Blithe Femme

"X-like" genre names are good

I use rateyourmusic, which means I have the RYMer disease of spending too much time thinking about silly things like genres, their names, and how they form one massive tree. I'm fully aware that it's absurd over-categorizaiton of an infinitely complex artform, but that categorization enables making discoveries and connections that are incredibly difficult to do without using genre as a framework. "Genre" and "scene" are the most useful tools we have for understanding music in aggregate, giving us categories that we know are false and reductive but which solve important problems in communicating about something as difficult to pin down as music.

In comparison to music, genre labels for games are much broader. While I can expect other music nerds to understand specific labels like "Microhouse" or "Atmospheric Black Metal", I can't really expect the same out of people equally into video games. Much of the press and storefronts selling games still give us near-meaningless labels like "Action-Adventure" or more meaningful but still broad terms like "Real Time Strategy". For the most part, our vocabulary is limited to terms like these, which I find limits conversation and common understanding in an incredibly frustrating way.

However, there are some notable examples which often find themselves under debate. The most obvious of these is "metroidvania", a mashing together of two popular and pioneering series into a genre. Lots of people hate this one, and though I adore it I totally understand some of the opposition: Castlevania didn't even become a "metroidvania" until long after the genre had been codified. If your reason for disliking the term is historical inaccuracy, then fine. I'd rather have Zelda II or Faxanadu treated as a pioneer than a series which didn't end up there for another couple generations. I don't think "metroidvania" needs changing, but I wouldn't mind if we just switched in the titles it drew from.

Others find it to be silly, with one half-joking criticism being that if other genres were named this way, we'd have similarly ridiculous names like "wolfendoom" instead of "first person shooter". This is the criticism I take more issue with. While "wolfendoom" was made up as a joke, many will be quick to point out that "Doom clone" was once the term for what is now an "FPS", and I think something was lost with the adoption of the newer term.

"Doom clone", "roguelike", and "metroidvania" all carry history. Stop and think for a moment: would anyone beyond retro gaming nerds know about Rogue if its name wasn't pulled for an incredibly popular genre? Would it be nearly as well understood that free-roaming action games with light RPG mechanics descend from games like Metroid and Symphony of the Night if we just called them "platform adventure" games? This is common practice in music, where scenes and individual styles often grow beyond their original range into genres of their own. "Trap" comes from the T.I. record Trap Muzik (depending on who you ask). "Black Metal" comes from the Venom song of the same name. "Free Jazz" comes from the Ornette Coleman record also of the same name. You get the idea.

These terms help create an understanding of games that is grounded in context, rather than dry mechanical description. They force us to remember that games exist within a broader culture and encourage literacy in that culture, even if just a little bit.

In my stubbornness, I'm thinking about using some lesser-used terms and maybe some ones only I use. I already prefer "0451 game" to "immersive sim", and may adopt "shocklike" instead. "Diablolike" is much better than "action RPG". Maybe "zorklike" for goal-oriented parser interactive fiction? I gotta think of some more. Maybe I'll work "wolfendoom" into my vocabulary too.

#gaming #genres #metroidvania #rym