Genres and what a game means to a player
The use of genres to identify and categorize the content of different forms of art is nothing new, however the change in genre in games can have a massive impact on the gameplay experience. The differences and defining points of genres within gaming have grown and expanded in recent decades to include all manner of mechanical systems, progression models, and player rewards. Today I will be analyzing the Civilization franchise which I believe represents the best of the strategy simulation game genre.
Strategy & Simulation
In the strategy simulation game franchise Civilization players compete against each other and AI opponents to build civilizations. The world is a composed of a game board with spaces for the player to move units to and develop their cities on. The game plays out through a series of turns, with games lasting anywhere from 6-20 hours for a normal match to over a hundred hours for intense marathon matches. The focus of the game is to simulate the formation, expansion, and survival or destruction of civilizations across time and ages of technology.
- Mechanical systems:
- Turn based actions: The player’s will is enacted in a series of turns, in the same manner many board games are played, where players are placed in an order, may complete actions within their turn, and then pass control along to the next player within the sequence. This form of player input / control works well to pace the gameplay and provide the player with time to observe and analyze each change in the game world, and systems. This is particularly helpful for simulation games such as Civilization, since there are many factors to review, and changes in the game world impact the players’ plans and path to victory.
- “eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate”: The players have 4X mechanical categories of actions which reinforce the defining characteristics of their culture and their ideal victory condition. If the player wants to rush to gain territory they can begin by exploring the map and expanding to adjacent spaces as soon as possible, developing their culture and military later on. If the player simply wants to win through sheer force they can spend time developing their military and bullying the other nations into subjugation lest they be completely wiped off the map. If the player is close to a resource rich space they can use it to gain an early trade advantage and exploit the needs of their neighbors to maintain their resource advantage for the entire match.
(A diagram illustrating the best methods to district a city, illustrating the depth with which city planning can affect the efficiency of a player’s cities and civilization at large.)
- Progression model:
- Player designated goal: The player has the ability to focus on victory conditions which are manifestations of their playstyle including variations of: Domination Victory, Science Victory, Cultural Victory, Diplomatic Victory. These all serve as reflections of the player’s goals and how they wanted to develop their culture, being focused on war, knowledge, mercantilism, and peace respectively.
- Time: The game may also end after a set period of time, which is typically seen as a stalemate, where the victor is decided as a sum of their progress as a civilization across all achievable states including, resources they own, areas they control, technologies researched, social policies in place, etc.
- Player rewards:
- Understanding of global politics: As the players witness the mechanisms of cultural development; the pros and cons of warfare, the rise and fall of diplomacy, the capacity for trade deals to become exploitive, they gain insights into the politics of how nations and cultures interact with one another.
- Setting & accomplishment of long-term goal: Since the progression of the game is a series of in-depth and tactical decisions, the setting of a goal to accomplish, and achieving it provides the player with a great sense of pride for seeing their vision through.
This is the final installment in my series titled How genres shape the impact of a game, if you enjoyed it please feel free to read through the other articles within the series: Competition, Roleplaying Narratives, Meditative Spaces, and Forums for Creativity. I welcome discussion on this topic and if you have experiences of your own you wish to share please do so in the comments below, or write in to firstname.lastname@example.org.