Genre and Game Studies: Toward a Critical Approach to Video Game Genres

TitleGenre and Game Studies: Toward a Critical Approach to Video Game Genres
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2006
AuthorsApperley, Thomas H.
JournalSimulation & Gaming
Keywordsgenre, interactivity, remediation, video game

This article examines the notion of genre in video games. The main argument is that the market-based categoriesof genre that have been developed in the context of video games obscure the new medium’s crucial
defining feature, by dividing them into categories (loosely) organized by their similarities to prior forms of
mediation. The article explores the inherent tension between the conception of video games as a unified new
media form, and the current fragmented genre-based approach that explicitly or implicitly concatenates
video games with prior media forms. This tension reflects the current debate, within the fledgling discipline
of Game Studies, between those who advocate narrative as the primary tool for understanding video games,
“narratologists,” and those that oppose this notion, “ludologists.” In reference to this tension, the article
argues that video game genres be examined in order to assess what kind of assumptions stem from the uncritical
acceptance of genre as a descriptive category. Through a critical examination of the key game genres,
this article will demonstrate how the clearly defined genre boundaries collapse to reveal structural similarities
between the genres that exist within the current genre system, defined within the context of visual
aesthetic or narrative structure. The inability of the current genre descriptions to locate and highlight these
particular features suggests that to privilege the categories of the visual and narrative is a failure to understand
the medium. The article concludes by suggesting that the tension between “ludology” and
“narratology” can be more constructively engaged by conceptualizing video games as operating in the
interplay between these two taxonomies of genre.