Do we need more genres?

No, but let’s keep this going. Whoever claims to know genres in a clear cut manner when it comes to electronic games lies. This is because as technology evolved, game developers began to mix and match genres with each other to ever growing extent. It’s understandable that the genre count has grown and changed to stupid extents within the last two decades, considering the first two decades of video games were comparatively simpler times. Even then, games like Pac-Man still defy any classical genre definitions and you can still find people using Pac-man as a genre defining naming, because there really isn’t anything good that fits it well. It’s not exactly a puzzle game like Tetris or  exactly an action game like Mario Bros. However, the clever people journalists were in the 1980’s gave birth to maze genre, describing a game where the main play field and game play concentrates around a maze. Pac-Man and its derivatives certainly fit this description aptly, considering it was something new that could not be pulled from pre-existing media.

However, Pac-Man was lucky. Breakout was not as lucky. It has no official genre attached to it. Modern game industry tries to attach arcade as a genre, but that does little to it. Genre, as a term, should be descriptive of the contents. ‘Arcade’ does a poor job at this. There are certainly attempts at making it a convincing genre nowadays, supposedly referring to the shortness and easy to access type of game play, but that is selling actual arcade games short that should fall into this category. Street Fighter or even Tekken are rarely described as arcade anymore, despite them both of them still being very arcade at their roots.

Perhaps the most myriad of genres we got around nowadays is Metroidvania, which means jack shit nothing in terms of description. The user would need the context of the original Metroid games and certain era of Castelvania games to get the reference to. Considering both franchises are pretty much dead in the water, Metroid being thrown into the descriptive garbage bin for the occasional re-use by people who don’t get why Metroid sells in the West but not in Japan, and Castlevania being turned into low-end mobage and pachinko fodder, making the connection a bit dubious for anyone who is not in the know of the two franchises. For someone who has played games at least since the NES days and is familiar with both franchises probably gets the connection, but may also wonder why such a strenious connection is made, considering Castelvania is more about the linear action in its origin. The problem with Metroidvania is of course that is describes the action-adventure genre, but labelled it with a new name for some godforsaken reason, mudding the waters.

Naming genres is required at times, however. While Doom was not the first first-person shooter, it certainly can be argued to be most influential. In its wake we got Doom-clones, which either ran on Id’s engine or a modified version of it. The Dark Forces series started on Jedi Engine, which is said to be a reversed engineered and modified version of Id’s Doom engine. In general, people know what seeing in first person is and what is shooting more than what Doom is like, despite its popularity.

With the late 90’s, developing a new genre for your game was a PR move. Shenmue is, according to its developers, the first game in the F.R.E.E. genre,  Full Reactive Eyes Entertainment, and Mega Man Legends was Free Running RPG. This has continued in some peculiar ways, where the fans pitch new genres either in admiration or mockingly. Walking Simulator has become a thing to use for these adventure games that lack playable elements, though something like Life is Strange is continuation of those girls’ game from the 1990’s thematically and in fashion. That said, girls’ and boys’ games aren’t genres themselves. They’re more about the cultural scenario of the game and its contents, and about the directed audience. As a genre they could be anything.

Still, pitching a new genre or a genre name nowadays is nothing new. Some stick, some don’t. Metroidvania, the new and hot name to describe action-adventure games, has stuck to the extent that it’s slowly, but surely, becoming and industry standard for better or worse. Similarly, Lewis Gordon is trying to pitch a new genre named ‘ambient.’ A game with high ambience supposedly belongs in this genre, first being Breath of the Wild. The problem with this genre is that it describes nothing the game is like, as game genres describe the play, not the visuals or the like, i.e. the action the player engages in. Ambience has been in games since Ultima at latest and are a natural extension of the game’s world rather than the world of the game.

It’s almost as if a pitch like ambient is thrown out when games, or certain games, are tried to be “elevated” from their status as “just” games. The discussion whether or not games are art is tiresome after three decades, and we’re slowly entering a time where that is irrelevant due to the complete mainstream acceptance of the medium, but where we still need to showcase that they’re more than just “games.” As if there was anything wrong in that in the first place, but people have to justify their interests and choices to others still in almost sickly manner.

No, Gordon and his cohorts are missing why BotW was successful. It’s a good action-RPG and is closer to the original Zelda than most other games in the franchise. Unlike with films, music or books, mood, visuals, sounds or the like do not make a genre. As said, it’s the action of the player is required does. Ambience can be part of the game’s play, though that would completely exclude a game like BotW completely.

We don’t need new genres at this point in time. The Red Ocean already uses far too many genre names that it’s becoming a swampland. Just like how games’ core can be distilled back to pure gameplay where needed, genres need to follow the same path and be distilled what they mean atr their core. Simplicity can be complex, but it does not need be incoherent. That leads to things like “ambient.”

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