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 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.

Featured Correspondent

-- Games are a passion as well as a hobby. Other writing of mine found on on www.etnl.co.uk

Published Apr. 17th 2018
  • LumpztheClown
    Featured Contributor
    Though I completely agree, I feel that much of what determines what genre a game falls under is objective. One famous debate that I had with another gamer was, indeed, Borderlands!

    He simply felt that there weren't enough "RPG" elements within the game, and I felt that it had enough to warrant the label. How many strict "action" games do you know that have a level-up system beyond simply getting better weapons/items?

    Either way, I'm not entirely sure that we will all be able to agree on a standardized system of genre descriptors, as you'd have to employ sliding scales and fuck about with other "gray" areas! Either way, I'm totally on board with more clarity regarding genres! Great article! :-)
  • Pierre Fouquet
    Featured Correspondent
    first off thanks for the compliment. Second, yep getting gamers to agree on something will never happen. Which is actually what I love about the community, the diversity of opinions.
  • topher339
    Better genre description of games is definitely needed. However, I'd say put all of these under sub genres. Keep the basic genres then have many, many sub genres. Go from general to specific.
  • The Slow Gamer
    Contributor
    I also disagree, because mechanics are important. For instance, I hate FPS and platformers. I don't care how amazing/beautiful/perfect/life-changing/world-changing is it, if I have to twitch jump or twitch shoot I'm not going to play it. But I'll play almost anything with a TBS mechanic, because I enjoy it. Fantasy combat TBS? Sweet. Supermarket simulator TBS? Bring it.

    Mechanics also tell people about the gameplay. RPG usually implies that there will be grinding, which is the bane of some people's lives. Adventure usually implies lots of reading and/or logic, which are not some people's cup of tea.

    So I think the genre labels are still useful as a way to whittle out what games you're interested in looking at, then using more detailed descriptions like what you suggested once you're in a genre.

    (Pointless note: "comedy FPS" made me think of the chicken canon in the first South Park game. :P)
  • Maunderingcabal
    Interesting take, but I have to disagree. We need single word genres so we can easily categorize things, then go crazy with sub genres. Anything more complicated than that should be a summary, and ain't nobody got time to read that (thousands of games to choose from monthly)
  • Pierre Fouquet
    Featured Correspondent
    Oh I agree, and I'm saying that the main point of the game will be the focus. So CoD will be action... FPS. And Mass Effect would be Sci-Fi... RTS.
    I'm just thinking that games can have too many genres it can apply to, a game can be a first person shooter, but also a full RTS, and maybe even some driving. Assassins Creed is a ship sailing game, action game, some aspects of RTSs (loot, and armour upgrades now), as well as open-world. But I'd say it's Action/Adventure, then well... just that.
  • JC Lau
    Featured Contributor
    Maybe it's just because the word "genre" is confusing to use. When you describe ME there, it's almost like you're categorizing two different things. With ME, for example, Sci-Fi is more the theme/setting for the game, whereas RTS describes the play style. Likewise with CoD, it's action (in that fighting/wars/whatever is action) but the actual way you play the game is in the first person. Another example might be Grim Fandango, which you've described as a "story comedy". Stylistically, it's a comedic setup, but neither story nor comedy really describe how the game plays.

    The problem is that the word "genre" covers BOTH what the theme/setting of the game is and that it also describes how you play the game (e.g. FPS, RPG, whatever). Perhaps then what we need is a breakdown first of setting, which would be like the use of the word "genre" in film (action/comedy/fantasy/etc.) and then also the method of playing. It's similar to what you've suggested with the subcategories of games, but it'd categorically give a player a clearer idea of what the game's about and how you play it right off the bat.

    (Also, Grim Fandango would be a story-driven point-and-click adventure game, I suppose.)
  • Pierre Fouquet
    Featured Correspondent
    I agree, sounds good.
    Yer, FPS, RTS, Racing, etc. are all describing the mechanics of the game, how it plays, and how you interact with the game. And we do need both with games, because they are interactive, but also a media so have narrative and characters and themes.

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