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Video game genres

A video slideshow on video game genres.
Having considered the narrative shell of game character design, we can now shift to consider how game characters are constructed in terms of their gameplay core. As before, we can transfer our understanding of how games as a whole are designed on to game characters. And perhaps the best place to start this discussion is with genres of video game. As with any taxonomy of design, it is perhaps best to look to genres as being descriptive rather than prescriptive. Game genres tell us something about types of gameplay and game objects that will be involved in a game– the common mechanics and play styles. In practise, however, video games tend not to be so easily allocated to a single genre.
Since the turn of the millennium, we’ve seen a gradual bleeding of genre boundaries, the combinations of genres, and even the emergence of new genres and sub-genres. There are many common genres of video game, some with long histories that predate digital games, and others are relatively new and unique to modern video gaming. Not all genres impact on character design in a meaningful way. Indeed, some genres downplay the importance of characters– racing simulations for example. In order to maintain our focus on game character design within the context of play, we’ll consider some of the main, overarching genres, and discuss how these genres can impact on the design of characters.
Let’s start with the most fundamental digital game genre, the action game. Action games are games that are “twitch” based. This means that players are required to respond quickly using skill based actions. These actions tend to be simpler than in other genres due to the emphasis on response and skill. Common forms of action gameplay are shooting, running, and jumping. These forms of gameplay might even underpin sub-genres of action game, such as first-person shooters, space shooters, fighting games, and platform games. If we are considering character design in relation to genre, then right away the action engine tells us something about who our characters are.
Typically, characters in action games are physically empowered or skilled– strong, fast, agile, et cetera– a necessity for the types of gameplay they will be involved in. Empowerment is a key consideration here. We might even say that empowerment is the primary aesthetic experience when a player takes control of an action game character. Moving on, let’s consider the adventure game. In its traditional sense, this genre did not contain twitch or competitive gameplay, instead placing a strong emphasis on narrative. Adventure games typically focus on interaction with other characters to progress the story, and hence the game, and feature a lot of dialogue compared to other genres. Today, the adventure genre is more often seen integrated into other genres, particularly action and RPG genres.
Dialogue choices and scene exploration are key features of the genre, both of which concern storytelling– through characterisation or the environment. For game character design, then, the adventure genre leads us to consider narrative much more deeply, as we would anticipate greater emphasis being placed not only on the player character, but also the cast of non-player characters in the game.
When it comes to memorable game characters, characters within RPGs, Role Play Games, tend to feature prominently. This includes various types of RPG, encompassing game series such as Mass Effect, Final Fantasy, and the Legend of Zelda. RPGs tend to emphasise configurable characters. In other words, players can pick from different types of pre-set character and/or customise the skill sets and attributes of characters, and strong storylines. RPGs tend to provide a lot of scope for appearance customisation, and characters typically develop skills and collect more advanced items as they progress through the game. Additionally, RPGs tend to feature a large cast of characters that the player can interact with.
As we might expect, then, the design of game characters for RPGs will often need to account for the degree to which a player can project themselves into the role. This could include core customizations, such as selecting sex, gender identity, and ethnicity, as well as subtler customizations, such as adjusting attire, piercings, tattoos, or even voice Strategy games involve complex and difficult choices, and as such tend to rely less on reactive play. Some strategy games might even make use of turn-based play. Strategy games typically emphasise themes of exploration, trade, and conquest.
Although many archetypal strategy games focus on a society or empire with limited focus on individual characters, the strategy genre requires a high degree of balance between large numbers of character types. The abilities, powers, and attributes of these characters must be balanced because their design underpins the difficult decisions that players are required to make in gameplay. Players are often tasked with deciding which characters to use in a given context.
Simulation games focus on the management, and maintenance of a process They are similar to strategy games in that complex and informed decisions need to be made, but a greater emphasis is placed on management of resources and construction. Also like strategy games, simulations tend to like an explicit focus on characters, but The Sims 4 is a prime example of a heavily character-based simulation game. Sports games, for the most part, are an effective form of simulation. Dependent on the sport, there is likely to be a mixture of action and strategy gameplay.
In terms of characters in sports games, there’s a need for a degree of authenticity not only in presentation, but also in the experience of play, given that the idea behind sports characters is that they are a simulation of real world athletes. This can often bleed into the whole design and branding of a game, and many sports titles, such as the sports games developed by Electronic Arts, utilise not only virtual appearance of real world stars, but also their digitally captured movements for added authenticity. In this video we have started to think beyond game narrative by considering how gameplay impacts upon our design and experience of game characters.
We discussed genre as a means of identifying archetypes of play in digital games, but we know that genres are extensive and can be readily merged and combined in different ways for new game experiences. In the next video, we will aim to look more deeply at theories of gameplay in relation to character design.

Progressing from consideration of narrative theory for games, we will now discuss how the design and structure of video games interacts with the design of game characters. Firstly, we will discuss video game genres.

This video introduces some of the overarching genres we use to identify game types. What are your favourite game genres? What about more niche genres, or genres that combine other more traditional genres?

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Video Game Design and Development: Video Game Character Design

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