Essay: What defines a video game genre?

Genre is something that is already well known and established in other humanistic fields such as literature and film studies. But with games only recently entering the academic scene as a valid area of study, the specifics of what defines a genre is once again opened up for questioning.
As consumers, we generally think of a genre as being a combination of the many individual components of the game production pipeline: Art, sound, setting, story, player goals and challenges. They all have an impact on which category the game eventually fits into, and this makes it easy for consumers to pick up something they know they will like.
But with recent academics debates raging – narratology versus ludology, and the difference between interactive games and other media – it might not be that simple.
This essay sets out to understand what defines a game genre, both from an academic standpoint, and in terms of how they are produced. Do the same rules that apply to film and literature apply to games? Or are games a completely separate entity, when it comes to genre?

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Narratives in Games (Tetris vs. Firewatch)

Do games tell stories? It depends on who you ask.
One side of the academic curve claims that, games are simply a slightly different medium meant for telling stories, exactly like movies and books, while the other side claims that games are completely separate from storytelling. This discussion is what is known as the narratology versus ludology debate.
But, is it really possible to take such an aggressive standpoint when the presence of story in games varies so incredibly much?

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Video Games versus Feedback: Perceivable consequence

When we press a light switch, we expect a light to turn on somewhere. If a light doesn’t turn on, then we get confused, or frustrated, or decide that the damned thing is broken and walk away. This comes down to the fact that a common light switch is a well designed product with good user feedback.
But is this universal design rule also always the case in video game design, or can we simply ignore reliable response on purpose?
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Is the Magic Circle real?

In 1938, long before the rise of digital games, Johan Huizinga wrote the theory of the magic circle. His rule implies that, when playing games, participants will physically sit in the same room around a table, or compete on the same sports field. But, with recent games like Pokémon Go breaking traditional boundaries for where the magic circle takes place, is his theory invalid and outdated? Does new technology make the theory obsolete?

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What are Game Mechanics?

Despite “game mechanics” being one of the most mentioned phrases of game production and consuming alike, as I entered the Games Design course at LCC, it occurred to me that I – or any of my classmates – did not actually have a clear definition of what they are.

So I entered on a journey, attempting to find out what exactly game mechanics are, and if they are definable at all.

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Self-censorship and the Cultural Edge

Players picking up new games will have certain expectations of the content.

By drifting into niches and tabu subjects, game studios run the risk of loosing players, either because the players might not be old enough to handle the content (heavy violence or sexual themes) or because certain groups of society simply finds the content offensive (religious themes).

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