Imagine a typical video game player, what comes to mind? Perhaps a college boy glued to a console all day and night. But “gamers”—people who play video games—are much more diverse than that. Game players range from preschool-aged children exploring shapes and colors to seniors playing word puzzles on iPads. 25% of gamers are under 18 and another quarter are over 50.
How do gamers, educators, game designers, manufacturers, players, parents of young gamers, and scholars find information related to the multitude of video games?
Thank You Mario! But That Information is in Another Castle
Current sources of video game information require users to cross-reference multiple sites for accurate information. Video game organization within the field of library science often require bibliographic information that emphasizes the physical description of the game rather than what the game is actually about. Additionally, the metadata across many game-related websites are uncontrolled, meaning there is no accepted standard for describing games consistently or even correctly.
Without clear, comprehensive descriptions it can be challenging for a player to find similar games or generate recommendations for new games based on what he/she enjoyed previously. Many commercial game websites use their own terms for describing information like genre, with local definitions that do not match across different sites.
Ratings are Not Enough
Most commercial websites provide ESRB ratings, but is that enough? Previous research found significant amounts of violence (30.7%) in E-rated video games as well as potentially objectionable sexual content and the presence of alcohol. While many of the current games have ESRB content descriptors (violence, sexual content, profanity, or use of tobacco, alcohol, and other substances, gambling, nudity) assigned, do those encompass all of the information that affects how parents decide which games to purchase?
Would You Kindly…Consider These Facets?
At the heart of this problem is the issue of video game genres. Genre is one of the major modes by which video game information is organized and accessed, and yet it remains largely unstandardized and disputed within the gaming community.
To address these problems, members of the GAMER Group conducted a study in which over 800 genre labels were collected, organized, edited, and identified. This list was collected from game-related websites, online directories, encyclopedias, and previous literature related to game genres. After a final list was compiled, the remaining labels were organized into categories (facets) and given definitions.
In the end, 12 facets were identified, with associated terms (foci) and definitions. These facets include:
Traditionally associated with the genre of a game, gameplay is defined as “the overall nature of the experience defined by a pattern of interactions and game rules.” The 10 foci are: Action, Action/Adventure, Driving/Racing, Fighting, Puzzle, RPG, Shooter, Simulation, Sports, and Strategy.
A sub-categorization under gameplay, defined as “a particular characteristic, mode of action, or manner of a gameplay.” This facet provides more detailed information related to the gameplay (e.g. platformer, MMORPG).
The intended use of the game, as determined largely by the developer. This is divided into the following foci: Education, Entertainment, Exercise, Meditation, Party, and Social.
4. Target Audience
The group of people the game is intended for; the ages deemed appropriate for the game. Pre-existing ratings such as the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) and other related rating systems were used for the foci.
Defined as “the manner or style of game display.” The foci are: 2D, 3D, Isometric, Static Background, Vertical Scrolling, Side scrolling, Grid-based, Video Backdrop, Text-based, and Perspective Manipulation. This facet functions as more of a technical description of visual display, as opposed to the artistic style facet.
6. Artistic Style
The “cohesive and unifying visual aesthetic” of the game. Foci include: Cartoon, Anime/Manga, Retro, Realistic, Abstract, Handicraft, Watercolor, Cel-shaded, and Wireframe.
7. Temporal Aspect
How time passes in the game. The foci are: Real-time, Turn-based, Time manipulation, Time travel, Multiple game clocks, Calendar-based game clock, and Timed action.
The perspective from which the player experiences the gameplay. The foci are: first person, third person, overhead, multiple, and other.
This identifies “the common thread or ideas that recur in the game.”
The environment where the game takes place, as divided into spatial and temporal categories.
Defined as “the pervading atmosphere or tone of the video game which evokes or recalls a certain emotion or state of mind.” This is divided into 15 foci: Adventurous, Aggressive, Cute, Dark, Horror, Humorous, Inspirational, Intense, Light-hearted, Mysterious, Peaceful, Sarcastic, Sensual, Solitary, and Quirky.
12. Type of Ending
The “method by which the player is lead to gameplay culmination.” A less common criteria in currently available sources, this facet identifies how the game ends. The foci are: Branching, Circuitous, Finite, Infinite, and Post-game.
This study, entitled “Facet Analysis of Video Game Genres,” is a part of the GAMER Group’s larger research project, the UW/SIMM Video Game Metadata Schema, a set of metadata elements which will allow for the organizing and cataloging of video games and interactive media. Future research will focus on further definition of terms, and on feedback from actual gamers to determine the usefulness of breaking down genre as a schema for searching for games.
To find out more about the current status of this research, please visit the Group’s webpage.
(Editor’s note: This article was co-authored by iSchool faculty member and head of the GAMER Group Jin Ha Lee.)