3: What’s in a name?

Concerning the definition of genre, most of us have turned to one or another class reading for a quote. For my own part, I really like Dirk’s simple explanation of genre conventions—before writing his essay, he says that he found other examples of essays written for students and “looked for common features” (250). He also points out that once we have encountered any number of genres, we can draw on that “genre knowledge” (Mary Jo Reiff qtd. in Dirk 251) for future compositions. Hannah talks about this idea of “responses” and rhetorical situations in her blog post. I have, in fact, found myself doing this sort of responding in my own writing. For example, before I wrote my first blog post for this class, I read over what other people had posted before me, since I wanted to know what the expectations were for this class blog.

Genre, of course, can be much more complicated than the quote I’ve pulled from Dirk. However, for a starting point, I think that “common themes” or sets of expectations are suitable definitions of genre, and this mostly fits with my preexisting understanding of genre. For example, when I recently saw trailers for two upcoming movies—Hereditary and A Quiet Place—I knew almost immediately that they were (probably) going to be horror movies. Why? Just like Dirk’s country songs about losing lovers or jobs, these trailers have trademark examples of horror movies: jump scares, creepy noises, screaming, and so on. If someone tried to tell me that I was watching trailers for Disney Pixar’s newest films, I would probably have a few questions about their understanding of genre. (And also maybe their sanity.)

So, while we don’t always have an exact, cut-and-dry definition of genre, I think we usually “know” a genre when we see it. And when a product mixes genres in unexpected ways, it can throw us for a loop; depending on the final result, we are either delighted or confused. This might not be the best example, but it’s the first one that comes to my mind—when mother! came out last year, many people went expecting it to be a typical horror movie. First, because that was how the movie had been classified, and second, because the trailers compared mother! to It, implying that they were the same sort of movie. However, upon seeing the movie, critics and moviegoers found that although the movie had disturbing elements, it was more of an artsy, twisted allegory than anything else. Some of them disliked the movie because of this. I, however, went to the movie knowing not to expect an exact “horror” movie—and because my genre expectations were different, my experience of the movie was different, too.

It is this “mixing” and overlapping of genres that interests me the most. In their genre analysis of blogs, Carolyn Miller and Dawn Shepherd trace the blog genre back to several unrelated genres: for example, Renaissance common place books, or 17th-century cabinets of curiosities. For me, it’s fascinating to see how different genres subtly influence each other. Of course, I know this happens all the time within different genres of literature or music—for example, rhythm and blues influencing rock and roll—but I think that observing interactions between conceivably different genres (like digital and print ones) is even more interesting.

As an example: physical museum exhibits and the internet seem like very different beasts, yet virtual museum exhibits combine these two genres rather effectively. I at first thought that I might like to do this topic for my first project. However, I must admit that even as a museum studies minor, the idea of clicking through multiple virtual exhibits doesn’t sound too thrilling to me. That said, this idea of pointing and clicking reminded me of one of my favorite online games, Kingdom of Loathing. (It’s fantastic. Trust me. Go make an account and start playing.) When I showed it to some of my friends, they thought that it was incredibly lame. That got me thinking—what about this point-and-click game did I like so much? How could something so simple be so enjoyable? So, I decided to do my first project on point-and-click horror games. Kingdom of Loathing doesn’t fall under the horror category, so I won’t be talking about it, but I’m still excited to explore what makes this seemingly simple genre so compelling.

A screenshot of my Kingdom of Loathing profile. It shows my character's stats, a map, and a list of announcements and updates.
A screenshot of my Kingdom of Loathing profile, which I admittedly haven’t touched in a few months. The beauty of Kingdom of Loathing is that although it doesn’t have much of a storyline, it does hilariously satirize adventure games and RPG games. This combination of genres–point and click games, RPG games, and satire–is part of what makes the game so charming. (Not pictured: my familiar, a 20-pound mosquito named Wulliam.)


Word count: 736

Works Cited:

Dirk, Kerry. “Navigating Genres.” Writing Spaces: Readings on Writing, Volume 1, 2010. Accessed 13 February 2018. http://writingspaces.org/sites/default/files/dirk–navigating-genres.pdf.

Miller, Carolyn R. and Dawn Shepherd. “Blogging as Social Action: A Genre Analysis of the Weblog.” Into the Blogosphere: Rhetoric, Community, and Culture of Weblogs, 2004. University of Minnesota. Accessed 13 February 2018. https://conservancy.umn.edu/handle/11299/172818.