A Tale of Two Genres

By Rosemary Young and Gordon Aplin (January, 1999)
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way--in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. (Charles Dickens: A Tale of Two Cities)

The Best of Times
If we are to believe some of the commentators on adventure games this is indeed the best of times. Far from dying, the genre is experiencing a resurgence largely brought about by the use of 3D technology with all its attendant baggage. Now, at last, adventure players can experience the delights of unlimited combat, fast-paced action, running, jumping and turning somersaults. Action has replaced boring, obscure puzzles and the player has more choices: to back flip or forward roll?; use broadsword or spear?; shotgun or rocket launcher? No more pointless hunting for keys to open locked doors when you can just bash them in or blow them up, this is more realistic. And the player has been liberated from the tyranny of the mouse. Adventurers can now use the keyboard to navigate through the game world, or better still use their joystick or gamepad. No more cursor, no more pixel-hunting, just bump into things and keep moving, for action is the key. Yes! the adventure genre has been improved!

The Worst of Times
On the other hand, with all the frenzy to embrace this brave new, action-packed, world, no-one has thought to ask adventure players what they want. Instead they are being told, in no uncertain terms, to get used to it or get lost, for this is the way of the future. Genres are dead and the hybrid game is king. Now we have action/adventure, action/rpg, action/real-time strategy, action/arcade. What next, action/action? Anyone notice the common denominator? Why must every game be exactly the same? What if you don't like action in your games? Tough! Adventurers who do try to speak out against this trend are labelled dinosaurs. They are accused of being closed-minded. They are accused of limiting adventures by imposing too rigid a definition on the genre. They are being howled down by some of the 'noisiest authorities' for daring to express their concerns.

"The Footsteps Die out for Ever"
Now action/adventures are a legitimate genre and they have their place in the scheme of things, but so too do traditional (for want of a better term) adventure games. Yet, adventurers are being told that every game now is really an adventure game anyway so we shouldn't complain, we just need to open our minds and embrace action as part of a technology-led revolution. With so many hybrid games being produced there is a serious risk that all diversity will be lost. Those who crave action will, no doubt, be happy, but what about the rest of us? Must we simply get used to it? Are these changes really a far, far better thing...?

Copyright © Rosemary Young and Gordon Aplin 1999. All rights reserved.