Have you ever wondered about how many genres of video games there are these days?
It was only when I was trying to arrange my obscenely vast collection of digital games into folders that it really hit home……
I started with the classics – RPG (Role-Playing Game), Action, Racing, Sports, FPS (First-Person Shooter) etc, the ones that are pretty much no-brainers to seasoned gamers, but then Fallout 76 appeared, and my issues began. Fallout games are traditionally role-playing games, but since Fallout 3, have shifted to the first-person viewpoint (with shooting), and Fallout 76 adds online play into the mix……hmm….better just make an ‘Online’ folder for now and plop it in there. Ah, next up is Final Fantasy 14, definitely a role-playing game, in one of the most popular and well known franchises of all time, but again, it is online, so it is less RPG, and more MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game – think World of Warcraft), so you can join Fallout 76 for now – but that’s 2 games in the same folder that despite being online, and vastly different…..
Rocket League is up next, mostly played online, but not all online, there is local co-op available, but also it’s essentially football with cars, so not quite racing, not quite sport, not really online….hmm….time to create a ‘Multiplayer’ folder, that’ll do for now. Overcooked can join you, as can Gang Beasts, and maybe Fall Guys? Hang on, there is no local multiplayer in that, it’s all online, can that really go in a folder with FF14? Losing the will to live already….
I remember some of my early-ish Playstation days – Gran Turismo, Final Fantasy 7, Tekken 2, ISS Pro…..nice and simple, you knew what you were getting – footballer on the box? Football game. Cars on the front? Racing game. Wrestler with the head of a tiger? A (rather odd) beat-em-up. Genres were simple, and everything generally had it’s place. I appreciate that in the current generation, and most of the previous generation, games have come on leaps and bounds, in both technical achievement and artistic merit, and they are arguably better than they ever have been, but should we still be trying to shoe-horn them into the tried and tested categories?
Does it do more harm than good?
Take FIFA over the last 2 or 3 iterations, for example – a series traditionally known for being a straight up football game has added the massively successful (for EA anyway) Ultimate Team, a digital version of collecting football stickers, and pitting their team against other players, and also The Journey, a narrative-driven story about a young footballer with dreams of making it big. Labelling it as just a football game is doing it a massive disservice.
Ubisoft’s Far Cry is another series that could easily be labelled as a FPS in an open-world, but there are also RPG elements – crafting equipment from animals you hunt, levelling up skills, taking side-quests from smaller characters, discovering unknown locations…..difficult to define, so much so in fact, that some games are said to have ‘Ubisoft’ style mechanics – a large map with a large list of things to get through to achieve 100% completion, so much more than just hitting the end credits. Their last two Assassins Creed games, Origins and Odyssey, and the upcoming Valhalla, have also adopted a similar approach, a far-cry (ahem) from their earlier, slightly more linear and assassinating-focussed offerings.
Speaking of games that have given birth to their own genre, or style, I give you From Software’s Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, and Bloodborne – games known for their steep difficulty, minimal hand-holding, and subtle storytelling done through the environment rather than flashy cut-scenes. These games really struck a chord with a lot of players – they were almost throwbacks to the arcade and 90’s generation, where games were tough, and rewarded players who persevered and learnt, rather than turn it down to easy. Dark Souls really took off as it was available on both consoles, Demon’s Souls being a PS3 exclusive, and suddenly a lot of developers jumped on the band-wagon – you had games like Lords of the Fallen, The Surge, Nioh, Code Vein, and most recently, Mortal Shell – different enough to be worth playing, but undeniably full of ‘Souls’ DNA. When Bloodborne was released in 2015, a quicker, more action-focussed game, but still with the same brutal difficulty, the birth of the Souls-Borne genre arrived.
Similarly, the term Metroid-Vania is pretty commonly known in gaming circles, named after the Metroid and Castlevania games of the 80’s and 90’s – also known for their difficulty, but traditionally 2D side scrolling games, taking place in a large location split into dozens and dozens of rooms. To start with, only a few rooms would be available to the player, although the order in which they visited them was up to them, but there would be many inaccessible locations, requiring a certain item or skill first. This simple idea is now used in hundreds of modern games, for example the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot – you would go through areas in the first hours and see gates or ledges that you couldn’t access until you had rope-arrows, or a crowbar, and you knew you could come back later and pick up the rewards. Few games these days are considered to just be Metroid-Vanias, but the phrase always comes up. Nowadays you hear the term Rogue-Like an awful lot – named after the 1980 game Rogue, it is used to describe games that often have a retro vibe, but have procedurally generated levels, and often have permadeath mechanics, for example Dead Cells, Rogue Legacy, The Binding of Isaac, and you even get Rogue-Lites, where the Rogue elements are slightly toned down, but still there…..
So as you can see, you can’t really define games by a type anymore, they are so much more, and to do so removes their identity, something that the developers work so hard to ingrain in their creations. There may be someone out there who hears the word RPG, and thinks ‘Eurgh, I don’t wanna play one of those lame D&D style games where it lasts hundreds of hours, I hit things with my sword and shield, and use silly magic, while taking it in turns to hit people’. Well then my friend, you are going to rue not trying Final Fantasy 7 Remake – a reimagining of a classic RPG, with new real-time combat, no random battles, and less spikey hair. You are going to rue not playing Persona 4 Golden (and Persona 5), where the dungeons you fight in are the twisted psyches of various conflicted individuals, and when you aren’t fighting, you are going to school, taking lessons, building up your stats, and making new friends, carefully managing your time each day. So plonking these games under the RPG sign is not enough by a long way.
So maybe instead of just trying to label games, a comparison can be made to other similar games, in order to help someone decide if it’s the sort of thing they would like? Well, this has its pitfalls too – take Sleeping Dogs for example, a game that released in 2012, wasn’t part of a long running series, didn’t have a name that you could guess what it was about, how do you tell someone what kind of game it is? ‘Well, its kinda like GTA, but set in a sprawling Yakuza-style city, with Arkham-style combat’. I mean sure, most gamers would understand these references, but you have just sucked all of the character and identity out of Sleeping Dogs, a game that is so much more than the sum of its parts, it has its own personality, its own charm, and these sorts of comparisons do it no favours really. Sure, say its set in a Hong Kong-inspired city, and you use counter-based combat against enemies, but don’t compare it too much to the big-hitters, let it talk for itself (go and play Sleeping Dogs if you haven’t already, it is excellent!)
So I suppose what I’m trying to say after all this waffle, is that please just try and treat each game as its own thing, by its own merits, strengths, weaknesses, and have proper discussions about it, rather than trying to make life easier by throwing in some outdated buzzwords that no longer do the job in the age we are in. Don’t let games live in the shadows of their predecessors, let them shine.
So anyway, back to my folders……maybe I should just go with alphabetical……