What makes a Game Genre?

This is something I’ve found myself thinking of a lot lately as certain types of game tropes become more prevalent than others. It first came up when my husband and I were discussing wanting a specific type of game that just… does not exist because certain aspects always end up becoming part of the concept even though by genre alone, they shouldn’t be required.

In a similar boat, I stumbled upon people’s comments that A LOT of games under “Casual Simulation” “Wholesome” tend to have very similar mechanics such as many of the games having farming and when I kind of sat on it, and while I’m still looking forward to many of the games, it’s kind of true. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s another situation of wondering why this suddenly became a thing. Animal Crossing is a big series and even recently went the route of adding both farming and crafting in their most recent installment which most people enjoyed (farming more so than crafting though) but was something that really dragged the game down for me and tainted a series that was one of my all-time favorites.

And since Animal Crossing: New Horizon, I’ve constantly wondered why they felt they needed to add farming and crafting. Why is it that Simulation games seem to constantly need those features? I enjoyed both Animal Crossing and Harvest Moon, but for different things and the actual farming aspect of the latter was never the most enjoyable part for me. Unlike most people who play these games, I struggle with overly repetitive tasks. Sometimes the goal can outweigh it (For example, unless the mechanic is terrible, I can usually deal with fishing up to a certain point as long as I feel I have some control over it and the end goal motivates me).

For the most part, I actually enjoy catching Fish in Animal Crossing up until I accomplish the following goals:

  • I’ve caught one of each fish for the encyclopedia
  • I’ve completed that part of the museum
  • I have all the fish I’d want to just keep

And that’s it. Catching multiple of the same for exchanges? I may be able to stand it for a little while, but depending on rarity and the fishing mechanic, I can quickly find it grating. Catching to sell for gold? The monotony just gets to me. Which is exactly why farming tends to bore me because the entire point of it is constantly replanting items to sell for money. I can do one of each for maybe filling out some kind of encyclopedia, but anything more than that just isn’t very fun to me. So, as much as I love the Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons series, the joy for me came from caring for Animals and talking to characters– not the actual crop management system.

When I play a simulation game, I’m generally playing for customization fun, collecting, and relaxing, not grinding. Regardless of my personal feelings on it though, I think the biggest problem from all of this is that games constantly having these same features has honestly taken away from their uniqueness. So many games are just that same set-up with a different coat of paint and again, that isn’t always bad– there are tons of games where I’ve maybe really liked but just wished certain things were a bit different. The difference here is that somehow so many of the games in the same genre just… have a lot of the same features.

I loved Animal Crossing for the fun idea of moving out on our own and just befriending this town and making friends and meeting the NPCs. It was always a more relaxing time between just… having this house you can upgrade and collecting items and helping the store grow. And then it just… kept becoming more convoluted. You don’t just have to worry about your house and Nook’s, so many stores have upgrades. Oh, you have a tent now, forget starting with a house. Oh, you need to rebuild the entire town. Oh, you need to constantly gather up items for crafting (which, as someone who literally puts in the effort to stop making certain things even spawn due to my repetition issue, that has a whole slew of issues for me), and it’s like… I just want a cute game where I can collect items and hang out with these silly animals and decorate my house.

I think some customization can be fun– I think our role in New Leaf was nice and made things interesting without feeling overwhelming, even if there were so many different things to upgrade and open up which I had mixed feelings on but could handle. New Horizons was just… too much and even now (I started writing this post early last year for reference), my feelings on the game have gotten just… more dower, not better. Even the part of me that really wanted to play more Happy Home Paradise hasn’t felt motivated to and it’s made me so worried for what could be the next installment in a series that was very important to me.

In the same sense, Harvest Moon 64 has stuck around as my favorite Harvest Moon game for many reasons, between the smaller town, commemorative photos for certain cutscenes, and how house updates worked. I still loved the customization of A New Beginning and I think, if I could just buy stuff and switch out certain styles to customize over placing new furniture everywhere, that’s all I’d really want from it. And well, playing as a girl I can customize. But sometimes a concept is simple enough without needing to constantly add more and more to it.

Moving to other genres of games and what my husband and I first spoke about: The Exploration Genre which often goes hand and hand with both Crafting and Survival elements. And I hate both of these. My husband doesn’t mind the crafting as much, but he’s also not a huge fan of survival-based gameplay, partially as they tend to be fairly unrealistic (you will not die from hunger after a few hours of in-game time despite how much those games seem to want you to), but it’s just kind of annoying to have to keep checking into when you just want to explore.

For me, I’d find crafting a lot more palatable if rather than constantly needing to gather up a resource, once you discover it, you just have infinite of it to use. I like the discovery in exploration, but resource management and gathering is just exhausting for me and quickly grows stale, especially if I have to worry about my character’s health on top of it.

Our dream game would be exploring and finding like… cool artifacts to then display in whatever fashion and having a fun collectibles book and yet, any game we can think of with that element ends up adding usually at least a few of the following:

  • Survival
  • Crafting
  • Fighting/Some kind enemies
  • Stealth
  • RPG elements

And in my case, I like things more controlled. Full open Sandboxes often feel overwhelming, so I like when things feel a little more linear, so I don’t get distracted every 5 seconds checking every nook and cranny before taking more than two steps at any given time.

All of it just makes me wonder why so many elements go hand in hand. RPG stands for Roleplaying Game, yet you’ll rarely see it mentioned unless fighting is involved in some way, despite roleplaying being all kinds of things.

Survival almost always has Crafting, but why isn’t that solely on cooking and rather than building things up, you need to find things as you go? Survival can be brutal, but apparently you have the carpentry skills of a God I guess.

Crafting could so easily be its own thing for people who enjoy exploring and resource management, but it doesn’t always have to be tied into a way to make people stress. In the same sense, not every Simulation game needs to have crafting either or this slow build up. Sometimes you truly just want to take it slow and that’s okay.

Obviously, a lot of people like these genres or even the additions to them. Other times, maybe less actually do and certain other circumstances cause a game to blow up despite that.

I just wish we could continue to see more unique parts of a genre over seeing similar types of games rehash the exact same things over and over. It’s okay to do things simple and it’s okay to make things optional, but I wish more people would like at something and ask “Does the game actually benefit from adding this? Or is it just because *insertgameinspirationshere* is doing it?” And honestly, if the only reason is to extend game time, then it’s just the same excuse given for walling things altogether. Especially in simulation and exploration games, sometimes the best things come from just letting people go and do what they want and make their own goals– not having to slowly build up from nothing that by the time you get to where you need to be, you may not even be having fun anymore.