The Game Stash: A Question of Genre

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The Game Stash: A Question of Genre

Gaming genres are the worst thing that ever happened.

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His moustache/beard scare me. Therefore he MUST be doing something right!

Welcome to the regulars, Mr. Butts. May your gloriously macho stache live up the criticism of the Escapist people.

Nice first article Steve, I'm an over-analytical thinker anyways so I love to wrap my mind around subjects like these.

One of the biggest considerations for genre problems are RTS games, single player on those make most people cringe with their over repetitive objective based gameplay. That is a case where RTS makers need to rethink how to implement their game ideas. It doesn't have to play the same way over and over just because it is an RTS. Dawn of War 2 was one of the best experiences I've had with a Story campaign on an RTS, mostly because of the RPG and choices between missions like equipping items.
The Story and voice work wasn't bad either so by the end of it I forgot that it was indeed an RTS, I just thought it was a really fun game.

Welcome Steve. I look forward to reading your next aticles.

I agree with this one by the way, having stuff like Halo and GTA in 'shooter' is kind of bad.

Fantastic first article. I agree that the genre system needs some reform... but I think one of the problems is that even though there might be a war RTS and a war FPS, but filing them both under "war games" could be bad because the FPS player may not necessarily enjoy the mechanics of an RTS and vice-versa. It's important to remember that games are different from novels, film, and other forms of passive media.

Yeah, I'm not suggesting there's no place for a mechanics-based defintion genre, but that it's far too out in front of a content-based definition of genre.

Thanks for the kind words!

GASP

You dare link Operation Flashpoint to the shit sequel? Not the groundbreaking original?

FOR SHAME

OP: I think genres are something that can be useful, but not something to make presumptions about. For example, if I'm telling you about a game and you ask what genre it is, and I say "Driving", it can help you get a clearer indication of what said game is like. That's fine.

However, if I say it's driving to you, and you say "I don't play driving games", then that's a bad thing. As you said, genres like that cover a large spectrum, so while you might not like Gran Turismo, that doesn't mean you aren't going to like Mario Kart.

So basically what I'm saying is, it isn't the fault of genres, it's the fault of people who take them as the be all and end all as to what a game consists of.

By the way, you have a manly, manly moustache.

A new article? KICK ASS!

WHOOOOO!

Welcome aboard Mr. Butts!

I disagree with the assertion that halo and CoD dont belong in the same genre as each other because one has a sci-fi aesthetic and the other is "realistic". I dont think the theme/narrative/fiction has or should have anything to do with classifying a game type. On the other hand, i agree that the way we try to box an entire game experience into catch words like FPS and RTS is a very heavy handed and clumsy way of doing things. The reason halo and CoD shouldn't be considered similar in anyway is (imo) the fact that they play entirely differently in terms of their mechanics. The only thing they share in that regard is the fact that you play from the same camera perspective in both, and have a great big gun in the foreground.

But the differences in the type of mechanism each uses is enough to differentiate them already, without having to resort to looking at the individual fiction and narratives that each has. Again imo.

You used the expression "beg the question" properly!

You, sir, have a regular reader!

(It helps that it was a really interesting article)

Wow, this was a great first article. It reminded me why I started coming to the Escapist in the first place: solid analysis not just of games but of the evolution of the medium. I hope this article can live up to the first outing. Good luck, Mr. Butts.

carpenter20m:
You used the expression "beg the question" properly!

Someone noticed!

This, definitely. Do you feel that mixing up the genres would be the best way to classify or categorize games? i.e. "Mainly a first-person rail shooter with elements of roleplaying and action."

I don't agree. Talking about games in the way as we talk about movies is artificial. Movies are mostly about story, so naturally we divide them into genres based on their story type. For games, the primary characteristic is their gameplay. Yes, we should talk about game genres as being about mechanics.

Sure, we don't judge a book by its cover, but of course we should judge a game by its gameplay! Not primarily the story, but the gameplay is the substance of a game.

Including story, graphics and user interface, there are tons of factors that go into categorizing and judging games. But we should never forget the one which makes the game a game - gameplay mechanics. This is what is of primary importance to games. Everything else is incidental, and you could do it in a movie instead.

RPG is the worst example of a definitive genre.

The main issue is what fulls under the category of "role playing" since in the case "JRPGs" have next to no character creation, but then again the same can be said for most games... games that aren't RPGs.

Then there's the "RPG elements" given to such titles like BioShock yet this involves purchasing and upgrading, something common it, lets say strategy games. JRPGs could be turn-based or adventure games with "RPG elements". These so called elements are found in many genres, thus it's a redundant phrase.

Also welcome.

Hi Steve, welcome to The Escapist. Let me welcome you by utterly disagreeing with you.

We're friendly that way!

Genre is a problem, of course, but it's also a tool. It's worth noting that the problems you're describing with genre exist in other media too. Sure, it sucks that every MMOG brings in looting, but how often have you heard or read of a fantasy dwarf with a Scottish accent? Exact same issue: Convention becomes so strong it's hard to escape it. This is far from a unique problem with games, it's a problem with genre.

But you know what? We keep using genre. Why? Because it's a great tool for a number of reasons. On a marketing level, it creates a built-in fanbase. On a creative level it provides a useful starting point and creates limits that allow the creator to consider the creative space his work will employ. On an artistic level... OK, there? Genre kind of sucks. But even there, good genre works will find ways to either deconstruct or subvert the genre.

As an example, Far Cry 2 is as solidly a shooter as you'll ever find; but it won considerable creative acclaim (as well as a lot of critical distaste) because of the way it subverted the shooter genre; missions were designed in counterpoint to your story rather than to support it, thus leading to a logical conclusion when, while suffering hideously from malaria, you destroy whole stockpiles of the very medication that could save you. The message that war is irrational, violence meaningless was supported. This is solidly supported with The Escapist's experiential leanings, but it's not a lesser game because it exists wholly within one genre.

For another example, consider the works of Fumito Ueda. Ico was, at its heart, nothing but a puzzle platformer. But y'know what? It took that genre and broke it down to its pure core. Nothing extraneous. No HUD. A solid logic for the basic 'find a path' gameplay logic. It found its emotional core in the AI that created the relationship between Ico and Yorda. And it was magnificent. Shadow of the Colossus, while engaging in a bit more genre-bending, was similar; it really was at its heart an action-adventure game not dissimilar from Zelda. Sure, it stripped Zelda down a lot, and mixed it up with a light-puzzle boss fight mechanic, but it's hardly suis generis. And it was the absolute standout favorite example for people trying to defend the idea of "gaming as art" to Roger Ebert -- for a reason.

As an opposing example, my favorite whipping boy, Farenheit. (I suspect Heavy Rain will kick in when I finally play it.) It's genuinely suis generis, with few games really like it in any way, shape, or form. And y'know what? It's a goddamn mess. Instead of using well understood, appropriate and familiar mechanics to, say, have the player escape a parking lot unscathed during an assassination attempt, it shoe-horned in a whole new set of mechanics that undermined the player's authority and distanced them from the action. It was awful.

Genre is a tool. It's no wonder games have been saddled with a pair of them since, like it or not, "interactivity is the one element that most separates gaming from other forms of media". An RTS is not an FPS, and neither is an RPG. You could do a war tale in each one of them, but it still wouldn't be the same game or story no matter how hard you try. That's not a bad thing, but it's a good solid argument for coming up with your story, then chosing a genre.

I am inclined to agree with you Mr.Butts. For example, Bioshock's mechanics got in the way of the message for me. I couldn't stop thinking "How did everything get so horrible in Rapture when they have technology that can bestow superpowers and resurrect the dead?"

Nice analysis, Steve! Good opener for sure.

I might respond by suggesting that genre, as it has evolved in the game industry, is a hybrid of both "content" and "mechanics", such that when you give a genre, you are saying something in some way has enough touch points in both areas to qualify.

To use an analogy, to say that someone is a "gamer" says something about what he does for fun (play games) but carries with it other suggestions as well (not just any games, but particular types of games, played in certain ways, in the context of a certain lifestyle).

To say that a game is a "wargame", for instance, suggests that it is both a strategy game (a game that is largely decided by the thoughtful, strategic decisions of its player, rather than his reflexes, muscle memory, singing skill, etc.) and also a game about the experience or narrative of war. A strategy game about business (such as Capitalism Plus) is in the different "genre" of "simulation" even if the underlying game mechanics are identical to a wargame.

Unfortunately this results in the "checklist design" that you (rightly) complain about, because to fit into a particular genre you have to check off a list of content and mechanical decisions that really have nothing to do with each other.

I agree with what you are saying mustachioed new gent but the big problem is we're not the ones who need to get this idea. Reviewers, developers and whoever else that slaps on the labels need to also justify time, or even apply several labels and explain why they are all on there.

Then again we could call this an extension (sort of) of the "What is Art?" question. What IS a game? Why isn't it a Real-time first person shooter?.. maybe it's not the labels but the number of labels without unified context.

You make good points and present it in an entertaining and well prepared way. Great first article and I am looking forward to may more.
Also: Welcome to the Escapist, cake and punch are in the back.

Welcome to the august ranks of the Escapist front-page regulars.

You make your points eloquently and use grammar & idioms properly. You definitely continue the tradition of classing up the usual gamer discussions that the Escapist is trying to maintain!

Looking forward to future articles.

First off, welcome to the Escapist, Mr. Butts. It's always good to have a new column to follow. However, I can't help but disagree with the stance you took in this particular edition. Blind Chance essentially covered what I want to say, but I'll add to it that, even for gamers interested in story -- a minority, to be sure -- it's usually the quality of the story that matters, not the actual subject matter. Besides that, for the average player the quality of the gameplay is infinitely more important -- there is a reason that they're called video games, and not Interactive fiction. Of course, there is always the sadly defunct genre named interactive fiction, which is a useful label for people looking for games that tell a good story.

Regardless, because gameplay is so important, gameplay based genres are much better at telling a prospective player what to expect than story based genres. For example, I love science fiction, and I love first person shooters, but I can't stand real time strategy games. If I were to ask for a science fiction game, I could quite easily wind up with a Starcraft or Command and Conquer game, when I would personally get more out of something along the lines of Quake or Gears of War.

Which leads to another point -- the people who are so concerned with games as art frequently ignore the fact that games can be art through their gameplay as much as through their story. Games may work as a story telling medium, but -- as with the differences between film and novels -- games lend themselves to storytelling in ways that are unique to the medium. The future of games as art lies in finding ways to combine gameplay and story telling in a way that enhances both, not in pushing gameplay to the backburner in order to tell a better story.

I'm sure you're making a very good case about something...but...moustache...

Steve Butts:
It's time to stop asking, "What kind of game is it?" and start asking, "What is it about?"

First of all, I want to offer a hearty 300lb. welcome to you! This looks like the first of what may be a long line of interesting and engaging columns, and I think that's exactly what we all like to see on the Escapist front page! Next, I want to respectfully disagree with your view of genre. I think in other media genre is just as indicative of form as it is content. When you decide to see an action movie over a drama, you are choosing hard cuts, CGI, and shaky camera work over well-honed performances and attentive, reflective cinematography. As well with novels, if you choose a romance over a comedy you are looking for florid language and lurid situations over inventive characters and witty dialogue. Just as with games or anything else, if you set out to make a work within the confines of a specific genre you are volunteering to conform to a number of formal expectations - at least in mass market media. Independent works of course aren't as concerned with market share.

I feel the main reason we still define games according to their mechanics is because this is still what defines the gaming experience in a large way - Borderlands is mostly attractive because it combines the gun mechanics of Halo with the looting of Diablo, content-wise it doesn't distinguish itself much from the myriad of other titles that have you complete tasks for contracts in a ruined wasteland. Also, unlike cinema or literature, there isn't a standard codex of experience outside of these mechanical differentiations, which has kept the format in a technical infancy. Cinema developed into a truly expressive form once its conventions were established and viewers knew what to expect from a good movie, but with video games the mechanics keep us from appreciating the content until we have achieved mastery.

This was an issue I never knew existed. However, when I think about it, it seems so obvious, Great article!

Great first article for sure. Seems to be yet another wonderful column on the escapist.

On topic: I think the genre problem exists in some form in almost every form of entertainment media. How often have I heard a director say he isn´t satisfied with how people label his film or a musician who doesn´t like some endless combination of terms someone has thrown together to describe his album. Josh Homme, lead guitarist of the Queens Of The Stone Age for example keeps telling people he doesn´t like the term Stoner Rock but that won´t ever stop people to call it just that.
Gernre, to me, is just a way for people to lump things together in a drawer and shut it just so they know where to look next time they want to see, hear or play it. And a way to simplify it in a discussion. And of course everyone´s definition differs from every other. So yeah, CoD is a war game, Borderlands is an FPS and Mass Effect an RPG. In the end I think if you discuss an art form for real, you always have to tell people what the game is about. A genre is by defintion always just a couple of words. Doesn´t cut it.

So yeah. I basically agree with you.

edit: And the moustache rocks. Don´t let anyone ever tell you otherwise!

First things first, epic mustache.
There, its out of my system. For now anyway...

On to the article. I wouldn't say that genre's are the main problem, but the people who review/play games. We're all basically conditioned to expect a set of features depending on what genre a game is. As alluded to in The Old Republic, people expect crafting, guilds, and other features from other MMO's, regardless if they fit or not.

For things to change, people would have to stop expect a certain set of features in every *insert genre here* game.

I'm not saying the specific tropes of genre's are bad, but if they don't fit into the context of the game, then leave them out. If people don't like and think it should be in "because of the genre", well then too bad. Changing is never easy, and people will be put off. But eventually things could change for the better.

Nice article by the way, I look forward to more mustachioed pieces.

The stache, it prevents me from seeing everything in a weird, psuedo-Morgan Spurlock light. Don't eat so many genres you throw up!

Since it has been brought up by others, I lend my voice to the choir.

Mustache mustache mustache mustache mustache mustache mustache mustache mustache...

It makes sense to me that a genre can be a bad thing if it means that the game is just being tied down to a check list of features and you get a by the numbers experience. One thing gets on my nerves about these "what is a real RPG" discussions that pop up way too regularly is that they start with the assumption that there is a correct way of making an RPG and that the correct RPG will naturally be great because it is more like an RPG than anything else.

I'm really uncomfortable with the idea that putting gameplay before content is letting the tail wag the dog. Content is important but the real problem with genres is that they are more about content than gameplay. It's like, if a game is a "genre" game then gameplay is assumed to be a solved problem give or take a few tweaks and minor innovations and all of the real work is seen as taking place in the content. People want exciting and varied gameplay experiences. I know that I do at least.

That was an excellent example from Champions Online; I was thinking the same things myself throughout the game. Why should superheroes be crafting items? Why should they be taking villains' clothing?

Great first article; I look forward to seeing more.

I really enjoyed the article, and agree that a mechanics-based categorization of games is inadequate. I'm not entirely convinced that a context-based categorization would be a better substitute, though.

Would someone who enjoys Plants vs. Zombies be certain to enjoy Left 4 Dead or Dead Rising?

While many gamers view video games as a storytelling medium, designed to describe a world with which you can interact, many share Roger Ebert's view that games are something you play and win. In that context, mechanics are paramount.

I'd like to believe that mechanics-focused gamers are the minority, but my current level of faith in humanity in general just won't allow me that luxury.

Great article, first-timer.
Not to belittle your work by only commenting on one part, but... how dare you imply The Simpsons has substance.

Everyone seems to think that this article was against genres. Hm. The way I read it, Stash-man wasn't against genre labeling when it helped identify games one might enjoy, but was really lamenting when Genre labeling supplanted aesthetics.

In other words (by that, i mean in Butts' words as i took them), one should still know that SWtOR is an MMOG before buying it, because that could greatly affect their playing experience. The problem is when BioWare, recognizing that what they are developing will be termed an MMOG, begins stuffing in genre tropes under the assumption that players will look for "Massively Multiplayer Online Game" before they look for "Star Wars."

"Star Wars" should really be the driving creative direction, not MMOG.

Fans nowadays will always be able to see a game's mechanics before they buy, so they should know or at least have a guess at whether the mechanics will appeal to them or not. There's no way to prevent someone from finding that out, unless your marketing team is pants-on-head ... unintelligent, let's say. The real problem in situations like this is misdirected devs.

Am I the only one whose (who's?) going to bring up his funny last name and said it made me laugh a little? Or am I the only one who does not fear the all mighty mustache.

I got distracted and now I forget the paragraph I was going to use to agree with his facial hair.

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