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Genres are an absolute mess

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I'm of the belief that games are best categorized by the experience you'll have playing them. I don't particularly despise the traditional game genres, I think they can be helpful for sure. Categorizing games based on their mechanics is a natural approach, but it'll start causing all sorts of problems when you start using them to judge how a game "feels" to play. We've all heard phrases like "Crash Bandicoot sort of FEELS like dark souls" or "Doom is like a puzzle game shooter mix" or "First person platformer metroidvania roguelike-lite". Again, I don't have any problem with these terms, but I don't think using them in tandem with terms like "feels like" or "plays like" is a good idea. They fundamentally mean different things.

What this leads to is either extremely broad (e.g. RPG) or extremely specific (e.g. Soulslike) genres of video games. Let me ask you a question: What genre is Tetris? I've seen most people consider Tetris a puzzle game, which doesn't feel right to me. In my opinion Tetris has a lot more in common with Pac-Man or Breakout than say, Portal or The Talos Principle. Tetris is more about fast reactions than problem solving or puzzle solving. (Which I also think we should consider two different things. See
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I mentioned that the current genres we use to describe video games categorize them by gameplay mechanincs. But that's also not always true! "RPG" is sometimes describing a games' mechanics (Character Progression, Stats Based Combat/Gameplay) and sometimes a games' narrative structure. or "First Person Shooter" is a mechanic, while "Sports" is a theme! Again, I don't have any issue with any of these on their own. The problems arise when we try to use them in tandem, while not realizing they're describing wildly different things. It's like if we categorized pizzas based on their size, and then said something like "This is a 13 inch diameter pizza, but it really tastes like pepperoni."

So, after that long and unstructured opening rant, let's talk about how I think we should categorize games. And once again, I DO NOT think something like this should replace the genres we're currently using (If such thing is even possible) but that it's way more helpful to think of games in terms of these metrics when talking about them.

Let's categorize the experience someone has with playing games into 5 different categories. These are somewhat sloppy, definitely not perfect, and only represent my own point of view. So feel free to suggest a better categorization. I also tried to keep them at a minimum as to not over complicate things. Thus they're broad terms and have some more specific types:

  1. Mastery: The experience of getting better and better at beating progressively harder challenges. Types: Mechanical Mastery, Cognitive Mastery
  2. Discovery: The experience of finding unexpected things. Types: Geographical Discovery, Mechanical Discovery, Content Discovery, Narrative Discovery
  3. Creativity: The experience of putting in something from outside the game. Types: Artistic Creativity, Problem Solving
  4. Narrative: The experience of being told/partaking in a story.
  5. Roleplaying: The experience of acting as a person of your choice. Types: Narrative Roleplaying, Mechanical Roleplaying.

My idea is that we can rank any game in all of these categories, and those ranking give us a way better idea of how the game feels to play rather than some vague and random genres. My scoring system is this:

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0 – Does not involve this element whatsoever;

1 – Allows this element;

2 – Encourages this element;

3 – Requires/Highly Involves this element;

3.5 – Is defined by this element.

I didn't think the jump from 3 to 3.5 was a huge step like the jump from 1 to 2, so it's just half a point. Also let me point out that these scores don't have any inherent value to them. A great game might be scored 0.5 to 1 in all categories and a terrible game might be scored 3.5 in all of them. Actually come to think of it that probably would mean an overwhelming or unfocused exprience for a game. This is designed to tell you how a game "feels" to be played in a glance, and I think can be a helpful tool overall. For example I could just say something like "Suggest me a game with at least 2.5 mastery, but not more than 1 narrative" which is way better than "Suggest me a hard game" in my opinion.

And finally, let's rank a game just to show you how one would do it. Also know that these scores are subjective, and different people might score games differently. I have chosen Spelunky 2 for this example, a game that I've been playing a fair bit and am somewhat familiar with. I'd give Mastery a 3.5, as I think spelunky is all about mastering the mechanics, items and monsters. It's a pretty difficult I'd give it a 3 in discovery also, as the game more than just encourages finding new areas/techniques. It's one of the major aspects of the game alongside Mastery, having a journal that you can complete. It somewhat encourages creativity and problem solving. Even though the game isn't really based around that, you can come up with some creative solutions to the problems the game presents. 1.5 for Creativity. It doesn't really have much of a story, so I'd give that a 0.5. And also 0.5 in Roleplaying. If you REALLY want to, you CAN roleplay as maybe a greedy character, or a pacifist one maybe? But that starts to tread in the "playing the game wrong" area.

Anyway, we have successfully categorized Spelunky 2. Now if I find any other game that has a score close to this, I can guess that it probably "feels" sort of like Spelunky 2 to play. And we can talk about how similar/different it is to other games without confusion or using vague terms like "roguelike real-time platformer arcade action-adventure game." (I know that's an exaggeration, but sometimes I feel like it's becoming more and more a reallity.)

What do you think? How can this system be improved? Do you think it's helpful or is there a better way to achieve the same results? Also I've made
a spreadsheet where I've scored a couple of games so you can have a better sense of how the scoring works. Thanks for reading my silly post and sorry if I sounded pretentious.

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