Write about games, Melos! (#3: I Don’t Like Genres, but I like Final Fantasy 14)

Well, looks like I missed my weekly deadline, oops… anyways, it’s officially “Fall” now! Today was “Respect the Seniors” day in Japan. Technically I was supposed to work, but instead I walked for like 2 hours and bought some books, and enjoyed some rooftop, open-air food court dining.

Somehow today’s post is about Final Fantasy 14, and also “Genres” in games or something… stay with me, hehe…

But yes, it’s fall, which means it’s seasonally time for me to feel nostalgic over apple cider donuts, bratwurst, and average USA Midwest Oktoberfest foods… great things that Japan doesn’t have. As well as some elementary-school-related things. (I think it’s often the smell of cool air.) The other day, I left a peanut butter sandwich out on a table for an hour and when I came back it had that ‘school brown bag lunch sandwich’ smell, which I was surprised to have immediately recognized.

Um… you know what else is related to elementary school? MMORPGs (here on just MMO)! Because I played those throughout school! Sure, let’s write about Final Fantasy 14, which I’ve been playing (too much) recently (thanks FF14 team.) Writing about FF14 like I would a game, kind of feels like writing a review of ‘eating ice cream in a park at a safe distance with some masked buddies’, which would be strange. (“Friend 1: Graphics: 8/10, Friend 2: Graphics: 5/10…”).

A good MMORPG is essentially basically (double adverb!) the same as hanging out, except everything is gamified (number go up!) and you can kind of be whoever you want. It’s fun – there’s a shared sense of progress when you play with friends.

Naoki Yoshida is a unique game director, as he wrote a long weekly column for Famitsu. They’re about his experience developing Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn (here on FF14). It’s candid at time and gives me a deeper appreciation for MMORPG devs, yet also makes me more resolute in never, ever wanting to go anywhere near MMORPG development. Except maybe as a dungeon designer…

So I was reading these articles about FF14 by Yoshida and it struck me that “wow, the two of us live in almost completely separate game design worlds.” Now, there were obvious overlaps – doing stuff like PR, managing a game’s production, being overwhelmed during debugging and QA, but of course Yoshida and other FF14 staff deal with these things at a gigantic scale, with different kinds of difficulties and pressure. For example, traveling the world to do PR is certainly difficult (even being one of the world’s most recognized gaming brands), but so is getting the word out about a game you and one other person made. To be honest, you can’t really compare the two, even though they’re both “PR”.

Yoshida compares FF14’s business model and design to an amusement park at one point, comparing new levels and bosses to new attractions.

This is appropriate, as you can choose different activities to do when you decide to play. Fashion? Gambling? Reading a bit of the game’s story? Gathering? Crafting? Exploring nature? Conquering dungeons, fighting bosses? In a way, they’re all separate ‘rides’ or ‘parts of the park’ in terms of the amusement park metaphor. When a new ride comes out, it’s fun to check it out with friends.

Why I Don’t Like Genres

Okay. FF14, and Anodyne 2 – they are both games. The priority of FF14 is to give you a place to go to have a good time with your friends or on your own, over a long period a time: it’s something you live alongside. It’s like board games night, or hanging out at a bar (except you can be a catman). There’s obviously vision and direction in FF14’s world, but to me that feels subservient to the focus of being a place to hang out. Sure there are different systems and stuff to do, but even something like just messing around in a car in FF14 can be as fun as something elaborately designed like a long dungeon.

The priority of Anodyne 2 is… to give you a world you can visit in a fairly controlled manner, that exposes you to ideas that Marina and I found interesting and worthwhile and that we hope you might resonate with in personal ways.

Of course, wide variance exists amongst games or any category of media, but… it’s interesting to me like, the purposes of these two games feel *so* different to me that it’s interesting that they can also be both in the same category. I mean, that sounds a little like being fascinated about there being cooking books and children’s books, but what I’m trying to get at is more that, despite their gigantic differences, it still feels very natural to compare FF14 and Anodyne 2 despite their reasons for existing being different.

But perhaps it shouldn’t feel natural. Like, you wouldn’t compare a cookbook and Where the Wild Things Are, but it’s easy to find yourself doing that in games, somehow, even if the things linking FF14 and Anodyne 2 are “they have a story” and ‘you walk around in 3D’. There aren’t competitions where you rank a cookbook over a textbook, but that basically happens with games like in peoples’ Top 10 lists or competitions like the Independent Games Festival.

Why does this urge to compare very different games feel natural…? I mean, it makes sense when you do it along very particular dimensions like “effectiveness of storytelling” or “effectiveness of spatial design”, but… when you can compare or rank any game against another by thinking of them all as ‘games in a genre’, there’s an urge to find ‘what’s the best’, and it’s easy to start using boring modes of comparisons like ‘graphics.’ (I feel really bad for people still trapped in the mindset of thinking fidelity of graphics matters even a little bit with games…)

People need recommendations for games, but when stuff is categorized so neatly, what happens when someone googles “fun adventure game 2020”? They get a list of 5 big budget AAA 40-hour games where you do the same thing 5,000 times but go along with it because the trees are pretty, only because lots of people played and talked about them, and they probably won’t see a 4-hour indie game, even if it would be something totally enriching and new. This kind of encourages a player base who choose fewer, longer, and more narrow experiences, vs. changing it up by including shorter, smaller, more varied experiences.

Go to any store: games are categorized by ‘genre’. Adventure. Action. RPG. By games being thought of in these neat boxes, with the way the internet works it ends up making it so we see less of the diversity of games and mostly just games which can afford to fight their way to the top.

Anyways… it’s time to watch the asobu indie game showcase, a showcase of upcoming or new japanese indie games! Also Anodyne 2 is in there too, hehe…