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The Designer's Notebook: Sorting Out the Genre Muddle
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The Designer's Notebook: Sorting Out the Genre Muddle


July 9, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 4 Next
 

Audience

So far, so familiar. Now let's turn to this business of who the game is intended for: the audience. This is, again, a different dimension from genre. We have driving games aimed at aficionados, and driving games aimed at casual players. Both offer the same challenges and the same controls -- steering, acceleration, and brakes.

But the games for gearheads will probably look different from those for casual players, and the games for casual players will probably be more forgiving, allowing the player to recover easily from crashes, for example.

In particular "games for girls" are not a genre -- as my friend Sheri Graner Ray has been saying for many years. Girls are an audience, a market, not a genre. Consequently, "games for girls" is a marketing term. It has nothing to do with gameplay.

The kinds of games marketed under the "for girls" label have all sorts of gameplay. Ubisoft's Imagine games are about everything from figure skating to veterinary care.

If you need any more persuading that audience is unrelated to genre, just turn it around and think about the idea of "games for boys." Does that tell you anything at all about the game? Only that it probably isn't sold in a pink box. Boys are no more a genre than girls or women are.

Theme

In literature, the theme is the message or lesson of the work. Many games don't have an explicit theme, but they certainly can. For example, Peacemaker is a game of diplomacy and politics whose goal is to achieve a peaceful two-state solution in Palestine.

Its message is made pretty clear by its explicit victory condition, and further emphasized by its mechanics: if you play the game as a hawk, you will lose in short order. (If you play it as a bleeding-heart dove, you'll also lose, but it will take longer.)

Some critics complained that The Sims promoted typical Western notions of capitalist consumerism: its theme was "material goods make you happy." What they failed to recognize was that The Sims (at least the first edition) was actually a satire of this idea, as you can tell by reading the tongue-in-cheek descriptions of the furniture for sale. And indeed material goods alone do not make the sims happy; they need also need social interaction, fun, and other, non-material, things to be happy.

Theme, therefore, is the characteristic that sets Christian games apart from others, and again it is a different dimension from genre. Catechumen is, bizarrely, a shooter -- although what the player shoots is not bullets but spiritual rays, and the effect they have is not death but to convert the target to Christianity (if the target is a Roman soldier; if he's a demon, he is dispatched to Hell).

Guitar Praise, on the other hand, is a Christian-themed rhythm game obviously modeled on Guitar Hero. Bible Adventures was a classic side-scroller in the NES and Genesis era. Different genres, different settings, same theme.

Christianity struggled against hostile forces in its early years; so too did Islam. Mohammed's wars with the Meccan tribes would make a great game were it not for the strict prohibition against depictions of the Prophet. But it might be possible to design a different Islamic-themed game -- about the challenges faced by a poor person making the hajj, perhaps.


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