We Need to Change How We Talk About Game Genres

Game genres are getting stale, and non-descriptive, is it time for more?

Game genres are getting stale, and non-descriptive, is it time for more?

Game genres are pretty big business, they allow you to identify what the game is, and what type of game it is. Take Mass Effect, well, it’s an RPG with 3PS mechanics.. but is it only that? What is Call of Duty? It’s a first person shooter, right? And Halo? It’s also an FPS, yes? The Elder Scrolls? Oh, pick me! Pick me! It’s an RPG, with some FPH (first person hitting) mechanics? Did I get it?

But there’s an issue: these genre labels don’t really tell you enough about the game beyond the mechanics. I think this needs to change. As games are playable media, knowing the mechanics is useful; but, as games get more diverse we also need to know what type of game they are. Is it story driven? Is it funny? Is it action? Or is it adventure (as in Uncharted, not Grim Fandango)? Is it sci-fi or any number of other things?

How We Talk About Game Genres Matters

When vastly different games are under the same umbrella, how do you really know what you are buying? If Mass Effect, Fallout, and The Elder Scrolls are all next to each other in the RPG section, and you didn’t know about these games, how would you know that one is a space romp, one is a wasteland walker, and one is a high fantasy? Side note: I know that The Elder Scrolls isn’t Lord of the Rings, but all Fantasy takes cues from Tolkien’s world of Middle-Earth (or Arda if you are into your LotR lore).

Don’t just ‘RPG’ it, action drama sci-fi it!

If you take The Stanly Parable, what genre would it be? FPS? Wwait you don’t shoot, so it wouldn’t be that. How about platformer? Well, you don’t really jump anywhere. Maybe art game? That could really mean anything, “art” doesn’t describe what type of game it is! But, if we started to use a more book or filmic genre style, we could call it a comedy game because it’s funny. And because perspective is important in games, The Stanly Parable be re-genre’d to a first person comedy.

Mass Effect, I now pronounce you action drama sci-fi, with RPG and 3rd-person shooter elements.

Why do we need a change?

Games have become so diverse now, that simply saying RPG doesn’t tell you anything you need to know beyond a few conventional mechanics. A genre should tell you roughly what the game is in terms of where/when it’s set, and how it will play. If you look at RPG, this could be turn-based or real-time, it could be a shooter, or involve swords and magic. Some games may be Fantasy RPGs or sci-fi RPGs, and we need to know this.

Now if you look at first-person ‘shooters.’ They can show you:

Things that were… things that are and some things that have not yet come to pass.

– Galadriel (from Lord of the Rings).

But they are not just about wars, so these can’t all be called war games. The FPS games that are more about exploration, or survival, like DayZ. Disaster games maybe? Some are simply about a story, like Dear Esther or The Stanley Parable, possible to be referred to as a first-person thinker or aforementioned first-person comedy games respectively.

Semantics Affect Purchases

Games are also crossing over the current genre lines more and more, is Borderlands an RPG FPS? Is Destiny an MMORPG FPS? Does the ‘Massively’ in MMO really stand with Destiny? Maybe Borderlands should be an action comedy FPS? And Destiny might be an online sci-fi FPS.

Does adventure game really tell you what it is? It’s an adventure but how does it play exactly? Take Grim Fandango, it can be funny, but is it a comedy? Adventure games are hard to put into a genre, but if we take the core aspects of them, that they are story driven. We can now call them story comedy games. Which new genre would you put your favorite adventure game under?

Genres need to shift slightly

Genres in gaming are no longer telling us what the games are, and as games have become so diverse they are now crossing over the genre lines it is time for a change.

Header image credits to mediahsba.

About the author

Pierre Fouquet

-- Games are a passion as well as a hobby. Other writing of mine found on at www.scrncheat.com