Why Do We Love Genres So Much?(Is it all just bias & heuristics?
Introduction(via Psychology of Video games)
The guys over at Penny Arcade had a great bit where they poked fun at gamers’ obsession with fitting everything into neatly defined genres. The stars of the strip are sitting at a tasting table with Gabe snootily remarking, “This is more of a late eighties platformer, with …Yes, I believe there’s a hint of sim.” To which Tycho replies, “Yes, sim. Quite right. Garcon! More genres!”
Why are we so obsessed with cramming games into genres and slapping labels on them? Most game reviews will remark on what genre a game fits in if not declare it outright, and if a game refuses to fit properly they’ll create a new genre just for it –witness the rise of the ridiculously named “third person, cover-based shooter” genre a la Gears of War. When I worked at GameSpy, we developed successful “genre sites” like 3DACtionPlanet.com2, StrategyPlanet.com, and SportPlanet.com that focused only on games in those genres. There was considerable internal debate over whether this made a lick of sense, but our ad sales guys loved it because it let them sell more targeted ads relative to a huge, monolithic site that covered everything.
Important Excerpts (via Pyschology of Video Games)
But there’s more to it than that: genres are useful for what Amos Tversky and other researchers call “elimination by alternatives” decision making3 Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein elaborate on this concept in their excellent book, Nudge.4 Imagine a simple decision, like say buying a new keyboard for your desktop computer. You’d probably be able to identify all the relevant factors, like your preference for ergonomic layouts, whether or not you want wireless, and price. You can look at the alternatives, take all that into consideration at once, and make your purchase. Fine. Bam. Done. This is called a “compensatory choice strategy” because for any one alternative a single factor (like low price) can compensate for a deficit in another (like lack of wireless support).
This is a decision-making process that businesses and marketers are eager to hijack, sometimes in ingenious and even helpful ways. Thaler and Sunstein point to paint stores’ use of a color wheel to help you choose colors, as opposed to figuring out the difference between “Eggshell” and “Off White” based on names alone. Or think about going to a bar that boasts “100 beers on tap.” If you look at the menu, they probably don’t have your options listed in alphabetical order because how is the uninitiated supposed to know the difference between “Boddington’s Pub Ale” and “Dirty Dog Hefeweisen?” What any savvy owner of such a bar would do is facilitate elimination by alternative by grouping the beers by more meaningful factors, like taste, body, or color. That way people who dislike, for example, dark beers can automatically discard those options.