War and peace: Narrative vs. genres

Puzzle platformer my ...

Assassin’s Creed is a third person, action, stealth, open world title. L.A. Noire is a third-person game also including an open world with shooter, and action-adventure elements. Uncharted is a action-adventure, platformer, shooter, that is in the third-person. Starcraft is simply a real-time strategy game. Also, Little Big Planet is listed* as only a puzzle platformer, and both you and I know that’s just plain wrong. Do you notice anything strange at all? Any repetitiveness? Any ambiguity? I’m sure you feel like you could describe those games in much easier ways.

Let’s rewind this back to L.A. Noire, because it’s both topical, and relevant. You can’t read a review without a sentence dedicated to describing how the game plays. In L.A. Noire’s case, it’s complicated. By now, many of us have stuck most of its content in the adventure game bin, but that’s not without mentioning it’s open world aspect, or the third-person view. I’m beginning to think the only thing genres do for us is confirm the camera positioning, but I digress. We’re all not completely right though. What I’m trying to get at here, is the idea behind genres in games and why they’re not working.

Starcraft has a story driving you from point A to point B. So does Assassin’s Creed, Uncharted, and to a certain extent, Little Big Planet. These games all share an adventure aspect. This trait derives from their narrative. Narrative is essentially what has ruined the ability to classify games.

In the beginning jump-man was given a simple goal to save the brunette in the evil, hairy monkey’s grasp. Along the way he was forced to hurdle over barrels and painstakingly maneuver himself higher up the scaffolding, closer to his point B. We were given no narrative what-so-ever. Now, we’ve thrown in emotions, background, and history to the mix. Our stories and characters are much more rich with the reason to do the things they do. As these stories get more complex, games find themselves having to replicate different situations. In Uncharted 2 you go from filling baddies with lead, to running for you life away from an oncoming truck in a Southeast Asian alleyway.

Sooner or later games will include almost every genre that we use now with little effort.

If a shooter lacks adventure then why would I invest my time in it? I like my real-time strategy games, but if there is no action in it, I’m not interested. These occurrences rarely happen because games almost always include more than one of our these so-called “genres” that we use today.

What we use now are useless descriptions that tell us nearly nothing about the game. I’m better off using what the the person asking me the question knows, and applying that to my own description. In most of these cases: L.A. Noire is Heavy Rain with adventure game elements and third person shooting, not unlike Red Dead Redemption. See what I mean?

The core of our classification is scientifically correct, but in application fails to describe anything. As games evolve and become more complex, are genres become irrelevant.

I’m not convinced that we we should keep them around anymore. Our differentiation should originate from how the stories are told. Whether it is blatant exposition through dialogue bubbles, or subtle drops of narrative encountered by the player at his/her own will. Maybe the story is about a world in conflict, or a day in the life of one man. Is it fiction or non-fiction? These are the questions we should be answering.

My advice? Get the guy that does movie trailer introductions; at least it’s a start.

In a world…

*All genres were taken from Wikipedia.

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