they generally move slower and require deeper thought than action games. RTS and TBS games would be examples of strategy games, but so would many puzzle games, adventure games, management sims and some RPGs.

If we define games as being either “Action” or “Strategy” we’re obviously being less specific about the central mechanics of games in our genre definitions, but this system is simpler than what we have, more descriptive of the experience we get from a game’s mechanics as a whole, can be more easily understood by outside parties, and better describes the differences between many games that are currently being inconveniently lumped into the same genres. Of course there are a lot of games that won’t fit straight into the action or strategy categories because they contain elements of both, but they can be described as action-strategy games. Many action RPGs qualify for this category. I’ve slotted some games into the table below to give an idea of how this system works, but if we wanted to go one further and be more accurate with our descriptions, we could even plot these games on a spectrum that runs from action to strategy.

There’s a problem though. While a system like this cuts to the core of what we get out of gameplay, even at a basic level we can’t define a game a game simply by its gameplay mechanics, and that was one of the exact things I criticised the current genre categories for doing. We know games are more than just the sum of their mechanics. For example, we could call both Starcraft and Fallout strategy games with a degree of action, and that definition wouldn’t be wrong, but anyone who’s seen those games knows one is much more about the strategy of battle, overcoming opponents, and tactical warfare, while the other is about exploring a world, meeting characters, and progressing through a story in your own way. The kind of system shown above just can’t account for this, but maybe there’s something that can.

In December of 2010 The Escapist showed off what they called their genre wheel, a wheel around which we could plot all existing games and game genres, but that uses two different aspects of a game to define it. Across the Y axis of the wheel is the same action/strategy categorisation from above, but across the X axis, The Escapist include a spectrum that runs from exploration to conflict. On the exploration end we can see games that are about exploring worlds, stories, pieces of music, vehicles, and tools. While on the conflict end are games about facing off against opponents, however, I think it makes more sense to use the conflict category to describe games about competition, and overcoming challenges.

There is an issue with the wheel structure; it doesn’t really allow us to consider games that may fall right in the middle of these four categories, even if there’s not many of them, but for those purposes you can just turn the wheel into a graph or table as I’ve done below.

Adding a second dimension to the classification system makes it somewhat harder to sort things, so you may not agree with the way I’ve arranged all the games here, and that’s fine, but the point is that with a system like this the bad lumping together of games simply based on their gameplay is easily solved, with games that may have previously been erroneously classed as being similar now sitting at very different ends of the spectrum.

Under a system like this basic genre titles could change from running along the lines of “RPG” and “Brawler” to something like “Action-Conflict” or “Strategy-Exploration”, and honestly this is the best system I’ve seen. In some ways The Escapist example is sadly less notable than the BAFTA one, because while I believe it’s a better system, if it was only utilised on The Escapist it wouldn’t be a big part of games coverage, but even they don’t seem to really use it. However, we can clearly see the advantages a genre classification system like this provides; it’s straightforward, treats games as a whole, and it’s easy to see someone unfamiliar with games picking up new games with these kinds of genre names on them. Thanks for reading.

57 Comments
57 Comments
  • 57 results
  • 1
  • 2
Edited by Video_Game_King

One solution I've seen pop up a lot is addressing a genre by the game that popularized it. Grand Theft Auto is a genre, Doom was once the FPS genre, Mario and Sonic kinda traded off the platformer genre (although maybe Sonic was more the mascot-platformer sub-genre), and I like to separate some strategy RPGs based on whether they're more like Fire Emblem or Tactics Ogre. (It's hard to deny the importance of the latter.) I think we can both see the problem, though: genres become more popular, start branching out, and soon, the name feels silly, as there are too many games that are so radically different from what we're referring to.

Now that I've typed out my stock response, let's read this bad boy and see if it actually applies to anything you've said.

Similarly, “First-Person shooters” and “Third-Person Shooters” are considered major genres in their own right, despite being essentially the same idea with different camera angles, and yet very different experiences like Mass Effect and Final Fantasy are both lumped together as “RPGs”.

This may very well be where sub-genres come into play. FPS and TPS (god, what an awkward acronym) are both sub-genres of the much broader shooter category, and we can divide RPGs based on regional differences.

Imagine if movie genres were defined by a single collection of cinematic techniques, or book genres were defined by vague plot structures.

You are tempting us all to scrounge about for examples. You realize that, right?

If you’d never read a piece of fiction in your life, you’d still have a pretty good idea of what you were getting from an “Action” or “Drama” story, but with video games you probably wouldn’t know what exactly makes a game “Real-Time Strategy”.

Counter-point: can you honestly say that your parents know what modernist literature or impressionist art is all about? (Maybe the latter example was weak, but I think I made my point well enough.) This isn't a problem exclusive to video games; there are all sorts of genres in all sorts of mediums that don't lend themselves well to immediate explanation.

The next point you make, I know all too well. (I'm not quoting it because I've been given a quote limit and I'm approaching it pretty fast.)

I don't know that I entirely like the Escapist axis of exploration/conflict, simply because games can have plenty of both simultaneously (Xenoblade Chronicles is a good example), and trying to express that on the grid makes it seem as though neither is present.......Which you address in the next paragraph. Fuck.

I've also just now realized that visual novels defy the FUCK OUT of that wheel. It's hard to map to anything on the Y axis, really, because you're on a set path (or series of paths), but without any conflict, or at least the conflict that the Escapist assumes (competition, it seems).

And finally, it seems that you've never worked in the thematic classifications that you're so yearning for. These classifications still look at mechanics entirely, not considering setting or theme or narrative approach (at least if there is one). Maybe that's because there are already systems in place that we can swipe from other genres, though.

Posted by Winternet

We can also not care about having very specific genres to label every game out there.

Posted by Video_Game_King

We can also not care about having very specific genres to label every game out there.

No, you can't. You're human.

Posted by Winternet

@winternet said:

We can also not care about having very specific genres to label every game out there.

No, you can't. You're human.

You shouldn't make assumptions.

Posted by Ramone

I just don't think genre-fying everything is important at all. For example I hate how dumb the metal music scene has got with the fucking myriad of sub-genres.

Edited by Video_Game_King
Posted by Ravenlight

Immediately skipping everything except the title and railing on how wrong certain words look when spelled in British-English.

Edited by Mento

I feel like the core conceit of the Giant Bomb wiki has always been "fuck genres". By saying what games are like other games, we're kind of sidestepping the increasingly irrelevant genre definitions we might struggle to give any new game with an iota of innovation, if falling into a slightly different pitfall of sounding too reductive about this medium's propensity towards imitation.

You have a lot of good points about other classifications, but I can't see how they'd be any more effective in the long run than this mess of genres we have already. More and more games will find ways of escaping any given paradigm, if there aren't many out there that already do so, so I can't this issue going away any time soon.

I still think the best course is "this game is like Game X but does Y completely differently", despite being a mouthful and the inherent issue with assuming the person you're talking to has even heard of Game X. There's just way more variations in interactivity than there are settings, or themes, or aesthetics, or the type of emotional response the piece is intended to elicit, or anything else that another medium might use to define itself for a genre system to be fruitful.

Moderator
Edited by planetfunksquad

Immediately skipping everything except the title and railing on how wrong certain words look when spelled in British-English.

Theres no such thing as British-English. It's just called English.

Posted by Video_Game_King

@mento said:

so I can't this issue going away any time soon.

What?

Posted by Mento

@video_game_king: I'm referring to my issue with typos, clearly. Well, maybe not clearly, because my point was obfuscated by a typo. But then how would one point out a consistent problem with typos without making a typo or two to emphas- You know what, this isn't really contributing to the thread any.

Moderator
Posted by Slag

Thank you, this is an issue that has bugged me for some time. Never seen the genre wheel before, that's interesting to say the least.

As you pointed out the problem with genre game labels is that most games can not be defined on that kind of binary basis.

It's more of continuum.

Take Ratchet & Clank. What the heck is that series when you break it down?

A Platformer?

A 3rd person shooter?

A racing game?

An Action Adventure?

an Action RPG?

or more accurately some of the all of the above.

or really any game that even has a minigame. Is Final Fantasy Viii also a card game because of Triple Triad?

I'm not sure who came up with the idea of the term RPG elements, but I think terms like that is perhasp best way to describe games instead of shoehorning them into an overly reductive genre. I.e. Some maybe the way we should describe games is by listing their gameplay mechanics in the same way we list other features, e.g.This game has 3rd person shooting and RPG elements. etc.

so yeah ditch genres labels, list mechanics as features maybe?

Posted by Gamer_152

@slag: Yeah, the RPG genre specifically is a bit of a nightmare because unlike with a lot of other genres, games aren't sorted it based on their core mechanics, but a set of mechanics wrapped around the core ones. If you take Pokemon for example, it has leveling up, and stats, and experience points, and all that, but the core of the combat is actually the act of selecting moves, Pokemon, and items in a turn-based battle system. Obviously something that feels way different from say, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, where you are sneaking, shooting, and meleeing your way through enemies in real-time in a 3D environment, but because of those same wrappers around those experiences they're both "RPGs".

You can start slamming together terms to give you stuff like "3rd-person shooter with RPG elements", and we're kind of doing that already, but I think that carries its own set of problems that I mentioned in the blog. I think in certain contexts there may be something to be said for listing mechanics, but I think that leaves us in danger of assuming the same mechanics lead to the same end experience, which is just not true. How those mechanics are implemented, what other ones they're used alongside, and how they fit into the game as a whole are also very important.

I also don't think just listing mechanics listing mechanics is a replacement for genres, it's potentially alienating to people who don't know about games, it's not concise, and it reduces games to their gameplay.

@mento: I'd sort of make the case for the action-strategy-conflict-exploration system again, but I'd just be repeating what I said above. My qualms are about more than just making a system that makes it harder for games to escape genre classification, but if that is your concern, I still think this system is much better. I'm not so sure the GB wiki has been about saying "Fuck genres", but we've certainly gone further than just listing genres. Although, even the "Related games" have been difficult to police because different games are often related in different ways, and it's hard to know where that line is where we can say "This game is similar enough to that one to be called related".

I don't think the whole "Game X is like game Y, but does [aspect] differently" is a replacement for genres, even if it is something that can help you describe a game. A genre needs to be concise, accurately describe the experience overall, and show clearly to everyone what it means.

@ramone: A lot of music genres have gotten crazy, but I think that's partly to do with the nature of music specifically. The metal example doesn't show that genres aren't important, just that genre systems can be broken. I still think despite difficulties that can be faced in sorting things into genres, genres are important, and I think the above system helps avoid the kind of million-and-one sub genres thing that has plagued music.

@winternet: I think genres have a lot of worth though, I think they're there for a reason and just saying "fuck trying to categorise our games" causes a lot of problems.

@video_game_king: I think defining games by similar popular games leads to a myriad of problems. It doesn't help people who don't know those games, it means having a new genre every time a new kind of game comes along, it's likely to lead to a ridiculously large number of genres, etc. We can alleviate problems to some degree with sub-genres, but that still doesn't solve many of our problems, and in some ways I think it makes them worse.

I can honestly say that my parents know what impressionist art and modernist literature are, but I take your point. The thing is though, these aren't really genres, more movements within their respective mediums. When it comes to visual art, I think there are probably too many barriers to entry and that is something that needs addressing, but there's something to be said for terms like "landscape", "watercolour", "still-life", "portrait", and the way they've helped people categorise paintings. As for literature, that just sort of leads me back to how literature seems to have a selection of genres that are more helpful than those for video games; romance, horror, drama, etc. Even if that wasn't the case, I don't think that would change the fact that video game genres have a problem.

You're right, a lot of, if not the majority of visual novels wouldn't fit under my slightly modified version of the genre wheel, but I don't think a lot of visual novels can actually be called games. There are ones where you have to be tactful in conversation that would probably fit neatly under the exploration-strategy category, but while there are a lot of problems with defining what a "game" is, I just think many visual novels don't fit into any definitions of it.

I'm not yearning for thematic classification, but what I am looking at is a focus on what the game does beyond hard mechanics, and I do think this system provides that. I think it's less important to say "This game is post-apocalyptic", or "This game is set in feudal Japan", and more important to say "This game has a focus on exploration of a world and story", or "This game isn't that concerned with exploration of a world and story", that tells you more about what it's like to play that game, while keeping things simple.

Moderator
Edited by Wheady

im not sure there ever will be an easy way to classify games. games keep coming out that mix up various genres so it becomes difficult to sum them up in 1 or 2 words. to me, its gotta be "an open world fps with rpg elements" or "a western action rpg".

Posted by Brodehouse

The classifications I use are based on how games work, what they demand or how they resolve their gameplay loop. I've basically got it down to three, which are somewhat misnamed but whatever.

'Action' is games that require skill with the control device. These are games of manual dexterity. 'Adventure' are games that require the use of logic or problem solving, or exploration and application of information. 'RPG' are games that rely on the application of statistics that the player has some agency over. From here we break into myriad subgenres, with most modern games blending all three.

Posted by Tylea002

I'm all for genres as categorising games, but making that anything more than informal is dumb. They serve a purpose of letting others know where they fall in the game climate out there, so it's all subjective. For one person, I may say: "Pokemon's an RPG" and for another I may call it a "Turn Based" game. It all depends on the wider knowledge of the other person that's being talked to, within video games.

However, in Films/TV Shows/Books, genres are fucking awful too. Everything is Drama, yet Drama means a non-comedy with non-fantastical elements. It's a load of nonsense. The more time I spend thinking seriously about classifying any works of art into genres the more my head explodes.

Posted by Ubersmake

I like describing games to friends as if they were all people on one massive family tree. It's certainly no way to categorize games, but I think it's a superior way to describe them. Which is what categories are for to some extent, anyway.

Taking Dishonored as an example, I had no idea what it was about until someone told me to imagine Thief and Deus Ex. The nice thing is that you can keep going back up the branches until you hit a game that stands as unique, in that it really didn't have any predecessors. Sort of like StarCraft 2 < StarCraft < Command & Conquer < Dune II. On a very related note, I like the term "roguelike" because it's pretty damn descriptive. A roguelike is (supposed to be) a game like Rogue.

Posted by Slag

@gamer_152: that's a good point

yeah that's where it gets tough, is not the mechanics so much, but describing the relative depth and emphasis on said mechanic

Probably hard to distinguish between a game that is 90% RPG 10% racing game and one that is 10% RPG 90% racing game with language everyone will readily understand.

Posted by rebgav

Problem: Too many generic genre labels for games, labels not descriptive enough and confusing for newcomers.

Solution: Classify games with a mixture of generic genre labels?

Potential results: Study One;

Q: "I am looking for an action-exploration game."

A: "Have you considered Rock Band?"

Seems legit.

Study Two;

Q: "I may be interested in Dark Souls but I find the term Action-RPG to be confusing and inaccessible."

A: "What if I told you that Dark Souls is an Action-Strategy-Exploration-Conflict game?"

Hmm. I don't know. It's bold. It's bold, brave work.

Posted by Gamer_152

@wheady: I think the genres I laid out by the end are a lot harder for games to fall outside of than stuff like "Action RPG" though.

@brodehouse: I think that's good in a lot of respects, but like I described with the action/strategy system in my blog I think that kind of system is in danger of ignoring how elements outside of gameplay factor into the game as a whole. I also don't really get your "RPG" genre, surely just about every game has statistics that the player has some agency over.

@tylea002: I think having formal classifications are important, sometimes people are speaking to wide audiences and they need terms that everyone can understand, and as I said, I also believe thinking about these systems helps us better understand what makes the games we enjoy what they are. If you're talking to another person one-to-one you have the ability to go more in-depth and consider their wider knowledge, but sometimes you just need labels for things.

As I said in the post I still think most other mediums have genre classifications that work better than what games have. I think with the drama example you're confusing drama as the concept of performance for art/entertainment, with drama as a genre, and I think your definition of drama is a bit off. It's not non-comedy, there are plenty of things that aren't comedy that also aren't drama, and you can even have a comedy-drama. I also don't think drama has to be non-fantastical.

@ubersmake: I absolutely agree.

@slag: Yeah, I think the real answer to that is not trying to define things simply by individual mechanics or collections of mechanics, and instead looking at "Okay, what's the overall experience". I mean that's essentially what we're trying to work out when we look at the mechanics to begin with, we just seem to have this slightly misplaced idea that the same set of mechanics always lead to the same overall experience in the end, no matter how emphasised they are or what else is around them. As far as easy explanation goes, I do think the above system is pretty helpful in that regard though.

@rebgav: I see your points, but come on, those are hypothetical scenarios, not studies. The description of Rock Band as an "action-exploration" game may seem bizarre but I still think it works as long as you take action and exploration within the right context, and obviously if you were face-to-face with a person you'd have far more ability to explain to a person what Rock Band is about. These aren't meant to be full in-depth descriptions of games, like any genre classifications they've meant to be vague identifiers.

With the Dark Souls example, while I think we'd all steer anyone unfamiliar with games as far away from that title as possible, I actually do think this system would be more helpful in that situation. Yeah, the potential definition is a bit wordy, but it contains no more words than "Action Role-Playing Game", not many games are likely to fall right in the middle of these spectrums, and at least the words "action", "strategy", "conflict" and "exploration" would mean something to a person who'd never played games before, as opposed to "Role-Playing Game".

Moderator
Posted by Jams

I think it's going to be a fools errand to find a classification and stick to it for a long period of time (maybe I'm wrong though). My reason being that a lot of these things are fluid in time and it can be one thing today and another 10 years from now. Kind of like calling all FPS's doom clones was appropriate 15 years ago.

So my advice would be to just come up with something on the spot that works. If you're talking to a layman, use movie like genre terms mixed with spelt out examples. If you're talking to a peer that's on the up and up then you can just say, x game is like y and z but does it better or adds a.

@ravenlight said:

Immediately skipping everything except the title and railing on how wrong certain words look when spelled in British-English.

Theres no such thing as British-English. It's just called English.

Nah, British-English and American-English are like Latin and Castilian Spanish. Sure the two could understand each other but there are a lot of differences too. Including local accents, slangs, etc. That's how it is with the two English languages. American-English with Texan, Californian, New Jersey accents and British-English with their (not sure?) Wales, East London? type accents. So yeah there is a British-English and it can be really weird at times for us American-English speakers.

Posted by Slag

@gamer_152: the problem I see with the genre wheel is that I'm not sure it's simple enough for the mass market.

It'd be pretty different from any rubric out there they are familiar with and I can't see mass channel retailers embracing it very well. I could be wrong though

as you also pointed out you've got hybrid cases even there as well too which kind of break the schematic

Posted by Mento

A reason I feel like the genre issue will be continue to become more convoluted and untenable is what Phil Fish was saying about how computer games will eventually escape the designation of "game", in what we understand by the term regarding what is required of us to interact with the medium and accomplishing its victory conditions, should they exist. Genres have always been kind of detrimental to that growing process, pigeonholing anything innovative by whatever brief descriptors still fit, though perhaps not to the same degree as the immensely reductive "it's an X clone" construct which was dangerously close to what I was fallaciously suggesting as a preferable alternative.

(Which could raise a point about how effective the current "related games" wiki system currently is given what you're saying about the troubles the moderators have with defining and removing what is inaccurate. Maybe an improved system would allow editors to include some elucidatory - if brief, say a single sentence - text to help explain the similarities, but that has the issue of sounding like it's insinuating plagiarism. Man, I'm glad I don't have to make those decisions.)

I understand the need for genres and why they're a time-tested method of abbreviating a game's content and tone for the busy idiot on the go who can't stop to read a longer synopsis before dropping $50 on a product, but even with a more inclusive and well thought out system like the wheel above there are - and will continue to be - games that lie outside it or do not quite fit within the contours of where they've been deposited for the sake of convenience. It is kind of like review scores in a way: Purists decry them as unnecessary, but others are grateful that there's a straightforward and immediate indication of what a game is like. Thus, we can't scrap something so useful, but nor should we pretend that they aren't sometimes inaccurate and ultimately even deleterious to the medium.

Moderator
Posted by Wheady

@slag said:

@gamer_152: the problem I see with the genre wheel is that I'm not sure it's simple enough for the mass market.

It'd be pretty different from any rubric out there they are familiar with and I can't see mass channel retailers embracing it very well. I could be wrong though

as you also pointed out you've got hybrid cases even there as well too which kind of break the schematic

This was something else I was thinking about. If you're talking to someone who spends a large amount of time playing games, that wheel works very well. But if you're talking to a parent who is just looking for a game for their kid and knows nothing about games, it will probably just confuse them. Unless the retailer gives out pamphlets describing what each genre means and that that point you're just making it even more complicated.

Another thing is how do we define what each type of game is? For example what exactly falls under strategy? Because almost all games require some kind of strategy on higher difficulties, even if it's just "kill the tank before killing the guys" in a CoD game. Don't get me wrong I would never classify CoD as a strategy game but you can see what I'm saying.

Posted by rebgav

@rebgav: The description of Rock Band as an "action-exploration" game may seem bizarre but I still think it works as long as you take action and exploration within the right context [...] at least the words "action", "strategy", "conflict" and "exploration" would mean something to a person who'd never played games before, as opposed to "Role-Playing Game".

Unfortunately I think that the system that you highlight in your post has exactly the same problems as the current terminology; while people are obviously going to be familiar with the words that you are using they aren't going to inherently understand their meaning in context until they are familiar with the terms and the games that they describe. The Rock Band example is particularly apt, it's hard to make a case for "action-exploration" be a more descriptive term for the experience than "rhythm game" or "music game," even if your audience is familiar with your genre wheel. I think that you're basically advocating replacing jargon with jargon.

Edited by selbie

I don't agree with having the middle classification. It needs a stricter dichotomous relationship in both branches.

I say that because I think games should be defined by the real-life behaviour of the PLAYER and not the content of the game itself. In film, all viewers are sitting and watching, so the medium can only be defined via the content. The same goes with books. However, games are an inherently interactive medium and so they can be grouped according to the player's behaviour which stems from the game's content.

Action vs. Strategy could therefore become Reaction vs. Contemplation

and Competitive (I prefer this term over 'Conflict') vs. Exploration

Your genre table posted above would therefore become:

CompetitiveExploration
Reaction

Rock Band

Call of Duty

Need for Speed

Space Invaders

Fallout

Deus Ex

God of War

Mario

Legend of Zelda

Dark Souls

Splinter Cell

Contemplation

Sid Meiers Civilization

Starcraft

Advance Wars

Final Fantasy

Simcity

Monkey Island

Professor Layton

This results in four simple and distinctive genres:

  • Competitive Reaction games (CRG)
  • Reactive Exploration games (REG)
  • Competitive Contemplation games (CCG); and
  • Contemplative Exploration games (CEG)

as opposed to a total of 9 genres with the 3 x 3 table :)

Posted by rebgav

@selbie: So... Super Mario World, Demons Souls and Fallout 2 would all be the same type of game? And this is information which would be useful to consumers and critics? If the goal were to reduce complexity to that extent why not simply forgo categorization of any sort and simply label them "videogames," it seems like that would be the most elegant catch-all?

Edited by selbie

@rebgav said:

@selbie: So... Super Mario World, Demons Souls and Fallout 2 would all be the same type of game? And this is information which would be useful to consumers and critics?

Yes, and yes. My categories define the genres by how people experience the game.

Edited by rebgav

@selbie said:

@rebgav said:

@selbie: So... Super Mario World, Demons Souls and Fallout 2 would all be the same type of game? And this is information which would be useful to consumers and critics?

Yes, and yes. My categories define the genres by how people experience the game.

Your definitions are extremely abstract. In what scenario do you see them being useful? A neophyte videogame enthusiast is about to buy a new game, sight unseen (for some reason), and they are armed only with your classification scheme - This person enjoyed the open-world first-person-shooter rpg Fallout 3; If they go home with Super Mario Galaxy 2 expecting the same sort of experience, has your system served them well?

Edited by I_smell

Genres are kind of junk and don't explain things very well in a lot of cases, but I don't know what fucking planet you live on where the way to fix that is to put literally everything into two genres.

"Music" and "Racing" are pretty much as straight-forward as it gets, you're not helping anyone by turning them into insane nonsense word-jumbles. There's no scenario out there that makes "action-strategy-conflict" more useful than 'football" unless you're writing an essay about genres!

In the first section you say how strange it is that Portal and Tetris are both the same genre, but your suggestion ends up putting Silent Hill and Guitar Hero in the same boat! This isn't useful for the people buying games, making games, OR selling games! I am dumbfounded.

Posted by selbie

@rebgav: It is intentionally kept at a broad abstract level to prevent it from falling down the rabbit-hole of "ShooterActionRPGPuzzlePlatformer" style names which is the problem the blog post is trying to address.

The more detail and fidelity games possess these days, the harder it will become to fit games into the existing genre categories and so the automatic response is to create ever-smaller niche subgenres that, in the end, fail to describe what that game actually is. The truth is, the only way to differentiate between Fallout 3 and Super Mario Galaxy is to describe what the game is to people using screenshots, videos and articles. A typological genre name won't do it anymore.

The reason I suggested a behavioural-based system is because there are only so many types of behaviour that a game can produce from the player. This automatically filters the categories into ones that describe how a player will experience a game. I'm only suggesting this as a way to break from the traditional system of describing a game's content. Especially when that content will become further diffused as more variants of previous games enter the market.

Posted by MordeaniisChaos

I don't get this genre confusion bullshit. I know what a shooter is. If that's not enough to sum up a game, GOOD. Don't try and make up a genre for everything, just describe the fucking game. When someone asks me what STALKER is, or what Dark Souls is, I describe the game, I don't say "well, it's an open world action shooter. Shit be too complicated. If you need a diagram to show how the system works? It's not going to work at all.

/grouch out.

Posted by I_smell

The mild inconvinience of Mario Galaxy 2 being nominated for the same award as Uncharted 3 isn't worth nuking all descriptors everywhere. Especially not straightforward useful ones like "Horror", "Flight Sim" and "Golf".

The fact that Maniac Mansion and Walking Dead are both "Adventure games" is weird, and that's a conversation worth having, but this wordy, robot-minded solution is just masturbatory beard-stroking, and isn't actually useful to anyone in real life.

If you wanna talk about how "Role-playing game" is an outdated term, or that "First-person" shouldn't be a priority descriptor, then thumbs up; but drop all this "Competetive-Contemplation" bollocks and rewind back a step. There might be a fix out there, but this isn't it.

Posted by rebgav

One is an rpg, the other is a platformer. Both are more than their label implies but for the purposes of differentiation those labels serve well. As individual games become more distinct we need a better understanding of what they are and why we like this one over that one, which itself requires us to be more descriptive if genre labels are to be useful at all. Simply creating broader, more abstract labels so that more games fit into the same bucket seems like it is literally the opposite of that. Any system of categorization which tells the end user that Final Fantasy 13 is the same type of game as Minecraft is of no functional use to anybody.

Edited by BeachThunder

I think more than anything we need to reconsider genre names, rather than create these sorts of groupings; no one benefits from placing Final Fantasy 7, Sim City, and Monkey Island into the same category.

The issue of Portal and Tetris both being considered "puzzle games" is really something that needs to be addressed. People are currently calling both of them puzzle games, but both have very different approaches to providing the player with problems to solve - Portal contains preset problems, every time you play you get the exact same levels; however, Tetris is always randomised, therefore the player has to react on the fly to new problems each time.

Also, roguelike and metroidvania need new names. Stat.

Posted by Piqued_Interest

I don't see how it would be any different then music genres.

There are an insane number of genres and sub genres that make it a model that could work the best.

A less is more approach simply won't work with video games. The medium is too varied to allow for it. The blending of genres (and their associated mechanics) allows for suitable tagging and categorization a certain game.

A tiered approach allows for generalizations, and further detail when it is needed.

For example, take an artist like Flying Lotus - You can generalize and say Electronic and then expound with items like idm, experimental, jazz etc. If you were worried about applying a system suitable for awards, the answer would be to have more categories, and let the sub category, and category winners float to the top.

Posted by yoshisaur

What if a game came along that was a first-person-shooter at one point, a real-time-strategy the next, and finally added side-scrolling bullet-hell to the mix? I think gaming evades genre's because it's such a huge artistic medium that has literally zero boundaries. At least with movies & books we can define them from the general theme, and then use our common sense to abstract any nuances that may come after. With games, you can have a third-person horror adventure shooter, or maybe an episodic first-person horror puzzle space simulator. It gets to the point where trying to find a definition becomes fruitless.

I do, however, advocate the adventure in trying.

Posted by Hailinel

The reason that Mass Effect and Final Fantasy are both RPGs is that they both evolved from the same place. Trace their roots back far enough, and they both evolved out of the genre originators like Wizardry and Ultima. Japanese developers and western developers largely went down different roads from those early days, with Japanese devs creating Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, and Megami Tensei, while in the west, we saw games like Fallout and Baldur's Gate. Then later games evolved from these earlier stages, so while Mass Effect is a modern derivation of Bioware's concepts of what an RPG is, so to does Final Fantasy XIII follow tenets of RPG design. Just in a different manner.

And then you have games like Etrian Odyssey come along and purposefully hold closer to the concepts behind Wizardry than either Mass Effect or Final Fantasy by a loooooong shot.

Online
Edited by selbie

@rebgav said:

One is an rpg, the other is a platformer. Both are more than their label implies but for the purposes of differentiation those labels serve well. As individual games become more distinct we need a better understanding of what they are and why we like this one over that one, which itself requires us to be more descriptive if genre labels are to be useful at all. Simply creating broader, more abstract labels so that more games fit into the same bucket seems like it is literally the opposite of that. Any system of categorization which tells the end user that Final Fantasy 13 is the same type of game as Minecraft is of no functional use to anybody.

You are correct that there needs to be further description for consumers but I actually haven't said that further subgenres cannot be created using the behavioural categorisation system. My point was to create an initial set of simple categories, based on the ideas Gamer_152 established, that essentially 'reset' the genre system starting from the top down.

Let's take Final Fantasy and Minecraft as a starting point. Both would be considered Contemplative Exploration games from my table. This establishes the behavioural experience a player can have (ie. the top level). Then to differentiate the two there would need to be another set of categories that filter games based on another set of criteria that is not defined by game mechanics. This would be similar to the second circle of the Escapist wheel model. As a starting point, how about Story & Non-Story and Linear & Non-linear?

This would make FF a Story-based Linear Contemplative Exploration game. On the other hand Minecraft becomes a Non-linear, Non-story based Contemplative Exploration game.

I admit these are a total mouthful, but I don't think that can be avoided when you introduce sub-categories of any kind.

Edited by DrIntrovert

@selbie I don't disagree with the general concept, but I feel like we could still use the same names, and just define those genres based on what the core player interaction is. Changing the names around confuses everyone, and makes the labels useless to most people.

For example, some shooters (like Team Fortress 2) where the core mechanic is competing against other players would be defined as Competitive FPS games (which would also include games like Call of Duty because it is defined as the main reasons people play a game) because competition is the reason the player is continuing to play, where a game like Half-Life 2 would be defined as a Story-Driven FPS game because the main reason the player continues to play the game is the story.

You can easily do this with other genres as well, the point is to take existing genres, so people will understand the starting point, then re-define them based on the core reasons the player plays the game.

@beachthunder In this system:

Portal: Story-Driven Problem-Solving First-Person-Puzzle game

Tetris: Challenge-Driven 2d-Puzzle game

Super Metroid: Exploration Character-Growth Side-Scroller game

Nethack: Exploration Challenge-Driven Character-Growth Luck-Based Role-Playing-Game

The modifiers are listed in order of their significance to the player experience, and would be abbreviated on a box (No one writes out RPG in real life, do they?).

Edited by selbie

@drintrovert: I agree wholeheartedly. Now I finally see what rebgav was trying to get at. Too much abstraction from the existing terms will make the genres incomprehensible. In the end, I believe games should be celebrated more as a largely interactive medium separate from film, TV and literature. So why not use elements of human behaviour to categorise videogames? I guess that is what film categorisation does to an extent. The terms Comedy, Drama, Horror, Thriller are not categorising the content of the movie, but the emotional response they elicit from the viewer. The same anthropocentric frame of view can also be applied to videogames as well.

Posted by Carlos1408

@selbie said:

I don't agree with having the middle classification. It needs a stricter dichotomous relationship in both branches.

I say that because I think games should be defined by the real-life behaviour of the PLAYER and not the content of the game itself. In film, all viewers are sitting and watching, so the medium can only be defined via the content. The same goes with books. However, games are an inherently interactive medium and so they can be grouped according to the player's behaviour which stems from the game's content.

Action vs. Strategy could therefore become Reaction vs. Contemplation

and Competitive (I prefer this term over 'Conflict') vs. Exploration

Your genre table posted above would therefore become:

CompetitiveExploration
Reaction

Rock Band

Call of Duty

Need for Speed

Space Invaders

Fallout

Deus Ex

God of War

Mario

Legend of Zelda

Dark Souls

Splinter Cell

Contemplation

Sid Meiers Civilization

Starcraft

Advance Wars

Final Fantasy

Simcity

Monkey Island

Professor Layton

This results in four simple and distinctive genres:

  • Competitive Reaction games (CRG)
  • Reactive Exploration games (REG)
  • Competitive Contemplation games (CCG); and
  • Contemplative Exploration games (CEG)

as opposed to a total of 9 genres with the 3 x 3 table :)

I think you might be onto something. :D

Posted by Haoshiro

No matter what is done some manner of legend would required to explain what it all means to someone not familiar with the terms.

I don't think that means we should forego terms that offer better explanations of what a game is like.

For example "Metroidvania" is a fairly common term identifying a game in which you progress by collecting power-ups/utilities to advance navigation further in previous areas.

Psychonauts is better described with that then with those in this article; but it doesn't fully classify the game.

Similar to how movie ratings doesn't give a suggestion of what is in the movie, nor do genres as a whole, you need some additional descriptors because your subject is too complex (games).

If the goal is to build a mental image of the game through words we'll have to complicate the descriptions.

For genre-sorting a primary Core Mechanic might be best and that is where it gets messier. Do you describe a game like Psychonauts as a "Metroidvania" or more generically as an Action-Adventure?

From their labels for the various facets should describe the game.

Psychonauts: 3D Third-Person Whimsical Cartoon Super-Power Action Adventure game.

But in the end that's why sites like Giant Bomb exist, it's easier to tell what a game will be like by watching it be played, seeing still screenshots, reading reviews, and seeing related games. There is no better way then watching it be played, imho, and that's Giant Bomb's claim to fame.

Edited by Wheady

maybe on the back of each game case there should be a section filled with different game types (fps, rts, etc) and devs could just check off whats in their game, lol.

Edited by MikkaQ

Man that genre wheel is a total mess made by crazy people and it will never catch on. We use the genres in the way we use them because they're useful and for the most part work. Sure we need to clarify things once in a while, but it's not a big problem.

Edited by TheMasterDS

I like to just make up my own genre classifications in my head which have no names and can not be satisfactorily communicated to others.

Posted by Hailinel

@selbie said:

I don't agree with having the middle classification. It needs a stricter dichotomous relationship in both branches.

I say that because I think games should be defined by the real-life behaviour of the PLAYER and not the content of the game itself. In film, all viewers are sitting and watching, so the medium can only be defined via the content. The same goes with books. However, games are an inherently interactive medium and so they can be grouped according to the player's behaviour which stems from the game's content.

Action vs. Strategy could therefore become Reaction vs. Contemplation

and Competitive (I prefer this term over 'Conflict') vs. Exploration

Your genre table posted above would therefore become:

CompetitiveExploration
Reaction

Rock Band

Call of Duty

Need for Speed

Space Invaders

Fallout

Deus Ex

God of War

Mario

Legend of Zelda

Dark Souls

Splinter Cell

Contemplation

Sid Meiers Civilization

Starcraft

Advance Wars

Final Fantasy

Simcity

Monkey Island

Professor Layton

This results in four simple and distinctive genres:

  • Competitive Reaction games (CRG)
  • Reactive Exploration games (REG)
  • Competitive Contemplation games (CCG); and
  • Contemplative Exploration games (CEG)

as opposed to a total of 9 genres with the 3 x 3 table :)

I think you might be onto something. :D

The more things are grouped, they more they need to be separated.

Online
Posted by Red

I think we just need to put less of an emphasis on genre labels. Like music, different labels can mean different things (Some would consider the Beatles rock, others pop; some consider Mass Effect an action game, others an RPG). They're occasionally good at giving a quick synopsis of something, but most games require a little bit more information. Very rarely is it needed to simply sum up a game in a single word and we need to remove subjects like that as much as possible--perhaps by removing genre awards.

Edited by zkillz

I disagree with pretty much everything you've written here.

No genre definition is going to give a specific account of whatever work you are classifying. Genres are generic. So it doesn't strike me at all strange that Vanquish and Splinter Cell are lumped together in one of the most broad genre definitions you can give them. Both games are shooters, more specifically third-person shooters, and even more specifically, Splinter Cell is a stealth-action TPS and Vanquish is a cover-based TPS in the Gears mold. This seems like a perfectly sane way to classify games.

Further, it is simply untrue that other media do not classify their works in the same way. Plenty of genres in other media refer to the "mechanics" of the work. In music you have electronic music and symphonies. In literature you have plays and novels, verse or prose. Even in subgenres you have reference to mechanics, tragedy and comedy in the classical sense refer more to plot structure than how the play makes you feel.

Now, about halfway through the blog you transition from praising the "vague descriptors" and broad classifications of genres in other media to remarking how more specific genres like "modern military shooter" have "done a lot of good" for the game industry. At this point I am fairly unsure what your argument even is. And as far as "slamming together different words" being inelegant, I am afraid to say that is simply how adjectives work. So, while I am unsure whether you are arguing for more generic or less generic genre definitions, "stacking multiple descriptors" is precisely how genres in other media work: indie rock (and roll); Broadway musical (play); Shakespearian (again, read in "play") tragedy; symphony in C; et cetera.

I might agree with you that some game genres are poorly named, but I cannot agree that they are a problem; hell, I don't even agree that they are "bad genre classifications" at all. The very fact that the genre wheel you inline later uses current genres to define the catastrophically vague proposed genres all but proves that our genres are perfectly fine as we use them.

The fact that the plain meaning of "Role-playing game" is much more broad than the meaning we ascribe to it does not seem to be much of a problem, or particularly rare. The indie rock genre does not make much sense anymore when you have corporate record labels specializing in the genre (e.g. Sub Pop). Now if you are going to tell me some game genre names are outright stupid (looking at you, MOBA) I am totally with you.

But that brings me to another one of your points: the worry that our genre classifications somehow "alter[] our perception of games." I am not entirely sure what that means, but as a community, people who play and talk about video games are pretty good at inventing new genres to define games, even if the names of those genres are incredibly dumb.

You also have not made a compelling argument either that the names we use for genres are any more impenetrable to outsiders than any other media, or that I should care that our nomenclature is difficult. I certainly would not fault someone for not knowing what I meant when I described a Khnopff painting as part of the fin de siècle symbolism movement. Considering genres called "first-person shooters" and "real-time strategies" inaccessible jargon might be giving the video game community too much credit, or outsiders too little. Sure "MMOFPS" is a little opaque, but I would not call a Khnopff a "FDSSMP" or something. To my second point, who really cares if someone who does not play video games does not know what an MMORPG is? The solution, if you really do care, is to say massively multiplayer online role-playing game. "Massively multiplayer" is fairly self explanatory, as is "online," and "role-playing games" have existed in forms roughly equivalent to their current form longer than I would wager you have existed at all.

And yet, your proposed solution to the non-issue of video game genres which were, according to you, both too vague and too specific, is to introduce an even more opaque and just as arbitrary Myers-Briggs style, alphabet soup categorization system.

It is very rare that we get a brand new type of game that cannot be defined fairly accurately using descriptors common to video games, but when we cannot, definition by reference works just fine. We still use “Rogue-like” (though often incorrectly) decades after Rogue. I am partial to calling DOTA 2, Heroes of Newerth, and League of LegendsDotA clones” (or with the addition of the word “bad” when referring to League of Legends). I made reference to Gears of War above when describing Vanquish. There is nothing wrong with defining games by reference to other games to arrive at an accurate description. Fallout 3 is a first person shooter with some moderate RPG elements – it is also Oblivion with guns.

If I am looking to play a certain type of game, maybe a football game or a something like the board game Risk, I know exactly how to find each on Steam – to assume that those less familiar with games could not do the same is just hubris. Video game genre definitions are not nearly as muddied nor as important as you argue.

Posted by Wuddel

Great read. I also would argue for a "story vs. non-story" dimension. The non-story ones (Civ, Dota, many FPS & puzzle games). I would call "mechanics focussed".

  • 57 results
  • 1
  • 2