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The Genre: A Parasite in the Gaming Industry’s Gut

Posted February 17, 2012 by Brad in Editorials

Genres can be useful. A one or two word summation of a game (or any product, for that matter) lets us know whether or not we may be interested in it. Some gamers’ ears perk at “shooter,” others, “role playing game.” Thanks to these broad generalizations, we can easily sift through titles and make instant judgment calls based on genre alone.

Categories like these are useful for the sake of convenience, but an unfortunately powerful side effect of them is the limit they force on developers’ creativity. By definition, genres create boundaries for artists, squeezing them into the confines of conventional styles.

For example, a platforming game must contain certain elements to be dubbed such. It must involve jumping, avoiding obstacles, suspended platforms, etcetera. When a developer sets out to create a platformer, certain stereotypes are floating around in the artists’ heads from the get-go. A leaping protagonist that bounds from head to head, squishing foes and dodging lava pits and spike traps all at once. Immediately, preconceived ideas affect the final product, and the cookie-cutter platformer that results is not so original. Looking back to previous successes within a genre for guidance is not necessarily a bad idea, but when uniqueness is sacrificed as a result, its best to let the past stay in the past.

Following Call of Duty’s explosive success, many emulators were born. Thereafter, the average game belonging to the shooter genre followed the same mechanics as COD, and in most of those cases originality was ditched for reliability. This same phenomenon is seen across the board: a game establishes a high standard for a particular genre, games afterward attempt to copy it. The result is stagnancy in the industry. Originality is what drives the evolution of gaming; uniqueness breathes life into it. When developers work within the confines of a genre, that life is squelched.

The deepest and most enjoyable games are those that blend genres. Developers that have been able to remove categorical barriers have been very successful. The role playing genre is particularly ubiquitous. Involving the player’s control of a character’s growth and development, it is one that easily bleeds into other genres. Titles like Fallout 3, Skyrim, the Mass Effect series, and Borderlands have proven that RPG elements can be seamlessly blended with exciting action that allows the player to feel more directly involved in the game’s world. Various other games include more subtle RPG elements to deepen the experience, like Batman Arkham Asylum/City, Forza 4, and the Call of Duty series.

It is not feasible or necessary to abolish genres entirely, but this blending of them is where the future of gaming lies. Developers avoid the tempting comfort of confining genre concepts, and focus instead on creating an experience that is unique and enjoyable for the gamers. Creativity is the lifeblood of the gaming industry, and it does not heed rules or restrictions that genres imply.


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  • Mikah

    I completely agree with you Brad. While labeling is convenient, it can definitely stifle creativity and its acceptability to an audience.

    • Brad

      Definitely. Its best to find a balance between convenience and creativity– easier said than done.

  • TJ B

    I must have good taste because most of the games you listed are some of my favorites: mass effect, borderlands, skyrim, fallout, etc.

    • Brad

      Then you most certainly do have good taste, my friend.

  • Taylor Stein

    I have a short attention/patience span so for me creativity is key. It’s a shame that certain genres have a tendency to go flat due to constant repetition and reiteration of the same gaming formula. I loved platformers in the 90’s. Mario 64, Rayman, Banjo Kazooie, Kirby, are all some of my favorite games. While many of them still exist in some context, most people would rather play the same old COD game year after year than its adventure/platforming counterpart. Really interesting article.

    • Brad

      For sure! Formulas, no matter how great they are at first, eventually get old. Thanks!

  • Victor

    I agree with this post. My only red flag is that just because a game is creative doesn’t make it good. I will say that developers should be free to think outside the box and broaden/expand the genre. Creativity + good mechanics = Awesomeness

    • Brad

      Yeah, creativity is definitely just a part of the puzzle; you need more than that to make a great final product!

  • Esteban Cuevas

    I like labels. They’re nice guidelines to help me not be completely in the dark when it comes to many aspects of life. However, they are and should be guidelines only and not concrete rules of how things should be.

    I wish there was a way to have genres be vague examples as to what to expect rather than the framework for a game in development. Thank goodness there’s genres starting to mix things together like shooters and RPGs, puzzles and platformers.

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