Genre Defining

Genre Defining
Introducing The Escapist's Genre Wheel

Russ Pitts | 7 Dec 2010 12:47
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The resulting chart is the product of months of internal debate, frequent revision and external research. We wanted to present a genre classification system that started with the basic fundamentals of play - how the games work, what they ask of you in playing them - and worked outward from there to the eventual classification of each game. We wanted to both be able to know for ourselves and point out to you why a game could be classified a certain way, and what it means when we put a collection of games, which may not appear to be similar at first glance, together in one lump.

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We started with what we believe to be the two main types of play: Action and Strategy. (If you subscribe to the theory that all games are wargames, then you could call these divisions "tactical" and "strategic.") What is the difference between Action and Strategy? Well, in an Action game, you are in direct control. In other words, you are your avatar and its success depends on your own abilities to respond to challenges and reach your goals. Your perspective and attention are tightly focused on your interactions with this one avatar. You are directly influencing what's happening on the screen. You are attempting to solve a tactical problem: how to get your character from one end of the screen to the other, for example.

A Strategy game, on the other hand, calls for a more distant point of view. You may still be focused on a single avatar, but you don't inhabit it the way you would in an Action game. Meeting the challenges of the game is based more on what the avatar or avatars can do than on any physical ability of the player. Success in strategy games depends more on your decisions and less on your reflexes. You frequently are attempting to juggle multiple inputs and are often indirectly influencing what happens on-screen..

Strategy games are large, cerebral, and academic. Action games are immediate, smaller in scale and more visceral. One is contemplative, the other reactionary. Utilizing these two divisions, we felt we could move forward and further classify the experience of play.

Yet if every game is either an Action or a Strategy game at its core, then what to make of both types frequently featuring similar modes of play? Combat, or "Conflict" features prominently in strategy games, many of which are in fact wargames, but Conflict is also a prominent feature of many games that would be considered Action games. Conflict here merely means that the primary challenge in a game is presented by other similarly powered avatars. We contrast that with games of "Exploration," where the primary challenge is merely surviving or traversing the environment itself. Now the environment in this case may be defined as a physical space, as in a game like Sonic, or it may simply be a story, as in many adventure games.

Pondering this and many other seeming contradictions, we came to the conclusion that our genre classification system needed two axes: One for Action and Strategy and one for Exploration and Conflict. Which genre any one game would fit into would depend largely upon how far along any of these axes it fell; how much of each component, in other words, it contained. All games are either Action- or Strategy-based, and all games feature either a focus on Exploration or Conflict, or some combination thereof. By boiling an individual game down to its core components in this way, we were able to gain a better understanding of why some games feel similar to others and others feel radically different from one another.

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