At the Gates of Genre
At the gates of Genre, Saint Pong-paddle awaits. Newly minted video games must register their official genre here.
Being two-dimensional and rather dated, graphically, St. Pong-paddle cannot handle a feathered quill and instead bounces a square cube into the appropriate category. It's a fun way to stay culturally relevant, at least until the inevitable HD remix of Pong.
The day's categorization has already begun. Modern Warfare 2 approaches first, warily checking the horizon for snipers before clicking the left stick to rush to the gate.
St. Pong-paddle says, "Soldier, I really shouldn't have to ask, but for the record: What genre are you?"
Modern Warfare 2 replies, "I'm a first-person shooter. Bang bang, tango n00bs!"
"Of course you are," says St. Pong-paddle, and knocks a cube into the FPS box. Modern Warfare 2 goes prone and crawls through the gates.
Dragon Age arrives next, covered in flecks of blood and glowing with at least three stat-enhancing buffs. With every step, magical breastplates and shields tumble out of a backpack that is obviously too small to contain them.
St. Pong-paddle selects from a menu of dialog choices. "3. Pretend I am speaking with a slight English accent. Pray, what genre faction do you identify with?"
Dragon Age's saucy response: "1. I carry the weight and grandeur of a role-playing game. Shall I unbuckle thy +3 corset, my lady?"
There is no dialog option to explain that a vertical line cannot wear a corset, so St. Pong-paddle chooses "4. [Awkward silence]". At least the question was answered. Dragon Age takes ten minutes to optimize its equipment, and finally strides through the gate after picking the lock several times for extra experience points.
St. Pong-paddle trick-shots a cube off several walls and into the RPG category, enjoying how well the day is going -- how straightforward. It's nice when new games know their roots and stick to their tropes. The growl of an auto engine in the distance heralds the arrival of the third game of the day. A driving game, certainly. Forza 3?
No. Something else. Something difficult. Brutal Legend roars up to the gates, jumping out of a skull-laden hot rod just before it crashes into the wall.
"Jesus Christ," says St. Pong-paddle. "Doesn’t that thing have brakes?"
"I don’t think so," replies Brutal Legend. "That wouldn't be very hardcore."
"Well you’ve ruined your ride. And my wall, incidentally."
"No problem. I can always get another car, just by playing a rhythm mini-game!"
Brutal Legend unsheathes its guitar. The ripping guitar solo that follows has the unfortunate effect of setting St. Pong-paddle ablaze. Luckily, the high-resolution flames quickly glitch and sputter out, incompatible with St. Pong-paddle's primitive form.
"Whoops," says Brutal Legend. "Wrong solo."
St. Pong-paddle says, "Ow, my pixels. Okay. Let's just get this over with. You've decided? You're a driving game with rhythm components?"
"Not exactly," replies Brutal Legend. "I have this axe too. It’s for smashing."
Brutal Legend smashes the gate to Genre with a resounding clang.
"Stop that," says St. Pong-paddle. "Third-person brawler, then? With questionable auto-targeting?"
"Getting closer," says Brutal Legend. "But I didn't mention my army yet."
A large group of cavemen and groupie sluts rush up to the gate and begin gnawing furiously at the iron bars.
"They like metal," explains Brutal Legend.
St. Pong-paddle is horrified. "Select them! Select them and right-click away from there! Micro-manage those idiots!"
"Not really my thing," says Brutal Legend. "They sorta listen when I play solos, but I’m not a thoroughbred real-time strategy game. There’s no clicking."
"Then what the hell are you supposed to be?" asks St. Pong-Paddle, glaring at the recalcitrant army.
Brutal Legend draws itself up proudly. "I am a bastard child of the schizophrenic postmodern age. Know only that I am metal, and that I was forged from the raw materials of innumerable genres. No single acronym can contain my all. I am pure hybrid."
"That's not going to work," says St. Pong-paddle. "Grandiose, yes. I bet you worked on that speech for a long time. But you know you need to pick a proper genre for the record."
"Why?" asks Brutal Legend.
An uncomfortable pause follows.
"Well," begins St. Pong-paddle. "We need something short and snappy to put on your box and in your reviews. Players need to know what to expect. What games you're similar to. How you play. Your place in the glorious Darwinian rhizome of video games."
"I already told you. I'm heavy metal. Lot of history there, no?"
"Music genre doesn’t work here. Well, it does, sorta, but only as a corollary. As a setting. Some people called Halo a sci-fi FPS, but we all know that the first-person shooting is the important part. The kids shoot things, they get good at shooting things, and they want to buy a new playground to shoot things in and improve their shooting. Recycle to infinity. They could do it in space, or they could do it in Candyland. Shooting is a transferable skill."
"If you watch any game for about five minutes or so, you should be able to identify a core set of actions: the recurring gameplay loop. There's your starting point. Speaking of which, maybe I should just call you a multifaceted Gate-Destroying Simulator and be done with it."
Brutal Legend snorts. "It's not like I'm the first game to defy the establishment's lame taxonomy, you know. Remember Puzzle Quest?"
"Pretty easy classification, if you ask me. The word 'puzzle' is in the title. Puzzle genre."
"Blue Dragon? I met that game earlier. A bunch of huge-eyed kids JRPG-ing it up, and all of a sudden they're shooting moons with laser guns and flying around in a rail shooter segment and doing Quick Time Events to lock robots in a closet or some sh*t. That's some serious hybrid right there."
"Let's not talk about Blue Dragon's identity issues. It spent a good deal of time in counseling before it remembered that it was an RPG."
"What if you played me with a mouse and keyboard? Messed with the hardware? Would that change my genre?"
"Maybe," says St. Pong-paddle, feeling uncomfortable. "Some players think that certain genres work best with a particular type of controller. It’s complicated."
"I'm complicated too," says Brutal Legend.
"Yes," says St. Pong-paddle. "Yes you are. But listen. I've just devised this great new category for games such as yourself. It's called 'Action': terribly redundant for a video game, and not very descriptive, but it'll hold for now."
"Action," muses Brutal Legend. "Yes. Yes! They'll never see me coming. Everybody will assume I'm like Final Fight or something, and then POW! Stage battle! Drive around! Find all those dragons! Buy weapons from Ozzy Osbourne!"
"Indeed," says St. Pong-paddle.
"By the way," says Brutal Legend, finally convincing its army to abandon the ravaged gate and move on through, "What genre are you supposed to be, Pong?"
Brutal Legend raises an eyebrow. "Really? Sports? If you say so."
"I'm like tennis!" St. Pong-paddle yells after the vanishing horde. "I'm tennis, goddamn it!"
St. Pong-paddle sends a cube into the yawning crevasse of Action (wow, this'll be a huge category in a few years), and surveys the damage. The gates of Genre have been badly beaten, but remain upright for now.