Some Fairly Obvious Game Genre Musings

March 20th, 2009

This semester’s workload is significantly lighter than previous years, although if you combine my studies with blogging here, in my Chinese blog and a few guest articles, then I guess I have a pretty full workload. Due to the complicated workings of my free-form university program, this year I have a bunch more free choice electives, one of which I used up on a course about video games.

It’s about three weeks in, and I’ve already got a good idea how most of my courses will pan out over the next few months. Perhaps I should have anticipated it, the games course is particularly lousy from my perspective. It’s not terrible, but rather it falls back on broken convention. Here’s an example of what I mean:

Last week we were discussing genre in games, and what constitutes a video game genre. Besides the bleeding obvious (much of which the students already knew), I noticed that the tutor fell back many a times on incorrect genre stereotypes and conventions to frame a more complicated issue. For example statements such as: “All first person shooters involve holding a gun and shooting people from a first person perspective.” were freely tossed around the discussion*.

I hate blanket statements like this, you know I do, their only use is to generalize complicated issues that people aren’t willing to regard as such. It’s the greatest form of disrespect, and is used commonly by writer and enthusiast alike. I too have perhaps been guilty of this sin a few times. All it really signifies is pure laziness on the part of the speaker.

metroidvania

Metroidvania: A genre based on actual sound gameplay constructs

What the tutor, to my great disappointment, didn’t expresses was the limitations of game genre. If you take anything of great complexity, like worlds governed by a system of rules (ie. that of video games) and classify such things into categories of fixed variables, there is no doubt going to be some overflow. Game genres are not black and white, they are not absolute, they are gradients of multiple genres, forms and thematics and hence squeezing this all into the guise of absolute genre classification is nothing but generalization.

It’s exactly the same argument I made for casual and hardcore gamers. Such classifications can only operate in the broad sense, with acknowledgement given to the restrictions of such system. Yet, in our class we are still being taught that games can only operate as black or white entities. Next week our group has to do a speech on the RPG genre, defining key attributes etc, I’m wondering if my grade would be lowered if I included a mild disclaimer at the start.

*Examples may include: Elebits and Portal

  • The thing that gripes me most about this form of thinking is the impact it has on creativity in game design. Game designers should not be thinking this way since it can destroy the creativity in their project. If more game companies took the approach of say ThatGameCompany who start their design process by wanting to recreate a particular feeling in a game then we’d likely have some more interesting games.

  • They say there are only two types of music – good and bad. In other words, there’s what you like and what you don’t. It’s all subjective. I think a few years ago that idea was considered quaint. But today, with so much music and music history available online, and with our remix culture, younger people listen to everything and the lines don’t matter like they used to. Maybe that will happen with games at some point?