Observation: Video Game Genres Melting into Each Other

As technology becomes more advanced, it gets harder to categorize video games.
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A few months ago, I was playing Grand Theft Auto V. My girlfriend came into the room and asked what I was playing. I told her.

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Some days later, I was playing the same game. My girlfriend came in and asked the same question.

Now, she’s a pretty bright individual and her memory is fine. She is not, however, a dedicated gamer. I’m getting her more involved these days, thanks to cerebral-oriented titles like Portal 2 and The Cave, but she really never played video games before she met me. Therefore, she’s only drawing from her minimal experience with gaming, which – given the rapid progression of the industry – isn’t sufficient for labeling games. Not anymore.

I sat back and asked myself: “What is GTAV, really? For that matter, what’s Assassin’s Creed?” I suppose one could simply cast the all-encompassing net of “action/adventure” on such titles and call it a day. But soon, we’ll have to do that with most every major production released. That’s because as technology has advanced, we’ve been able to create deeper, more engrossing, more realistic worlds that include elements of multiple genres.

Before, we could really only fit a certain number of gameplay mechanics into an interactive adventure. Heck, back in the day, you really only had variations of horizontal and vertical side-scrolling. Even up until a decade or so ago, the boundaries were mostly clear. Now, though, you can pick a game off the shelf and find numerous action mechanics, along with adventure, driving/racing, puzzle, and role-playing aspects. For instance, GTAV has all of those.

My girlfriend was surprised that I was attempting a flying mission in the same game that had me racing around a few days earlier. You don’t just race or just fly or just engage in third-person shooting and melee combat; you do ’em all. And what about games that require me to keep an eye on my character progression when they’re not called RPGs? Is that not rooted in role-playing?

The bottom line is this- the more we put in, the more break down walls. Developers are no longer restricted. Choice is the name of the game (pun intended). You can choose to approach a situation stealthily, or you can choose to go in guns blazing. Do you realize how many titles let you make that choice in recent years? Do you know how many included obvious elements from other genres? Lots.

Virtual worlds are designed to be authentic these days. The’re developed with freedom in mind. They give the player so many options, perspectives and alternatives that it’s sometimes difficult to grasp them all. Nowadays, simply because you’re great at one style of gameplay doesn’t mean you can master everything in a game. There are likely mechanics with which you’re not especially familiar.

Sure, sometimes it’s still obvious. Fighting games and specified simulators, for instance, remain in their own little worlds. However, I’m willing to bet that even those categories will begin to branch out, if they haven’t already. Before long, reviewers are really going to have to give some thought to how we define our genres; it’s already quite subjective. Just look at how online multiplayer is seeping into the single-player experience; ala Dark Souls and Watch Dogs. They’re not MMOs but they’re not entirely “single-player” if we’re connected, right?

It’s all a little confusing. I’m still trying to figure out if it’s a good thing.

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A gaming journalism veteran of 14 years, a confirmed gamer for over 30 years, and a lover of fine literature and ridiculously sweet desserts.