The Escapist tries its hand at a subject which absorbs an embarrassingly large amount of my idle thoughts: the classification of genres. They call their proposal “the genre wheel”, a name that mostly operates to obstruct the fact that they have basically just created coordinate plane. On one axis is Strategy vs. Action while the other axis represents Exploration vs. Combat:
We started with what we believe to be the two main types of play: Action and Strategy. (If you subscribe to the theory that all games are wargames, then you could call these divisions “tactical” and “strategic.”) What is the difference between Action and Strategy? Well, in an Action game, you are in direct control. In other words, you are your avatar and its success depends on your own abilities to respond to challenges and reach your goals…
A Strategy game, on the other hand, calls for a more distant point of view. You may still be focused on a single avatar, but you don’t inhabit it the way you would in an Action game. Meeting the challenges of the game is based more on what the avatar or avatars can do than on any physical ability of the player. Success in strategy games depends more on your decisions and less on your reflexes. You frequently are attempting to juggle multiple inputs and are often indirectly influencing what happens on-screen..
Strategy games are large, cerebral, and academic. Action games are immediate, smaller in scale and more visceral. One is contemplative, the other reactionary. Utilizing these two divisions, we felt we could move forward and further classify the experience of play.
Yet if every game is either an Action or a Strategy game at its core, then what to make of both types frequently featuring similar modes of play? Combat, or “Conflict” features prominently in strategy games, many of which are in fact wargames, but Conflict is also a prominent feature of many games that would be considered Action games. Conflict here merely means that the primary challenge in a game is presented by other similarly powered avatars. We contrast that with games of “Exploration,” where the primary challenge is merely surviving or traversing the environment itself. Now the environment in this case may be defined as a physical space, as in a game like Sonic, or it may simply be a story, as in many adventure games.
The distinction is serviceable enough, focusing on the players actions and involvement over the game’s structure or purpose (my preferred approach). I am a bit unclear about some groupings (driving games and action-adventure do not seem immediately similar), but others are illuminating (grouping platformers and music games together, both rush games that require quick reflexes and the ability to accurately survey the upcoming “landscape” is genius, even if neither have much to do with survival horror).
I do have a problem with their theory of complementation (where one would be expected to like games on opposite ends of the wheel) not only for being quite facially ridiculous and failing a quick sniff test (my beloved strategy games are directly opposite vehicle sims, the genre I probably most loathe). But more substantively, it belies that the graph’s creators simply did not understand the nature of the dual-axied classification they devised and truly bought into the whole wheel thing. Genres opposite along the four cardinal directions will obviously have elements in common, because only one variable changes as you switch from one to the other, while games separated by diagonal hold no elements in common and one would expect (as with strategy games/vehicle sims as well as shooters/adventure games) that fans of one would not be amenable in the least to the other. This seems pretty obvious and I am surprised the editors stuck with their mysticism of the wheel approach here, when what is going on is pretty obvious.