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MassDebate avatar 1:49 AM on 08.10.2011  (server time)
MassDebate: Has genre distinction lost its relevance?

Welcome to MassDebate! We take a controversial topic, form a proposition, and set two contenders the challenge of stating their case in favor of and in opposition to the proposition. After which, users may vote to decide which contender they support. Rules for voting are at the bottom of the blog, but it is recommended that you read the contenders' cases before you cast your vote.

The proposition: Genre distinction has lost its relevance

Handy argues in favor of the proposition:

Games, even in just the last decade, have changed immensely. Games have expanded, so many games take so many elements from other genres that theyíve become hard to pin down in any one group. Sure some games will always fit nicely into their genre, Gran Turismo will always be a racing game and Street Fighter will always be a fighter. But so many games today borrow from other genres, or outright defy classification altogether that the whole system seems a little outdated.

Take Borderlands for example, best described as an online four player co-op FPS RPG, thatís a mouthful, and thatís with three abbreviations (co-op, FPS and RPG).

Genre descriptions donít seem to give us a very good idea of the games they represent anymore. Look at games like Mass Effect 2 and Final Fantasy XIII, both RPGís yet they couldnít be more different; an open ended third person shooter and a series of corridors with menu based combat.

Even within that categoriesí sub-genres the games still donít fit the description. Proportionately speaking, most Japanese role playing games donít involve any actual role playing, the player makes no decisions that the story and it plays out in a linear fashion. Until the game proves otherwise Ė we just assume JRPG is shorthand for ďLong-ass game with lots of numbersĒ

Who here thinks of Demonís Souls as a JRPG? Because thatís exactly what it is and Iíve not heard anyone describe it that way, our perceptions of what makes a JRPG have changed to the point where the genre name no longer describes what we expect from the game itself.

Or games that take queues from other genres, like the games that experiment with sandboxes, what is a sandbox game? A game with an open-world in which players are given freedom, there are many optional distractions and missions can be tackled non-linearly. Thatís great, except for L.A. Noire, and Shadow of the Colossus, and Mafia 2, and No More Heroes and so on....

And thatís not even taking into account that sandbox games are already just a mishmash of other genre mechanics only added to an open-world. Most sandbox games are an open-world plus other genresí travel mechanics and combat system. For example Open-world + Driving + Third Person Shooter = GTA, Open-world + Free running + Hack and slash + Stealth = Assassinís Creed.

Even Call of Duty Ė something constantly derided as a bland, run of the mill FPS Ė uses an RPG style progression system in its multiplayer. Thatís the most popular feature of the most popular game and even that borrows from another genre.

Then there are the games that donít fit in any category, what type of genre is Katamari Damacy in again? Rolling kleptomania simulators? What about Typing of the Dead? Mister Mosquito? Heavy Rain? Noby Noby Boy or Seaman?

Thereís also the idea that the genre itself doesnít matter to the consumer in lieu of what else the game offers. How many people have you heard saying they canít wait to play Catherine, except for the puzzle parts? You know, the puzzle parts that make up the actual gameplay? I donít really like FPS games but I know I canít wait for Bioshock Infinite. Games can have so much to them these days that the genre doesnít even matter that much sometimes.

And then of course thereís the wonderfully vague ďAction-AdventureĒ genre, which encompasses pretty much every game ever made except maybe those train sims. Basically the fallback for when a game tries anything new or is a little hard to describe, because they donít quite fit in any traditional genre, or maybe they fit into three or more at once.

Uncharted, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Darksiders, Yakuza, Dead Rising, Enslaved, God of War, what do these games have in common? Nothing. Yet they all fall into the Action-Adventure category, because weíve got nowhere else to put them, or sometimes too many places to put them

At the end of the day, when you hear what genre a game is in you still donít know what youíre in for. Only until you watch footage and read reviews will you start to get the picture. And I think itís a good thing too, that games have expanded and evolved so much, itís just that some of our terminology hasnít.

Elsa argues against the proposition:

My initial thought when I received the note saying I'd been picked to argue that genre distinction has NOT lost it's relevance was "crap!". I've played Borderlands, Uncharted and other games that blur the lines of being in a specific genre, so my initial thought was that so many games now combine elements from various genres, that genre distinction is almost useless... but on further thinking I've come to the conclusion that genre distinction has not lost it's relevance - at all.

First off, why do we use genre distinction? One of the main reason is simply description. Genre distinctions in video games describe gameplay elements. An FPS game is a "First Person Shooter". The view is first person and a primary gameplay element in the game will be shooting. There may be puzzle elements (as in Portal), there may be RPG elements (as in Borderlands) but the easiest way to ascribe a gameplay description to those games is still to simply say "it's an FPS game" and gamers know what is meant. There are some people that don't like the first person viewpoint and it may make them naseuous or dizzy - regardless of other aspects of the game, they may not like the game simply based on the simple "FPS" descriptor. Some people love "platformers". The plots, settings and characters in these games can vary greatly, but when talking of a platformer, gamers know that the game will involve a lot of jumping, climbing, swinging, bouncing or some other means of traveling between platforms. Genre distinction is very simply a linguistic short cut and part of the language we use when describing video games.

Now that we've established the importance of the descriptive necessities of genre distinctions we come to the second reason that genres are important to gaming - classification, or the ability to group similar objects. If you purchase a new console that already has an established library, one of the easiest ways to find games you might like is to simply view the games available according to their genre classification. Books, movies and music all use genre distinctions as classification so that people can find similar media. Games are no different. The genre distinctions of games (unlike books or movies) don't revolve around plot or setting, but instead use gameplay elements - a more important classification system to gamers. Just as many movies and books have multiple genres, so too do games, but this does not negate the importance of having a classification or multiple classifications. There simply needs to be some way of organizing similar games so that people can find games with elements that they enjoy (or alternatively avoid games with elements they dislike).

Genre distinction in video games will never lose it's relevance. Over time it will increasingly become more and more important as game libraries continue to grow and as more and more games are produced. As new genres are developed, they add to our language. "Rhythm" games will incorporate responding to music as a primary factor in the gameplay, and "Motion Control" games are an indicator that we won't be sitting on our butts playing the game and may need peripherals.

Using genre distinctions is the easiest and best way we have of describing what kind of game it is, what other games it's most similar to. Genre distinction is part of our gaming language, our culture. This will never change. So, no. Genre distinction has not lost it's relevance. If anything, it becomes more relevant and more important than ever as gaming continues to grow.

Very simply... can you imagine describing a game without using genre distinction? Can you imagine looking at a large list of upcoming games without genre distinction? Would you rather see the listing for "Scivelation - release date: TBA 2011"... or would you rather see "Scivelation - shooter - release date: TBA 2011"?

Many thanks to Handy and Elsa for their contributions.

Now, the ground rules for voting:

1. The users that set out the MassDebate (Handy and Elsa) are not eligible to vote. (we can guess where their allegiances lie)

2. Feel free to comment at any point before, during or after you have voted.

3. To vote, begin your comment HANDY or ELSA depending on whether you support the proposition (HANDY) or you oppose the proposition (ELSA). The rest of your comment can be used to, you know, comment.

4. Only comments that begin with HANDY or ELSA may be considered in the voting process. Ensure you are spelling your vote correctly and placing it in capitals.

5. One vote per user. Only your first vote will count; there are no do-overs. Do not spam the comments. Donít bully other users into voting your way. Letís keep it clean. Donít be a wang.

6. Your voting should be based on the strength of the arguments set out by the contenders. Though your opinion may go some way towards forming your decision, do try to be as impartial as you can muster.

7. Any failure to undertake these rules or any ambiguity surrounding your vote may damage the chance of your vote counting. Whether or not your vote ultimately counts is at MassDebate's discretion. Maximise your chances by voting correctly.

8. The vote total will be accumulated and the results given on Mon 15th August. Ensure you get your vote in by Sun 14th August for your vote to count.

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