Time To Stop Defining Genres?

Most Games Are A Blend of Everything

Once upon a time, gaming was simple. You had your shooters, such as Space Invaders, then there were the RPGs, which generally followed the Dungeon and Dragons school of gaming. Of course there were always the likes of Mario, who ruled the platform games roost, but if that didn’t float your boat, you could turn to a driving game or sports sim. Then we had point and clicks, which focused on stories and puzzles. And from point and clicks we got to 3D adventure games. Every game had a pigeon hole it fitted into. We knew where we stood. Life was simpler then, but now the lines are blurring and the old genres seem almost defunct.

It’s awards season at GiN HQ, as well as Hollywood. Our readers have been busy voting on the best of 2012, picking everything from the best puzzle game to the shootiest shooter among shooters and the most swash-buckling adventure game to grace the last 12 months. While I was casting my own vote, I found myself having an argument with the voting boxes. Mass Effect 3 was in the Best Shooter category. ‘But that’s not a shooter,’ I muttered to myself. And this got me thinking. When is a shooter not a shooter? And the answer is, quite often, these days.

It seems as if everything has a bit of RPG, with a dash of action and a smidgen of open world. There was a time when an adventure just did adventuring, but with a bit of puzzling. Now adventures include high octane action shoot-outs, RPG upgrade elements and dialogue trees, plus the ability to go anywhere and do anything.

Mass Effect has to be one of the best examples of the morphing of genres. The series began as a fairly pure RPG package. ME2 added more guns and toned down the time spent tinkering with character and weapons upgrades. With ME3 we were plonked somewhere in-between, offering the perfect balance between action and RPG. The focus on story and character upgrades means I would never have put ME3 in the ‘shooter’ category. This game is no Halo or Gears of War, but it does have shooting. But then most games have shooting.

When it comes to doling out awards, maybe we need to start thinking outside the old school genre boxes. GiN is quite unique in its approach to gaming awards. We let you, the gamers decide, whereas most publications create an elite, judgely huddle of industry types who prepare to pat each other on the back. This has its place, but we’re more interested to see what you guys are playing and enjoying.

Of course, some genres are still fairly clear. Sports sims don’t create much confusion and neither do MMOs or Puzzle games. It’s only when we get into the realm of AAA titles that the waters are muddied. Where once we were happy just to shoot or slash foes and level up, now we’re demanding more complex games.

Yes, we want a bit of everything in one game. Why can’t our action titles give us the chance to upgrade, like we do in RPGs? So now we can upgrade our action heroes. Why can we only go where the developers let us go? So now we can go everywhere. Plus we want it all wrapped up with engaging characters and a story that makes sense. Yeesh, demanding or what?

This brings me back to our awards categories. Whilst games are blurring the lines between adventure, RPG and action, we still insist on using these defunct terms to judge and compare titles. Meanwhile, narrative has forged ahead to become a central part of what gamers enjoy about a title. However, we don’t offer any award for ‘best story’ or ‘best lead character.’

I think it’s time we lay the old genres to rest and start thinking about the elements that make up a great game. It will save the confusion and could lead to some more interesting results.

Most played: Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

Most wanted: The Last of Us

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