Are genres unhealthy for games?What sort of a game is Pirates? Is it a strategy game, an action game, perhaps even a mini-games game. There are two things we can certain about Pirates. One is that it does not fit easily into any genre, the other is that it is bloody brilliant.
Pirates isn't about being in a genre, its about capturing the idea of being a bucaneer. So it does its best to simulate the important parts of that. You can sail the ocean, fight other vessels, seduce the governers daughter, even become a hero for a particular nation. You can dig for buried treasure, or (in the original at least), get lost at sea, and have to deal with endless mutinies as your food runs out and theres no coast in sight. Pirates is a game of ambition and scope that you don't really see nowadays.
Perhaps such gems are, and always be rare, but I do wonder if the strait jacket of genre limits game creation. I wonder if developers these days, were there to be no game of Pirates, creating a new one would feel limited by the current games in existence.
Does it help us to shoe horn games? There is something to be said for wanting to make the best of a genre- a honed fps, a well crafted platformer, and that approach yields fruits. Yet for something new, and exciting, you really need to start wiht a concept- an idea. Populous is remembered as perhaps one of the earliest god games, which have now become to be regarded as real time strategy games. Yet there is an incredibly under explored mechanic in Populous. For all the exciting spells available, what you spend most of your time doing is leveling and misshaping territory, depending on your particular needs, shaping your people by either forcing them to spread out (on hilly ground), or settle down (on nice level plains).
The history of gaming is littered with games that displayed a surprising amount of ambition- carrier command, the remake of which looks timid, Hunter a 3d person action game for the Atari ST which I'm pretty sure only I remember...
I guess I don't have a point with this ramble, just a wondering that maybe strait jacketing ourselves isn't the best of plans.