Dead Horses, and the beating thereof

A key distinction between IF and other media is that we’re too small for very much segregation by genre.

In books, there’s a SF subgenre of Manly Space Marine stories. These cater to a very particular audience: anybody who isn’t a male, right-wing, militarist American is likely to find them annoying, tedious or downright offensive. They don’t have to worry about anybody else, because everybody else can happily go through their entire lives, reading voraciously, while totally ignoring manly space marine books. An occasional gawker might wander over to test the waters or to laugh and point, but that’s their own call; they don’t find manly space marine books feathered into the paranormal romance aisle, have them recommended at their poetry circle, discover them on the syllabus of their C18th French Lit course, or see them nominated for the Newbery. People can fairly easily shape their reading in order to avoid things that annoy the living bejeesus out of them.

This is not true of IF: we release games on the same sites, in the same comps, competing for the same awards. (The exceptions are AIF, non-English games and platforms like ADRIFT. Only one of these is a genre.) There is no such thing as a mystery-IF community or romance-IF institutions; there are just players of IF who like or dislike those genres. This still doesn’t mean that authors are obliged to pander shamelessly to the genre tastes of the IF community (we’d have a very dull canon if everyone did that), but it does mean that players have considerably stronger grounds to complain about genres or genre elements that they’re sick of.

I don’t think that’s entirely a matter of community size. The requirements of building a story as IF are tight (and the requirements of knowing how to play them are tight as well). This means that two IF games resemble each other more, for being IF, than two stories about sardonic female space marines with tattooes. It puts them in the same genre no matter where they’re set.

To come at it from the other side: it’s easier for a random IF player to play a mil-SF IF game and a romance IF game than it is for a random romance reader to read a romance novel and a romance IF game. Thus, the audience clusters around IF, and genre is a discussion among an audience.

I’m in a similar boat. I started an IF project around 1998, gave it up, and did nothing for a decade. Then I came back to the community, contributed programming work to a game I did not write, and started my “first” game. Although I’m avoiding obvious turn-offs, I’m still holding onto a bit of a “genre” pattern as a guide. My idea is this: Write a bad game, then make it good. I’ve now inflicted it on a few testers, and their feedback has inspired some major changes. Thanks, testers!

not dead horses, but scifi and fantasy are so over-represented, if you do something that is neither, it immediately stands out and becomes far more interesting just by virtue of avoiding those 2 genres.

While it may be true that those genres are the most represented (and I might add “Slice of Life”), there’s far more variety than you think. The bit I quoted from your post is simply not true.

i am aware there is some variety in scifi and fantasy, i already stated they are not dead horses. nevertheless the general tip for authors looking to make a splash still stands: avoid scifi and fantasy and your game will stand out. first impressions count, the first appearance of a robot/spaceship/lasergun/goblin/magic ring/fairytale kingdom will kill off a large chunk of your potential audience (unless the game is damn impressive before that, which most arent).

I’m not totally convinced of that. Looking at the last IF Comp, I see only two or three SF games; and in fact, if there is a dominant genre there it seems to be horror.

I’d say the four dominant genres of IF are fantasy, SF, mystery and horror, but since these are huge, overlapping categories this isn’t really saying all that much. It’s probably more interesting to talk about the genres that haven’t been done much, or readily-identified subgenres.

I believe you misunderstood me. There are many fantasy and Sci-Fi games, true, but the other genres are NOT as under-represented as you seem to think, especially nowadays when those genres are rarely used. I can think of no game - of NO game - that has made a “splash” since I arrived at the community (about a couple of years) by being of any genre whatsoever. Instead, I saw games like “Make it Good” and “Blue Lacuna” making splashes because they were so complex in adapting to the player’s experience. THAT seems to be the splasher. Genre has nothing to do with it.

Blue Lacuna also “splashed” through sheer ambitious size, I’d say, with the author touting it on multiple occasions as the biggest-largest IF in the history of IF-that’s-really-quite-large-and-not-at-all-tiny.


Reactivation of dead horses is best attempted by flogging rather than beating.