As the game industry matures, the idea of genres within it has begun to get a bit muddled, and in a new Gamasutra feature
, veteran designer and academic Ernest Adams comes to the rescue to sort it all out.
The seemingly all-at-once proliferation of internet distribution, Flash games, the casual market, free game-building tools and indie games did great things to shake video games out of their genre-bound retail shelf rut, Adams explains:
The explosion we're experiencing now makes the first one look like a damp firecracker. It's great. We've got stuff like Blueberry Garden and Everyday Shooter and Passage and Darwinia. All these games are living happily alongside Mass Effect and Grand Theft Auto and Pro Evolution Soccer.
Of course, they don't make as much money, but that's OK -- they don't have to. The business is no longer a zero-sum game limited by available space on the retail store shelves.
To Adams, that's true maturity for the industry, and the possibilities for the future are endless. The only downside is it's become much harder to define genre:
It does mean that our nice neat collection of genres has turned into a serious muddle. Where in the world do you put something like Blueberry Garden or Passage?
And that's not all; the use of games for other purposes is creating confusion too. Recently someone asked me, "Where do we put Christian games? And what's the story with serious games? And games for girls?"
Is it still the case that gameplay determines genre? Or is it the audience? Adams takes a look:
In particular "games for girls" are not a genre -- as my friend Sheri Graner Ray has been saying for many years. Girls are an audience, a market, not a genre. Consequently, "games for girls" is a marketing term. It has nothing to do with gameplay.
The kinds of games marketed under the "for girls" label have all sorts of gameplay. Ubisoft's Imagine games are about everything from figure skating to veterinary care.
If you need any more persuading that audience is unrelated to genre, just turn it around and think about the idea of "games for boys." Does that tell you anything at all about the game? Only that it probably isn't sold in a pink box. Boys are no more a genre than girls or women are.
More questions than answers? Read the full Gamasutra feature
for much more from Ernest Adams on defining genre in a new age for games (no registration required, please feel free to link to this feature from other websites).