I'm not a fan of the genre splicing that happens in video games, music, and movies. Artists and publishers are often so desperate to create a genre-defining piece that the classifications themselves become entirely meaningless. We don't need musical genres like cuddlecore and cybergrind to classify anything, and the fact that I didn't make either of those genres up should sufficiently prove my point.
And even though genre splicing in video games has been far less offensive, I still get nervous every time I hear a publisher attempt to fabricate a new classification. But considering that the term action-survival has been used to independently describe two of 2013's most anticipated titles, I may have to concede defeat.
Over the summer, Crystal Dynamics, the developer behind the upcoming Tomb Raider reboot, has been using the phrase action survival in order to classify the title. I'm not suggesting that Crystal Dynamics was the first publisher to fasten these two words together, but they're definitely one of the first big-name developers to use the term.
Karl Stewart, the global brand manager over at Crystal Dynamics, explained that Tomb Raider was more than an action-adventure title: “We’re still an action-adventure game," he said in an interview with IncGamers, "and we want to be able to say that this is an action-survival game; Lara is having to explore and fight but she’s also having to salvage what she can.”
Technically speaking, nearly every title on the market could be classified in the action-survival genre. The phrasing isn't descriptive enough to nail down the function, so even a game like Super Mario Bros. might fit the bill. SMB contains a fair amount of action and players are encouraged to survive, right? However, for publishers like Crystal Dynamics, players need to do more than merely survive for the title to be classified accurately. “Survival," says Stewart, "is more about Lara’s personality and the emotions and psychological dramas that she’s going through.”
And it seems that the folks over at Naughty Dog agree.
Last week, Cheat Code Central's editor, Josh Wirtanen, got a chance to sit down with Naughty Dog to talk about The Last of Us. And during the conversation, the words action and survival once again made an appearance. Though, they were rearranged this time.
Jacob Minkoff, Lead Game Designer on The Last of Us, explained “When we talk about the game, we don’t call it survival horror; we call it survival action. Because we’re trying to keep that same feeling of survival—not helpless, but limited. I’m so limited. Every choice matters." Minkoff also admits that Naughty Dog's genre splicing had a little to do with the reputation of the survival horror genre: "We say 'survival action,' because survival horror has this connotation of being very slow, very plodding, and very unforgiving."
For Jacob Minkoff and Karl Stewart, placing their titles in the survival action genre is about drawing a line between their games and the mindless titles that can often populate the survival horror and action genres. Players are going to feel the weight of their character's survival, but they won't be bogged down in the shock tactics of the survival horror genre. It will allow for more psychologically complex storytelling, which could lead to a revolutionary thought process about characterization in gaming.
So, even though the phrase action-survival might be a bit nondescript, it could represent an important metamorphosis in the industry.
Date: February 8, 2013