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Storytelling: The Problem of Genres

[This is the fourth part of my storytelling series. Iíll keep this one short, unlike the typical massive articles that I tend to post. Iíll try, at least.]

Genres are an expected and arguably important part of every entertainment medium, from television to movies to literature to video games. In fact, one of the first things that we as gamers tend to do with a new game is place it into a certain genre or subgenre: itís a sandbox game, or an FPS, or a JRPG. For the most part, I donít think this is harmful behavior: if a game is from Japan and is a role-playing game, it is, for all intents and purposes, a JRPG.

I played the hell out of Star Ocean 4, but give me a break with this shit. (At least it was set in space)

However, itís an entirely different story when a game's plot falls into a specific genre. JRPGs especially tend to have JRPG plots: some young hero is suddenly forced to leave the comfort of home and save the world from utter destruction with the help of an unlikely band of friends. Thereís almost always a certain degree of self-discovery, shoulder-crying, ugly-monster-fighting, and reaffirmations that the hero just wonít give up no matter what. I donít think anyoneís going to argue that, by now, this shit hasnít gotten really, really old.

The problem is that developers seem to believe that certain plot types naturally fit in with certain gameplay genres, and theyíre either not comfortable or creative enough to stray from the established genre formula. Itís easy to harp on JRPGs in this situation, but I think there are plenty of genres that are guilty of this; how many generic FPS stories have we had to suffer through?

Fixing this issue is going to require a complete reevaluation of the meaning of a genre. Many games have successfully done this: Folkloreís blend of mystery, RPG and action elements defied genre categorization (though I greatly disagree with how the story was told), and Shadow Hearts: Covenant (which I sadly never finished) successfully set a somewhat traditional RPG during World War I. These were games that surprised and pleased simply because of what they did differently, and thereís truly no limit to the value of offering an experience that catches the player off guard.

The engaging setting of Shadow Hearts: Covenant largely carried the game.

Genre stories have always been unacceptable in many literary circles (depending on who you talk to, of course), and I think this feeling needs to carry over to video games. Sure, itís easy to write a story thatís similar thematically or structurally to almost every other story from that genre, but itís time for this practice to become unacceptable, both to the players and developers. Everyone involved deserves better than the easy route.

To close, enjoy a predictable and entirely overused quotation.

ďTwo roads diverged in a wood, and Ió I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.Ē ĖRobert Frost
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About Andrew Kauzone of us since 5:10 PM on 04.30.2009

In loving memory: PAX 2009 (thanks ZombiePlatypus! And WalkYourPath, of course)

I'm Kauza, which is pronounced like cause-uh. My real name's Andrew Kauz, if you'd rather go for that.

I like talking to Dtoid people, so please add me on your favorite social networking site:
Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/kauza
Gchat: santakauz[at]gmail.com.

Basics: I'm 25, and I write things.

Eternal thanks go out to Y0j1mb0 for the amazing header image you see above. So, thanks, sir!

Look at some of the things I've written.

Things on the Front Page:

Mass Effect, Metal Gear, Moon Unit, and more: An interview with Jennifer Hale
The Future: Demanding more from the voices of videogames
Love/Hate: A plea to play as a female Shepard
A warning: Regrets from a former life and experiences yet unlived
Top ten games for people who hate Thanksgiving
The wrong thing: Being evil should be more like sex
Staying dry in a sea of spoilers is a matter of building a boat
Lessons on taking games just seriously enough
Come, take your pilgrimage to gaming's one true mecca
Here's to you, random-JRPG-dialogue-writer-man
The forgotten: Crushing disappointment at the hands of Crash 'n the Boys
The people who have the power to change the world
Improving game communities: Enough with the negativity
The draw of exploration: Antarctica to Oblivion, Shackleton to Shadow Complex
I suck at games: BlazBlue and a slapdash attempt at fisticuffs
I, the Author: My Everest
Untapped Potential: The Gamer's Education
Other Worlds than These: Our World, Only Different

A series sort of thing about status effects
Toxic Megacolon and other fresh status effects
Curse you, status effects, stop confusing my heart
Status effects are poisons that turn my silent heart to stone
Also check out the related forum thread.

The Fall of the Titans (wherein I talk about dead or dying gaming companies)

The fall of the titans part 3: What once was shall be again
The fall of the titans: Sega died so that we might dream of the future
The fall of the titans: Why do the giants of gaming die?

Stories from the Past (a series about my experiences playing certain games):

Stories from the Past: Tobal 2, Tomba! 2, and console double-vision
Stories from the Past: Diablo and the Dark Ride
Stories from the Past: What the f*ck, mom?
Stories from the Past: Xexyz and the battle aboard Turtlestar Lobsterica
Stories from the Past: The One-Balled Man-Bear
Stories from the Past: The Battle of Olympus
Stories from the Past: Suikoden 2

Storytelling (a series about, well, storytelling):

Storytelling: The Problem of Genres
Storytelling: Mass Effect, Vonnegut, and the Fourth Rule
Storytelling: Doing Nothing in "The Darkness"
Storytelling: The Power of a Single Line (Yeah, it was my first post.)

Other stuff that is good:

Lessons on taking games just seriously enough
A consuming power: The demon and the borderlands
Can games transcend good and evil?
Nothing is sacred: We won't let you go alone, but we have made a tragic decision
How Destructoid single-handedly changed my motherís opinion of gaming
Why Tecmo Super Bowl is the greatest sports game of all time
Seven reasons that I will end you in creative ways if you don't play Folklore
Mother Nature and the Impending Death of the Gaming Spirit
Times Games Forgot: The Dark Ages
The Sins and Successes of In-game Collectibles
The Lock is Broken
When Music Surpasses the Game
Truckasaurus Rex and the Humor of Games
I Want to Cry (storytelling related, but not part of the series)

I have others as well that you can check out on my blog. You'll enjoy them or your money back.

Since it seems like the cool thing to do, here a list of my favorite games that is coming straight out of my ass and onto your computer screen, and in no particular order.

Fallout 3
Uncharted 2
Suikoden 2
Mass Effect / ME2
Metal Gear Solid followed by any number you can think of
Tales of Somethingendinginia (OK, and the Abyss)
Battlefield: Bad Company
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PSN ID:santakauz
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