Naming Things is Hard (Game Genre Edition)

May 08, 2024

Stuart Brown (aka Ahoy) 1 released What genre is DOOM? on YouTube recently. It’s a great video and I recommend checking it out. His point seems mostly tongue-in-cheek, but about halfway through the video I thought he was going in a completely different direction.

The main thrust of the video is that people didn’t know how to classify Doom when it came out. The term “first-person shooter” took a surprisingly long time to appear. Doom wasn’t even the first game id Software had produced in this genre. Hovertank 3D, Catacomb 3-D, and Wolfenstein 3D were all previous examples that had functionally identical gameplay.

I was around while all this was going on. We got our first family PC in late 1990, just in time for Commander Keen. We later upgraded to a 486 in 1994, and I spent that summer playing the shareware episode of Doom. Back then I didn’t have a clear understanding of game genres. I compared games to other games I’d played to describe what they were like. It seems like describing games that way has come back into fashion.

It feels like every second game coming out these days is a “soulslike”. This feels very similar to the “Doom clone” and “Quake killer” labels that eventually converged into “first-person shooter”. Similarly, we have a lot of “roguelikes” or “roguelites”, though the source of this dates back a lot further. It seems almost like we’ve regressed.

In a recent episode of The Besties 2, Justin McElroy brought up using the term “search-action game” instead of Metroidvania. My knee-jerk reaction to the genre name wasn’t positive, perhaps because this is maybe my favourite genre… but it’s grown on me.

Think about it this way: imagine if we called horror films “Frankenstein-likes”, or referred to punk music as “Ramones-like”. It’s fine to use a shorthand to compare media, but naming a genre after a specific work seems odd everywhere besides gaming.

I’m not a stickler for any of this stuff. Language changes, and that’s fine. I just thought this was interesting, and think it’s always a good idea to be mindful of how we name things.

  1. Originally “XboxAhoy”, I’ve been watching Brown’s stuff since 2012 after finding his Call of Duty: Black Ops II weapon guide series. His videos were exceptionally well produced, especially relative to 2012 YouTube quality, and he’s only improved over time. Check out FLATLINE: How The Amiga Languished for another great example of his work. 

  2. It’s mentioned around the 5:20 mark.