Should Game Genres Be Redefined In Terms Of Storytelling?
In a recent article appearing in MCV: The Market for Computer & Video Games, video game developer and publisher Telltale Games urged the games industry to reconsider how it categorizes game genre, as the medium’s storytelling ability continues to mature. Rather than being classified as platformers, first-person shooters, or strategy games, the developer is advocating that the industry adopts “science fiction”, “fantasy”, and other terms the film and television industry uses for describing a creative work’s genre.
When I read the article, I thought, “Well, of course they would like game genres to be defined in terms of storytelling. They are primarily known for making adventure games based on movie and television franchises.”
However, I then remembered an episode of the web series Extra Credits that also suggested that game genres should be redefined without reference to mechanics. After all, they argue, films don’t base their genres on elements like “wide-angle punching”, “close-up kissing” or “steady-cam running”. Genres should instead be defined by the emotive play experience they create for the player.
While I agree that games are best described by the experience they create for the player, I don’t think the answer lies in using film or literary genres. Most people decide what films to see or books to read based on the story they tell. Yet the main appeal of video games is about the actions people perform in them — running and gunning in first-person shooters, jumping and collecting in platformers, gathering resources and building combat units in real-time strategy games. The story the game is often secondary. In fact, many games don’t have a story at all, and some, like checkers and poker, don’t even have a theme.
If we were to apply the word “genre” to a game’s theme, setting or story, then I think we would then need to describe games in terms of mechanic and genre. For example, Call of Duty would be described as “Mechanic: First-Person Shooter, Genre: War.” But describing games by story-genre alone only would imply that Call of Duty provides the same experience as the strategy game Company of Heroes, and that scenario may not have a happy ending for the game purchaser who wanted more strategy than action.
Then again, the game product landscape has become so rich and varied that maybe we are boxing ourselves in too much no matter how we define genre categories. If storytelling is indeed becoming more important to players, then maybe we can afford to describe the game experience to them in more than a word or two.