What's in a genre? Quite a lot, in fact. But the most important aspect of a genre is that it gives you some idea of what kind of experience you're in for when you boot up a given game.
Some might argue that genres are unnecessary labels, pigeonholing the gaming experience into commercial categories. That argument misses the point that these are games we're talking about, not children. Telling a child he's a farm worker before he's had an opportunity to discover his true potential may deprive the world of a future CEO, or artist, or rocket scientist. Calling a game an RPG, however, simply makes it easier to find on the store shelf.
More to the point, identifying genres also helps developers make better games. Newcomers to designing in a given genre can look to established principles for guidance on what to do - and what not to do - to make a successful game. Knowing the rules, so to speak, also helps in learning how to break them. A game like Batman: Arkham Asylum is hard to classify specifically because the developer, Rocksteady, hand-picked successful gameplay elements from multiple genres to create something entirely new, something we have yet to learn how to classify but that sold millions of copies.
For this week's issue of The Escapist, we're focusing on genres. Later in the week we'll be publishing a master list of game genres and the games that defined them. Today, Michael K. Stangeland Jr. gives us a look at how Super Mario Bros. defined a genre; Matt Cabral tours Disneyland with Warren Spector, the man behind Epic Mickey, this winter's latest genre hit; Spanner Spencer makes a case for ignoring genres and The Escapist's Managing Editor Steve Butts and I introduce our "Genre Wheel," a tool that will help you to understand how we classify games into genres at The Escapist and how it may teach you a little bit about why you play the games you play.