You can slice up the universe of
interactive media along many different dimensions, and genre is only one of
them. But in order to be able to talk about it sensibly, we have to define what
these dimensions are.
Fiction book genres are based on
subject matter and to some extent, emotional tone. There are techno-thrillers,
westerns, romance novels, mysteries, spy novels, historical fiction, and so on.
The book's setting plays a role in defining its genre.
Film is much the same,
except that far more films than books are comedies, and just about any other
genre of film can be made into a comedy: Blazing Saddles and Rustler's
Rhapsody were western comedies, for example.
Video games work differently, as we
know, and so far as familiar cases are concerned, it's easy to see. Video game
genres are determined by gameplay: what challenges face the player and what
actions he takes to overcome those challenges. So we clearly have sports games,
shooter games, racing games, and so on.
Genres actually exist in a hierarchy.
The Entertainment Software Association's 2009 Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry
explicitly identifies (using data from the NPD consumer research firm) a number
of what they call super-genres.
For example, sports games can obviously
be further subdivided by sport, and racing games by type of vehicle. Tactical
shooters emphasize real weapons and quantities of ammunition, while games like Quake,
which is mostly about speed, do not.
Genres themselves are fluid. More and
more games are hybrids of the traditional genres: modern role-playing games
often incorporate physical coordination challenges more typical of fighting
games, and action-adventures are now more popular than either the pure
platformers or the pure adventure games they borrow from.
And in the current
explosion of creativity, it may be difficult to assign a game to a familiar
genre, as with Passage. But that's all right. It's still the case that
gameplay (which determines genre) is a separate dimension from the other
dimensions that define a game. I'll look at them next.
A game's setting is independent of its
genre, which I think confuses people who are more familiar with books
and movies. Westerns and science fiction books are in different parts of
the bookstore, but that's not true of games.
A shooter is a shooter, whether
it's set in the Old West or on Mars or anyplace else. A player who enjoys
shooters will probably enjoy one no matter where it's set, if it's well-made.
Likewise, you can have completely
different genres in the same setting. Both Gun (a shooter with RPG
elements) and Oregon Trail II (a management game with a hunting
mini-game inside) are set in variants of the Old West.