Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Writing to Genre

I have been having a slow revelation. At first it was entirely unconscious, but gradually I became aware of the process.This concerns writing to genre. I have noticed that I no longer care about genre when designing and writing a game. It is only after the game is substantially complete that I even think about the genre of the game.

For example, when I was working on Volant, I paid no attention to what genre Volant fit into. It was only when I had sent the game out for Beta Testing and had to write *about* the game that it even occurred to me that I needed to pigeon-hole it. People use genre as a quick litmus test of interest - "Is it Science Fiction? Then I'm in!" "I love post apocalypse games!" "Steampunk? God! I loathe Steampunk!" Once it had passed the genre test, then actual consideration of the game itself takes place. Was Volant Fantasy? Yes. It fit the profile - kind of. Was Volant Post-Apoc? Yep - again, kind of. Was Volant SF?  Steampunk? Clockwork Punk? *punk? I threw up my hands. At a certain point, these labels had become meaningless to me.

Some people build around a central, typical story - "What do you do in this game?" "In this game you strive against the Overlord to win souls before the doomsday clock strikes midnight." "In this game you try to keep one payment ahead of the banks who want to repossess your spaceship." "In this game you purify the faithful in distant lands to prevent them from falling into apostasy". Of course you don't *have* to play them that way, but that was the designer's intent.

This doesn't work for me. I just don't think that way. I think stuff like "What kinds of stories could evolve in this place that would be different from those set somewhere else? How would these things affect what happens here? What would the people from this place be like? Why would they be like that? Would that be interesting?"

As usual for my games, Volant was defined differently in my mind. I tend to build games around core accoutrements rather than genre. Giant riding birds, floating islands, no magic except for alchemy, micro-civilizations, religions built on faith not proof, complex insular cultures, and sailing shps carved from the floating stone. These *tags* defined the game for me, not genre. As I looked back on the games I had written, the same pattern of building around accoutrements rather than genre asserted itself again and again.

Maybe this is why none of my games ever take off with the public. They fit into several genres, or none at all. There is no "typical" way to play. They seldom are usable without personalization - I give too much design power/work to the group instead of doing the design myself, lazy bastard! Even though I work within the traditional  envelope, people don't understand what's in them at a glance. Interesting - to me at least! :D



  1. I think you can write to genre, without artificially forcing a game to be specifically narrowed to playing 'one way." For example Volant, is a game that is fantasy, and about whatever kinds of adventures the GM/players want to create--but it has genre elements that define it as fantastic, rules for giant birds, flying rocks, alchemy.

    Just as H&S is a genre driven game, but doesn't force one to play specific kinds of superheroes. (Well, mostly.)

  2. Tim - I wasn't talking about other people, nor was I saying that writing to genre is bad. All I was saying is that that's not how I work when I'm writing a game. Of course writing a game to genre works! Just not how I do it.