Imagine taking your sweet, honey buns to a theater for a Friday night dinner and movie date. You have no idea what's playing, but you go anyway. As you look at the list of films, you can easily get the jist of what you’re about to experience simply by looking at the title and genre. An action movie? Well, that's guns, gore, and explosions. Comedy? It'll make you laugh (hopefully). Rom com? You'll hurl from the corny dialogue. A movie can be defined in a few short words, and as soon as you hear them, your expectations are set. So, why can't we do this anymore with video games?
In the Bungie Weekly Update (opens in new tab) for the upcoming title Destiny (opens in new tab), an interesting question was brought up to the Destiny developers: "Do you guys ever get tired of people calling it an MMO?" To that, the developers stated that they welcome the debate of defining the game, that the ideas used to create the upcoming shooter came from many different places, and that they're excited to see how players define Destiny once they get a chance to play it. Up to now, Destiny has been described as a "shared-world shooter," "sci-fi open-world game," "MMO," or just plainly an "action game" on the official site. So, which one is it? But more importantly, should you even care?
Bungie seems to be content with leaving Destiny's genre classification up in the air. After all, what the developer says is true, the game does have MMO elements, but there's some other stuff in there that doesn't make it an ideal example of the genre. But identifying a game's genre seems to be an issue that many game developers have been struggling with in the last generation. Some game makers are beginning to refuse to define their games and be associated with genre tropes. Instead, they're leaving us with nonsensical non-descriptors like "persistent world massively multiplayer third-person shooter."
Trion World's Defiance was one game that outright rejected the MMO label from (what we can only guess) a fear of losing action gamers that the title was trying to attract with its third-person shooting combat. If the game fell under the MMO umbrella, those that would place a premature judgement on the game based on the genre classification would skip it. If that fear is warranted, then Destiny would potentially lose sales from certain potential buyers shying away from the intimidating MMO genre, if it was called an MMO. But, the problem is that's not even an accurate description.
Seriously, terms like MMO, platformer, action-adventure, and RPG are entirely genre interchangeable now. It would be really tough to define our games with one word descriptors like Action and Comedy. Games are just getting too complex for that. Perhaps we need to start coming up with new genres for our games (opens in new tab) because the old ones don't really make sense anymore. New genre names might be a good long-term solution because trying to describe the type of game I'm playing with, "Well, its an online, action-based, emergent, mythic sci-fi first-person shooter MMORPG that sorta plays like Halo" just isn't cutting it.
Bungie is playing it smart by letting gamers decide where to place Destiny's genre (if they even bother). The "try if for yourself" approach is more likely to welcome you in than single you out with labels. Then, once you actually pick up the controller and enjoy the game you might not care what they call it anymore. Games have been borrowing elements, ideas, and concepts from every end of the video game spectrum to merge genres and break convention for years now. Maybe it's time we abandon these archaic genre terms and just start having fun playing some games.