Don’t Be a Genre Snob

At the Nordic Game Conference this week, Zoe Mode creative director Ste Curran delivered a speech comparing the decline of punk rock and is similarities to gaming.

Discussing the ideas of music and gaming condescension and the titles of “gamers” and “punks” having a negative connotation that has evolved to being more socially acceptable over the years, Curran’s speech was centralized around one main idea: don’t be a close-minded genre snob.

“Learn to understand why people play. Play the stuff you ignore because it’s manufactured,” he said, encouraging gamers to step outside of their respective comfort zones and try something new. “Play everything and apply that to every part of your lives.”

This statement struck me. Generally, I consider myself an open-minded person. I like all types of music. I enjoy most types of food. I try to dabble in all kinds of film or books whenever possible.

But do I do the same with gaming? Do gamers in general have a hang-up with games outside of their favorite genres?

Mention Call of Duty to a gamer, and nine times out of ten, you’ll get either a thumbs-up or an eye roll. Even I’ve been guilty of calling it a “bro” shooter in the past, and a lot of people I talk to have called for the franchise to end.

But why does it need to? Why can’t it simply exist alongside the other games we all enjoy playing?

I don’t mean to embark on a post about how wonderful the Call of Duty series is. My point is this; the series, love it or hate it, has helped to usher in a population that loves to play it. 50 year-olds will log on now and be playing in the same match as college students and grade school kids. Would these people be plugged in and playing online for any other game? Who knows? But the mere fact that it has the across-the-board draw that it does means that the game is doing its part to further legitimize gaming as a whole.

The same thing can be applied to motion control games. A similar love-it-or-hate-it response is most likely what you’ll get out of a traditional gamer when you mention the Wii, Move, or Kinect, but look at what they’ve done. Thanks to the Wii, there are elderly people in nursing homes playing video games when they plug into bowling on Wii Sports. Alongside giving gamers a new and different experience to try, the Kinect has ushered in a new breed of party games and at-home fitness programs.

Of course, we all have our own personal tastes that we may enjoy more than others. And it’s not reasonable to expect everyone everywhere to run out and buy every single new game on the market (not to mention expensive). There will be things you simply don’t enjoy, and that’s fine.

But it’s this idea of “shut-out anything that doesn’t appear to be ‘hardcore'” that is harmful to the industry. Whether or not you enjoy playing Just Dance or if you really do want to see the death of the Call of Duty franchise, just remember this; somewhere out there, there are people who love those games that, had those games never been created, might not have picked up gaming as a side hobby.

Curran also mentions in his speech that the more people are involved with the industry, the more we see new ideas and the overall evolution of gaming as a whole.

“The conversation in games is wider now, and we can make it even wider by bringing in new creatives. We have to put away our preconceptions and realize there is no one true way to make or play games. There are hundreds, millions of things to play, and we’re discovering new ones all the time.”

Of course, if one simply looks at our short history this is made evident. Thirty years ago, we made pixelated blobs jump from platform to platform on a screen with two buttons and a D-pad. Now you can go pick up a game on the Kinect for your three year old and a hardcore shooter for yourself in the same trip to Best Buy. It used to be mainly kids toting Game Boys with them everywhere they went, but we now see businessmen playing Angry Birds on their iPhone while waiting for the bus.Where we once had strict expectations of genres, we now see blending in titles, where shooters combine RPG elements, or platformers include a stealth mechanic. In the end, the departure from the strict genre identity is a good thing; it has revolutionized games, and made their appeal greater across the board.

And the greater the appeal, the larger the audience becomes, making gaming a widespread activity that anyone can take part of, despite their age and gaming experience or preferences.

So, even if it looks like something you’re not even mildly interested in, don’t shut out the idea of a game. Don’t call for its end, don’t condemn the people who play it, and don’t attach a negative connotation to titles like “casual gamer” or “bro shooter”.

Instead, be an open-minded gamer. You might be surprised to enjoy something you never thought you would.




(For Gamasutra’s write-up of the Curran speech, click here)